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Q&A with Kara Walsh, Chief Human Capital Officer, Unit4: Truly “In Business for People”

August 18, 2016

Focusing on the importance of empowering people in service organisations to the need for companies to create a people-centric workplace culture, while truly embracing digital in their workings, we at HR in Asia caught up on an interesting conversation with Kara Walsh, Chief Human Capital Officer, Unit4.

The company being one of the leading providers of enterprise applications, we take you through the people management philosophy and ethos at Unit4, why HR managers should avoid assigning clinical terms like “assets” and “liabilities” to workers who are, after all, human. Read on for more people-centric insights and strategies…

  • Why should organisations focus on investing in people and how will this change the way organisations hire, develop and retain talent?

In an economy where companies have pivoted from selling goods to selling services, intangible assets like brands and people comprise the bulk of a company’s value. Unfortunately, many organisations don’t recognize the value until they’ve lost talented people and are forced to reckon with the loss of valuable knowledge, skills and experience.

Kara Walsh, Chief Human Capital Officer, Unit4.

Kara Walsh, Chief Human Capital Officer, Unit4

It’s important to avoid assigning clinical terms like “assets” and “liabilities” to workers who are, after all, human. However, many of the same principles often apply, and it’s useful to think about each employee as being someone who provides unique value to an organisation.

However, when this employee is under-performing or not exhibiting the desired professional behaviour, they should be viewed as an investment that must be actively steered back towards productive profitability.

Organisations should accept the responsibility wholeheartedly and strive to provide meaningful work, goals and incentives to motivate employees. By viewing people as investments, companies can focus on boosting value through learning and development, and also minimize the risk of loss.

This ethos is embedded into our culture at Unit4, where our YOUniversity programme is designed to train all of our employees through a virtual personalized platform focused on professional development. We believe it’s more important to look at why people stay, since those who’ve left are already checked out of the organization.

Focusing on the people who stay — and especially why they’ve stayed — allows us to most effectively develop our Human Resources portfolio, and encourages us to focus on giving these people a voice, by recognizing their loyalty towards the organization.

  • What are some of the common challenges faced by HR professionals in a volatile economy and increasingly dynamic business environment in Asia Pacific?

Globalisation has ensured that the free movement of labour and capital remains a linchpin of the modern economy. Indeed, in a business climate where workers can choose to leave not just a company, but an entire country easier than ever before, organisations need to treat labour as investments and manage those concerns accordingly.

The business landscape is constantly evolving. HR professionals need to not only address major events such as mergers, acquisitions and downsizing, they are also dealing with the advent of third platform technologies such as social, mobile, big data and cloud computing, and the subsequent changes witnessed by the business as a result of the digital disruption.

Typical challenges include complex, ever changing legislation, participants spread across various separate organizations and fragmented or poorly coordinated processes.

In order to succeed, HR professionals should ensure that internal functions are agile and employees are prepared to embrace the upheaval resulting from technological advancements.

Human Capital Management (HCM) systems allow HR professionals to manage the people aspects of change, so that employees can perform in a ‘business as usual’ mode during the digital transition.

Organizations need people-centric enterprise solutions that provide the tools to communicate, plan and problem-solve, in a speedy and cost-efficient manner such that employee engagement and productivity remains unaffected, even as the organization experiences change.

  • How do you think HR managers and senior business leaders should navigate this complex technological space?

A company’s cybersecurity programme is only as robust as its employees, as they are often a company’s first line of defence. Hackers often target employee vulnerabilities through passwords and even social media, so employee education is the key.

Every person in a company has a role to play in preventing security breaches, but the challenge is making sure that a balance is struck, wherein productivity is not hindered by overly complex procedures. We can address this through company on-boarding program and through regular reminders to employees about their role in the fight against Cyber Crime.

  • How important is diversity and inclusion to empower a new generation of leaders to enter boardrooms? What are the challenges to women leadership in Asia?

Diversity and inclusion goes beyond setting the right tone for an organisation, it has been known to serve a strategic purpose as well. A diverse workplace drives innovation through the exchange of different ideas, which in turn enables fresh insights and ultimately enhances overall efficiency by tackling common problems.

What we know from studies on gender diversity in Asia is that the cultural norms are different than their US or European counterparts, when it comes to balancing the double burden of work with the responsibilities of family life.

According to McKinsey report findings on Asia, graduate representation of women is very high at 50% yet only 8% make it to Corporate Boards or Executive Committees. Singapore and China for example, have very high female participation rate yet cultural and organizational issues prevent them from moving through the corporate pipeline.

See: Top 8 People Management Mistakes Made by HR Managers

Women generally are reluctant to promote themselves and there is also an absence of senior female role models who can sponsor and coach women through the corporate ladder.

This is where, having men sponsor women for promotional opportunities as well as attending women network events shows that they are serious about the importance of having females participation at every level in the organization.

It is really important that organizations set the tone culturally right, for the value they place on gender diversity. This instils more confidence in women that they will be supported. We also need government support services that will address this serious issue.

  • With a host of HCM solutions available and promoted by competitors in the human asset management space, how do you think solutions from Unit4 remark its difference from the competition and support the hire-to-retire cycle?

Unit4 HR software is known for delivering a clear, intuitive user experience rarely seen outside of consumer technologies.  Our easy-to-use tools deliver powerful insights and analytics. By providing the right information in the right context, people are empowered to execute tasks quickly and effectively, and freed to focus on solving problems and managing business.

Also, our unique architecture is built to change fast, simply and at a low cost and without disruption.  Vitally, information, workflow and data are all seamlessly integrated all the time.

In order to show that we truly understand a problem, we practice what we preach at Unit4 by ‘drinking our own champagne’. We use our own products, which then enables us to talk to our peers who have similar business dilemmas that they need to deal with every day.

Through conversation with our customers, we have a better understanding of their pain points, and we often find that a lot of those challenges can be resolved with the help of the right kind of technology. Our solutions are built from the ground-up and are designed to be agile and user-friendly, from the moment they are implemented.

  • People management is gaining strategic critical importance in the world of HR. How do you think HR managers can step up to the change and invest in the right people for business growth?

Equipped with a new mind-set of viewing people as investments and holding them to the relevant standards, organizations can adopt a metrics-oriented philosophy for evaluating their employees. Measuring time to productivity and cost of hiring can reveal whether an organisation is investing enough time and resources into an employee to maximize his or her productivity.

In a world where we have depleting talent pools, productivity will be the key differentiator and HR has a strong strategic role in bringing these topics to the table. How HR delivers value-added services, automation and the digitalisation of HR is of critical importance and this is where HR needs to focus in order to be of strategic value.

In a complex workplace, there often isn’t a single metric that is universally applicable to all employees, and each measure should be calibrated to fit individual roles. However, organizations can still monitor commonly applicable metrics like the time required for on-boarding, training and mentoring to bring a new hire up to acceptable standards of performance.

Organizations can adopt a system based on checkpoints and performance evaluations, thus setting up milestones that must be reached before a new hire is cleared to advance beyond an initial probation period.

They can then assess the relevant metrics to determine the average speed with which most new hires attain the required competency. Six months is the average length of time it takes most new hires to reach that point.

  • Why do you think employee engagement levels are lowest in Asia Pacific? Do you think using HR metrics will help understand the drivers to employee engagement in an organisation?

Millennials make up the largest segment of Asia Pacific’s workforce. As the career expectations of this generation are more demanding, employers need to focus on engagement and constant nurturing to ensure sustained commitment at work.

Companies in Asia, like anywhere else, realize they have to focus on the overall employee experience, rather than just pay and benefits.  Pay and benefits is a hygiene factor and it is taken as a given that there should be no issues here. All roads lead to leadership.

To have a sustainable multiplier effect we need strong mature leadership. Investing in leaders is critical to the long term management of employee engagement along with investment in HR practices.

  • Tell us more about the Unit4’s business philosophy – “In Business for People”? What are the initiatives taken by the company to reinforce its people commitment in people-centric industries?

Nothing describes Unit4’s purpose better. We aim to make our customers successful through people – their people, our people and people around us.

Providing technology that supports people to do what they do best, even better, and providing technology that liberates people from low added value, and repetitive tasks is not only a major competitive differentiator for us as a technology company, it is also an absolute imperative to support our customers to be more successful themselves.

In people-centric organizations, the success of an organization is always and exclusively down to the success of its people. With our technology and shared beliefs that, we should create conditions for everyone around us to be successful, we can truly state that we are in business for people.

  • When it comes to managing a multi-generational workforce, what do employees spanning across different generations of the workforce, exactly want from companies? What are the steps HR managers should take to bridge this gap?

The intake of digitally advanced Millennials is a great thing for employers but at the same time is creating the most diverse workforces we have ever seen.

There is a big divide between people’s digital abilities and willingness to embrace a new way of working.

What the smartest companies understand is that technology and great systems can help organizations cultivate the right culture and bring together a diverse workforce without pushing the boundaries of expectation.

It is important to acknowledge that each generation comes to the workforce with different values, skillsets and behaviours. What businesses need to ensure is that the gap between Millennials and everyone else is bridged.

Leaders must create a culture where the new generation is encouraged and understood, while creating an environment they can prosper in working across teams and across generations.

Simple technology that helps all generations of workforce to be effective at work has a huge role to play. At Unit4, we are working hard to make self-driving enterprise systems a reality -to provide diverse organizations with the right digital solutions to enable them to work smarter and more efficiently.

People deserve better than constantly battling through emails and spreadsheets. The organizations that truly embrace digital will be the first to instil a winning culture.

Also read: Impact of Digitalisation on the World of Work: Need for Redesigning Organisational Structure and Evolving Leadership Models

Disclaimer: This exclusive interview coverage and content is produced by HR in ASIAAny redistribution or reproduction of part or all of the contents in this interview is prohibited. You may not, except with our express written permission, distribute or commercially exploit the content.

Image credit: LinkedIn

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