Investing in the digital capabilities of employees

Talent development was a hot topic at this year's Consumer Goods Forum.

At last week’s Consumer Goods Forum in Singapore, leaders from many of the world’s most recognisable consumer brands spoke about the role of human capital in today’s data-driven world.

Among the speakers were the Group CEOs of Alibaba, Procter and Gamble, Carrefour China, Transmart, Coca-Cola, and NTUC Fairprice, as well as Singapore’s Minister for Trade and Industry S. Iswaran.

Although retail and consumers were the two main topics of their talks, the themes of talent, leadership, and digital transformation also came up in spots.

In his opening keynote, Minister Iswaran highlighted the importance of investing in the digital capabilities of employees if companies are to stay relevant and profitable.

“We need to be able to empower workers in the various sectors to be able to adapt to the different market changes through reskilling and upskilling,” said Iswaran. He cites Singapore's Retail Industry Transformation Map as an example of a government initiative which encourages retailers to use innovative technologies to improve productivity and the in-store experience for shoppers.

He also asked the consumer goods businesses to embrace data and technology to drive innovation.

Seah Kian Peng, CEO of NTUC FairPrice, Singapore’s first supermarket chain, pointed out the unique challenges of Singapore being small and lack of scale, as well as the high labour and rental costs.

He encouraged businesses to develop more efficient retailer operations, through the use of new technology and partnerships with other businesses, such as FairPrice’s relationship with Tesco.

He also shared about how the retailer has “shaved off 180 man hours each week” through the introduction of an unmanned and self-service convenience store. Self-service counters in stores have also allowed staff to be more service-oriented.

Digitisation and automation has also affected the way companies approach leadership development.

Indonesian retail group Transmart’s CEO Shafie Shamsuddin highlighted that leadership and role modelling will need to change in the time of digitisation and automation. He reminded the audience not to forget about the “human touch” in services, as this is what will make a difference in the future.

Win Win Tint, City Mart CEO identified gender equality, training and development, and providing a fulfilling career in retail as the key elements to form a “people development culture”. David Taylor, CEO of Procter & Gamble, advised young leaders that they should stay curious, be willing to fail, and keep their passion to make a difference in the world.

Even as e-commerce is growing rapidly, James Quincey, CEO, The Coca-Cola Company, said that even in an online world, businesses need to build a physical presence and consider the channels holistically. It was echoed by Alibaba Group’s Chief Executive, Daniel Zhang, saying bricks and mortar stores offer huge value, but their models need to be upgraded, and Alibaba is enabling the stores and their staffers to be more efficient with data and technology.

Acknowledging the massive social and economic changes that have taken place, the International Labour Organization’s Director-General, Guy Ryder, urged businesses to start implementing good HR practices that will benefit their stakeholders. 

"A major transformation of the workforce lies ahead of us. We can design the future of work we want, but there is general concern about what the future will bring. We should give people greater confidence in the future through good business conduct and public policies,” said Ryder. 

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