Why organisations should focus on "flowing work", and not workflow

HR leaders agreed at this year's Singapore Human Capital Summit that hiring for needs, not roles, has become priority.

At the recent Singapore Human Capital Summit, top HR leaders from across Asia-Pacific all agreed that although these are turbulent times for businesses, technological disruption also presents many growth opportunities for organisations and workers.

Low Peck Kem, Chief HR Officer, Singapore Public Service Division (PSD), who spoke at a panel discussion alongside Varun Bhatia, Chief People and Culture Officer at Air Asia and Peter Andrew, Senior Director of Workplace Strategy, Asia Pacific, at CBRE, reminds everyone that the labour market is actually picking up.

“Unemployment in Singapore is slowly going down,” says Low.  

“Even though we have been painting a gloomy picture that you better change or you die, the fact of the matter is if you adopt a growth mindset, then there are immense opportunities available,” she says, adding that the challenge for HR and business leaders is how to prepare their workforce for the future.

And while the theme of this year’s summit – “People Strategies for Asia: Leading in a Fractured World” –  might sum up today’s chaotic landscape, Malaysian airline Air Asia’s Bhatia does not think the situation is quite so bleak. 

“It doesn’t seem very inspiring, but I think it is,” says Bhatia. “When there are problems, it means you can do something about it. It’s better than when we don’t even know what the problems are.”

While disruption means change, at Air Asia, this is viewed as an opportunity to leverage its human resources through utilising technology.

Commercial real estate firm CBRE’s Andrew admits that while artificial intelligence and other forms of robotics will rip through every part of organisations, the good news is that the C-suites are already preparing for when that happens.

“When you think about future skills, it’s really about creating ideas and the ability to leverage those ideas,” he says.

More crucial, says Andrew, is the rise of the small-big company – powerful companies with small headcount like WhatsApp, which employs fewer than 300 staff globally.

“In the future, the value of work will become much greater for each individual,” he says.

As Singapore’s biggest employer with almost 150,000 employees, PSD has had to be creative with how it built its talent pool.

Low reveals the organisation has started to embark on a more fluid hiring approach.

“Now we don’t look at job descriptions, but what is the problem we are trying to solve,” she shares.

“Now when they join us, we ask them to design their own job descriptions and roles. While we still assess people for competencies and skills, we also assess them based on future potential.”

Andrew agrees. He says that in the future, jobs are going to be employee-driven, not employer-driven.

“Organisations will increasingly encourage their staff to find out the gaps and how they can close it,” says Andrew.

Bhatia says it is especially pivotal to an organisation’s success that HR practitioners look at the world very differently from others. Instead of thinking about workflow, he says HR should focus on "flowing work". 

“The world also happens beyond the organisation. The future is important, but so is fixing the present,” says Bhatia.

“We should flow the talent to where the issues are, rather than just hiring within a box.” 

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