In CHRO 4.0 series, we interview some of the most progressive HR leaders, and this time, we're bringing to you Caroline Stevens, Chief People Officer, Minor Hotels. She talks about implementing a major digitalisation of all development programmes, finding tools to support collaboration without jeopardising performance, and more.

Q What are some employee-centric trends you're grappling with in Asia, and how are you and your HR team responding?

COVID-19 has been a catalyst and forced us to go through major cultural and structural transformations in a matter of weeks rather than years. Normally, when a company makes a strategic change requiring people to do things differently, they need to closely examine how those changes impact company culture and make the necessary coherent adjustments. This time around, as head of people and culture, we have been pushed to quickly reassess how we operate to support the business now and into the foreseeable future.

The constraints on a conventional work location, the stress and anxiety linked to these uncertain times and the reduced workforce have created new dynamics for us to tackle. This includes concerns such as:

People development: This crisis is forcing everyone involved in hospitality to be more creative and resourceful. Where you would traditionally send your people for workshops or cross-exposure, we must now take into consideration travel restrictions and social distancing. This impacts the cost and delivery of development programmes. For an organisation such as ours where people development is one of our five core values, this has had a significant impact.

Hence, we implemented a major digitisation of all our programmes as well as mobilised our development partners and networks to come up with platforms and tools that would continuously grow our team members capabilities to start multi-skilling and stay relevant in the current and future workforce.

Building up virtual management and digital competencies: Overnight, we found ourselves working remotely and thus had to swiftly find the tools to support collaboration without jeopardising performance. Our teams have had to cope with digitising people processes quickly and efficiently so we could ensure new sustainable ways of work. We invested in enabling technologies such as MS Teams and additional online learning platforms to help our team members adapt rapidly in a world of constant change.

Do more with less: Akin to most hospitality companies in our industry, we have gone through a deep analysis to restructure our organisation to a leaner and more focused business. With a reduced workforce, we are reinventing processes to increase productivity and agility. To help enhance team member capabilities—and increase retention—incessant hard-skill and soft-skill building are becoming the norm, and everyone needs to be developed to meet the demands of tomorrow. Multi-skilling talent and creating combined and super jobs are all practices we are implementing to stay ahead of the curve.

Higher emphasis on mental wellbeing: The COVID-19 pandemic has vastly accelerated the mental health crisis that already existed before it. For example, according to Thrive Global, 82% of Americans feel that the pandemic has had a bigger negative impact on their stress than any other event in history. 

To tackle this emerging challenge, we developed various tools to help our team members identify and recognise their stress and anxiety triggers, as well as the techniques to cope with these. 

We also curated resources to help team members manage their stress and anxiety to boost their immune system and remain focused, productive, and successful as individuals and teams.

Q How is employees' concept of “experience” evolving in this new world we’re living in? What are some areas HR leaders need to look out for?

In this new world we’re living in, as People and Culture leaders, we now need to engage a dispersed, virtual workforce and find new ways to create that sense of belonging the conventional work location once offered.

Flexible work arrangement: Even before the pandemic, many companies such as ours were already contemplating this idea, running various analysis on the impact of such policy on business, but the government lockdowns catapulted us into urgent action. We were forced to integrate work-life and from this we came to a realisation that whenever possible work from home and flexible time have become the norm not the exception.

Performance management: With face -to-face interactions being minimised or becoming virtual, we as People and Culture leaders need to facilitate remotely managing various aspects of people’s and team’s performance as well as interpersonal relationships.

Expanded employer role: At Minor Hotels, prior to the crisis we were already supporting people with various wellness and wellbeing initiatives. The pandemic has heightened the role of employers as part of the social safety net.

We now play a role in people’s financial, mental, and physical wellbeing. In times like these, people will never forget how you made them feel.

Employer brand/reputation: The way your organisation treated current team members, prospective talent or even interacted with local communities will be judged and evaluated by present and potential employees. This will eventually result in a top-tier and bottom-tier perception of employers and impact your recovery speed and hiring costs in the future.

Q Given that dollars spent today all have to show ROI, where should organisations be investing their HR dollars - building the employer brand, generating analytics, redesigning the employee experience, or something else?

While we all place a strong importance on ROI, I do think now is the time to spend HR dollars to not only survive but more importantly to thrive in this “new” world. Money should be allocated towards digital first, a redesign for speed and agility and finding new ways of working. Acquiring, developing, and retaining adaptable and agile leaders and team members will be paramount.

I think companies should move away from traditionally investing in designing organisations for efficiency and instead design them for resilience and adaptability as new jobs and trends will emerge.

Another area for HR to invest in has to do with mental health and emotional resilience. This will help our people cope with the stress and anxiety they are experiencing because of the pandemic and continuous transformation. The better we can support our people to return to a normalcy the faster the organisation can get back to the business of creating goods, services, jobs and opportunities. 

Q On the lighter side, what's the funniest or weirdest myth you've heard about HR?

There are quite a few myths I have encountered in my career, but I find this one to be the most persistent: “HR doesn't really understand the business”.

The People and Culture department is crucial to organisations in several areas, ranging from strategic planning to company reputation. Thus, we have to support the business. At Minor Hotels, my team enables business success through transformation. We thrive to build a purpose-led, agile, and future ready workplace and workforce to ensure sustainable growth. We simply can’t do any of these if we don’t understand our business well!


Photo / Provided

Excerpts of this interview have been published exclusively in the Jul-Aug 2020 issue of Human Resources. Read this edition of Human Resources, Singapore:

hrsg jul aug20

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