The right frequency

Business process outsourcing hub Teledirect Telecommerce is operating on a higher wavelength when it comes to HR digitisation.


Number Of Employees (Asia-Pacific): 4,000

Key HR Focus Areas:

·         Digital transformation

·         Artificial intelligence

·         Employee experience

·         Career development

·         Experiential learning

Size of HR Team: 48

It’s late Tuesday afternoon, and the mood at business process outsourcing centre Teledirect Telecommerce resembles that of Sunday brunch. There’s a group huddled together in the middle enjoying a tea-time snack, a few casually-dressed individuals slouched back on giant bean bags, and another team engrossed with their laptops in a corner booth.

This is what the inside of one of the region’s top outsourced contact centres looks like. The Singaporean company has received over 150 industry accolades since it was established in 1995. 

The relaxed atmosphere underscores a misconception about call centre operations, which Gaurav Hirey, Group Director of HR and Talent Development (pictured below), is eager to debunk.

“Past these walls, it is a call centre. But when they step out here, it is a state-of-the-art office with lots of great features, and a cool employee experience,” says Hirey.

The casual exterior also belies some major business transformations that have taken place across the organisation since the start of 2016.

Such is the yin-yang nature of Teledirect Telecommerce’s organisational culture: a uniquely blended identity that has been carefully cultivated through an intricate amalgamation of elaborate engagement activities, meaningful learning interventions, and serious technological adoptions.

Flashy transformation

As Hirey shares with HRM Magazine Asia, HR was right there at every stage of the company’s technological and cultural metamorphosis, which really started to gain momentum in 2014.

The HR team’s greatest and most impactful contribution has undoubtedly been the employee digital platform, that is simply named Flash.

Here’s one thing you need to know about Flash: Every little activity – whether it’s recruitment, customer relationship management, training and development, performance management, or even sales tracking – is conducted and managed out of this integrative system.

Hirey says having a completely digital internal system has been a crucial component in the company’s ongoing development and transformation journey.

“Today, we have 4,000 people. By 2021, we intend to be over 12,000 employees: that’s the plan. So we have to prepare for that,” says Hirey, adding that the company experienced a 20% growth in headcount in 2017 alone.

With an already-large workforce hailing from over 20 countries, Hirey says the automation of processes is also somewhat self-serving: it helps to ease the pressure on HR.

But for the new innovations to be truly effective, HR has also been forced to improve its own digital literacy. At the start of this year, the company created the role of an HR transformation manager. One of their main responsibilities is specifically to help build digital capability within the HR department. 

Every week, the manager spends two days on training for HR, and the remaining time for all other departments.

Hirey says this is only the beginning, as the regional talent management crew is in the midst of preparing an elaborate training calendar within Flash, where “people can just log on and attend sessions”.

Change preparation

Increasing the hours of learning for employees is certainly at the top of the fast-evolving company’s agenda today. In 2016, the company launched its very own online learning platform (called Teledirect University) as a way of preparing employees for the impending digitalisation.

“No transformation can happen if team members are not able to manage the change of work,” Hirey says. “This allows us to power our people’s growth by allowing them to communicate, collaborate, and learn.”

Today, the telecommerce company employs a blended learning approach, in which it combines e-learning, self-learning, and experiential training.

Surprisingly, this capability-building and change management process has mostly been a smooth one, in large part because of the great support that has been shown by the company’s CEO Laurent Junique and Singapore Country Director Angie Tay.

“This is the first organisation where I have experienced complete support for change. Our leaders were, in fact, the ones who initiated this digital transformation two years ago,” says Hirey.

However, with great success comes greater expectations, which Hirey says has been one of the few challenges during this journey. He reveals that there tends to be an overwhelming perception that the pace of change should pick up even further, especially since his team now has some experience under its belt, and the necessary tools and systems are also in place.

However, Hirey is quick to say that this is unrealistic. Every initiative and project is different, he notes, adding that managing expectations becomes key at this stage of development.

“There will be disagreements and there will be challenges, but if we are very open and communicate as much as we can, then we will be able to show results,” he says. 

A new way of hiring

With the introduction of Flash, one major activity that the company has been able to effectively digitise recruitment. This is a big deal, considering that the company is on track to grow its headcount by another 1,000 employees across the region in 2018 alone.

Today, the entire recruitment process – from sourcing, screening, and profiling, all the way to assessment and selection – is hosted and carried out on Flash.

Most significantly, interviews – the most laborious part of the hiring process – can now be done at any time and from anywhere. Paperwork and other manual tasks are now a thing of the past.

Because of the nature of the job and the large number of non-English speaking countries that the company operates in, HR has also started to utilise video interviews, as a widget within Flash itself.

This new feature, which is already in use in Malaysia, Thailand, Japan, and the Philippines, allows interviewers to gauge the speech abilities of candidates without having to meet them in person.

It also allows more than one recruiter to rate a candidate, which minimises individual biases and inaccuracies. Each recruiter simply has to review the video, give their ratings, and an average score will be tabulated. This will let hiring managers see how suitable an individual is for a particular role.

Hirey perks up further as he breaks down the entire process. He explains that job applicants are first sent a link, after which they log onto the conference portal, film their responses to a set of five pre-determined questions without going over the given time limit, and then click to submit.

Once the video responses have been sent out, hirers are able to view on the system, in real-time, the number of questions that have been answered by the interviewees.

“A green sign means a question has been answered, and blank means the candidate has not responded. A red mark is given when candidates are seeking a re-test, or when the recruiters want a do-over,” he explains.

This functionality, Hirey notes, increases the speed of hiring, and also improves the quality of hire. More importantly, it creates sets of useful data that he hopes will lead to the eventuation and proliferation of predictive analytics across the organisation.

“That’s where analytics is right now, it’s all about predicting. What’s the point of collecting data if we don’t get there?”

Re-evaluating employee evaluations

Performance reviews, another major HR purview, have also been updated. Last year, the company completed all employee evaluations online for the first time.

Instead of having to rely on HR and refer to multiple documents concerning a subordinate’s job scope and key performance indicators, team managers now have easy access to all the necessary files and information they need on a single platform.

To ensure transparency, every staff member’s performance and targets are also recorded on a monthly basis.

Hirey believes this approach is beneficial for all parties involved. For team leaders whose goals are based on the entire team’s performance, this allows them to be in control of things during down times.

“In this way, everyone knows how they are performing, and there are zero surprises. The monthly targets and achievements are all recorded, so individuals know which areas to work on,” says Hirey.

Closely linked to performance reviews is the concept of coaching, which Hirey says is a “way of life” across Teledirect Telecommerce’s offices.

Coaching has become a mandatory weekly activity. This keeps things personal between managers and their team members, going beyond just targets and outcomes.

“We believe that coaching is more important than performance because our people are facing different and diverse situations every day.

“We are able to see whether a person is stagnant, growing, or becoming worse,” says Hirey, who shares that he actually has a coaching conversation with his staff every morning.

This emphasis on coaching, coupled with the ample staff development opportunities, has helped individuals like Melvin Chew rise through company ranks rapidly.

Chew joined Teledirect Telecommerce Malaysia as an intern in 2015. Six months later, he was hired full-time as a junior recruiter. By the end of that year, he was promoted to the role of senior recruitment specialist, before being given the opportunity to move to Singapore and take on his current position as senior regional HR expert. 

Moving beyond building capabilities

Stories like Chew’s are common at the company, but with so much automation happening, the popular “doomsday” rhetoric – that artificial intelligence will replace jobs – naturally comes to mind. But Hirey is not worried, either for himself, or for his staff.

“Automation will eliminate the task, but it will not eliminate the job role. Tasks like picking up the phone, calling job candidates – those will probably get eliminated,” he explains.

“But evaluating the interviewee, that will not. A human will always have to grade that candidate.”

Fortunately, Hirey and his team seem to have all that covered, with more reorganisation to come.

“At the end of 2018, our whole plan will become very different. It will be all about improving and taking things to the next level, rather than about building capabilities,” says Hirey.  Stories like Chew’s are common at the company, but with so much automation happening, the popular “doomsday” rhetoric – that artificial intelligence will replace jobs – naturally comes to mind. But Hirey is not worried, either for himself, or for his staff.

One of HRM Magazine's cornerstones, the monthly HR Insider spread is an in-depth feature exploring the people management teams of some of the region's most prolific organisations.


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