Human Resources in Asia Pacific has come a long way from being a purely administrative function, commonly referred to as “Personnel”, to a business partnering one with closer relationships to an organisation’s leaders. As the world becomes an increasingly unpredictable place, CEOs have increasingly relied on their HR leaders to assist with growth, restructuring and directional changes, which have become more common and complex in recent years. Although in some organisations HR has not moved from simply doing the payroll and creating policy, most have moved firmly down the strategic route.
But how are HR functions really perceived at the moment? What are their strengths and weaknesses according to the business, and according to HR professionals? What specific skillsets do HR professionals see as being crucial now and in the future in order to develop and maintain its significance?
All these questions, and more, were posed in a recent survey we conducted in conjunction with the Roffey Park Institute, a UK-headquartered leadership development consultancy, and The Next Step, a specialist HR recruitment company in Australia, for our fourth edition of a survey entitled Working in Asia Pacific: Key HR and Leadership Priorities for 2019.
Close to 3,000 people, half of them HR professionals and half from outside the profession, filled in the survey questionnaire and the results came out earlier this month. Of the total number of respondents 84% were manager level through to board director, and 94% were based in Hong Kong, Singapore, China or Australia.
We asked everyone who responded, whether they worked in HR or elsewhere in the business, to rate the capability of their HR function with respect to 13 areas of HR, ranging from its ‘Use of Analytics’ to its ‘Ability to facilitate learning’. For all capabilities here are the results of how HR was rated:
Confidence in HR capability - average % ratings for all capabilities
Not exactly a cause for popping open the champagne bottles.
So what is HR doing, or not doing, that is stopping internal clients from jumping up and down with joy?
Firstly let’s look at what HR is doing right. Below is a table showing the top capabilities as rated by both HR professionals and non-HR professionals. For the latter group many thought HR have done a great job at developing an inclusive and diverse workforce, but also in developing digital HR tools and facilitating learning. HR professionals’ thoughts mirror a couple of these but they also feel they are doing a great job at ‘Talent acquisition’ and ‘Approach to performance management’.
Top three areas in which the HR function’s capability is considered to be excellent
And where is HR going wrong?
According to both HR professionals and the business, the top three are exactly the same - the ‘Use of Artificial Intelligence’ (AI), the ‘Use of Analytics’, and finally ‘Succession Planning’.
Top three areas in which the HR function’s capability is considered to be weak
No one can blame HR for the speed at which it has picked up AI given it is at an early stage of its adoption. Although a few companies have adopted machine learning HR helpdesk chat bots and the like, many of these companies are extremely large with economies of scale, and the initiatives have been global ones. Other companies that are sifting through the dizzying array of products available and being peddled to them, are, potentially rightly so, waiting to see which rise to the top, and are probably 2-5 years away from implementation.
But the other two areas of weakness highlighted do need to be addressed. The need for data analytics has been around for many years and the ‘could do better’ result in our survey is probably deserved. ‘Succession Planning’ is a little more complex as business leaders should also take responsibility for this, but as an initiative many would argue it is HR’s responsibility to instigate.
As an aside, the two areas of HR where there was the biggest difference in opinion between HR and non-HR professionals on the rating, were the ‘Approach to performance management’ and ‘Talent acquisition’. HR thought they did well in these areas but the business did not. Better communication might be one solution when it comes to organisational change - in reality it can be incredibly difficult to execute well, and business leaders may not be recognising this. Acquiring talent, particularly in specific areas of the job market, can also be problematic with the business not realising this, and the difference in opinion might simply be because HR has not been managing expectations.
So, what do HR professionals feel are the skills needed right now and in the future in order to develop and add value?
In the current business environment, across the region, change skills are the name of the game, and specifically broad-based change management skills as well as organisational development and design skills. Other areas of importance, skill set wise, include employee engagement, talent management and leadership development.
Top four most important technical skills for a HR professional to possess in the current business environment
And what are the HR skills required in the future according to HR professionals?
From the below table it seems like the ‘Culture change ability’ is key but also the ‘Ability to influence decision-makers’.
Top three compentencies HR functions most need to change or develop over the next 5-10 years
All in all, although HR has come a long way over the past two decades, it seems that more work needs to be done in specific areas of HR - namely in change management, technology adoption and data analysis. None of this will happen overnight, but real steps need to be taken to fill the gaps. None of these areas are renowned to be cornerstones of an HR professional’s tool kit, so either upskilling needs to take place, or another solution would be to move staff internally with the right skillset and from outside of HR, or to hire externally.
For more information or individually tailored advice, please do not hesitate to contact our regional Human Resources team:
Singapore Office - James Rushworth
Shanghai Office - Shelya Zhou
Beijing Office - Ming Ming