Joel Fastenberg is the Head of Human Resources for Singapore and ASEAN. He was appointed to the role in May 2020.
Based in Singapore, Joel is responsible for leading the Human Resources strategy in Citi’s ASEAN markets of Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam. He also serves as a member of the Citi Management Committee in Singapore, Citi Country Coordinating Committee for Singapore and the ASEAN Management team.
Joel joined Citi in 2011 and was the Head of Human Resources for Citigroup Japan before taking on this role. He brings to Citi over two decades of Human Resources experience across the financial services industry in New York and Tokyo.
Here are the edited excerpts of the interview.
How do you see the impact of COVID-19 on the banking and financial services industry? How are you adapting to the changing times in terms of business continuity, employee well-being, and meeting the evolving needs of customers?
We are facing a public health crisis with severe economic ramifications. When it comes to the way in which we work and serve our clients, the pandemic has challenged us to re-examine our processes. What we are seeing is that our investments in the digital transformation of our bank is paying off, as our client’s own business models have evolved with technology, resulting in more of them turning to our digital solutions and services.
From our employee perspective, we have a significant proportion of people working from home. Prior to COVID-19, few would have thought this to be possible for a bank. For those of us at home, we have had to shift our mindsets in terms of how to do our work and we have had to adjust quickly and be flexible.
COVID-19 is stressful for many and we have made it a priority to help colleagues adapt to the ‘new normal’. Since the pandemic, we have rolled out a number of initiatives to help our employees manage their mental and physical health. These include webinars on a range of topics such as how to maintain work-life balance, take care of their own health, and stay connected with colleagues and friends when working remotely. We have also held regular town halls and coffee chats to preserve the two-way conversations needed to sustain our organizational culture.
What strategies are you embracing in terms of talent management and ensuring employee productivity?
I see it centered around two areas. The first is open communication and the second is ensuring trust.
Managers need to make their goals and targets for their staff clear especially when it comes to cultivating new capabilities and skills on top of performance assessment. Even during these times, continued development is essential to build a strong talent pipeline. However, managers need to find the balance between the two. Above all, they need to show empathy and factor in the unusual and difficult times that everyone is going through right now.
By having open and clear communication channels, managers can build trust within their teams and this benefits both parties. Managers can trust that their employees are working towards the agreed upon goals and employees can trust that they will be evaluated in a fair and appropriate manner.
A strategy we use at Citi to accomplish this and build a stronger performance culture is by enabling continuous feedback opportunities all year round. Staff can request for feedback at any point as well as offer it to anyone in the organization. Continuous feedback provides staff with guideposts throughout the year to help reach their goals.
Business leaders and people managers need to ensure that their staff remains relevant in terms of knowledge and capabilities post-covid-19. How can employees be equipped with the ability to be more adaptable and innovative in times of change to meet future business needs?
How do you see the overall role of business leaders and people managers evolving to prepare for the post-pandemic times?
Business leaders and people managers need to ensure that their staff remains relevant in terms of knowledge and capabilities post-COVID-19. Even as the world already finds itself in the height of the 4th industrial revolution, the pandemic has injected added urgency to equip staff with the ability to be more adaptable and innovative in times of change to meet future business needs.
In the past few months at Citi, there has also been an increased focus on equipping managers and staff with the skills to better care for both their psychological and physiological well-being. This has been well received and we expect this increased focus to continue post-pandemic.
Between April-June 2020, the world lost almost 400 million full-time jobs due to the pandemic, according to ILO. How can we rebuild and reimagine jobs amid the coronavirus crisis for businesses to stay future-ready?
A big trend that the world has seen throughout the pandemic has been the accelerated adoption of digital services to help reduce avoidable physical interactions. We believe that this is a shift in consumer behavior that will continue beyond the pandemic as clients continue to discover the ease and convenience that digital services bring.
As a consequence of this shift, digital skills will be required by employees doing just about every job since technology is being progressively embedded into the way we work every day. Businesses and workers who aren’t willing to adapt and embrace new technology will find it increasingly difficult to stay relevant.
Structuring jobs and business models for the digital age will be critical for all to thrive in the future.
How do you see the job landscape five years down the line? Which jobs will be in demand and which ones you think can become redundant or transform?
As we continue to ride the digital wave, there will be more jobs on this front. The growing role of big data in the economy and business to drive decision making will create a significant need for statisticians and data analysts.
Other opportunities on the digital front include Cyber Security, Full-stack developers and UX/UI Designers. These are all jobs that will be critical for an organization to thrive in the digital world. Beyond digital skills, employers are still looking for individuals who possess ‘soft skills’ such as Relationship Management, Problem Solving, Critical Thinking, Innovation, and Creativity. This will be especially so in industries that still require a high-touch presence. Due to the increasing adoption of technology to aid workers in more physical, repetitive and basic cognitive tasks, jobs that deal with analog processing will decrease. We have seen this across industries where paper-based workflows are now being digitalized and automated.
How can organizations harness agile learning techniques to reskill employees for the larger digital transformation?
At Citi, we had started utilizing several agile learning techniques. The pandemic has only hastened this transformation.
At a very basic level, all learning this year will be conducted virtually. Courses have been restructured to preserve participant interaction as well as to have shorter bite-sized segments with longer breaks, enabling participants to tend to their other needs. We have taken a blended approach in continuing group learning courses as well as encouraging employees to take advantage of digital learning platforms that we have at Citi, such as Degreed.
Thus far, we have seen an encouraging response to our transition to digital learning. Staff are now experiencing first-hand the flexibility that comes with engaging with training virtually. We hope that this encouraging response will translate to a sustained increase in employees utilizing the digital learning platforms which offer on-demand consumable micro-learning that is short and easy to digest. Over time, the utilization of these platforms will build a stronger culture of learning where employees don’t wait for the yearly training cycle to learn new skills.
The accelerated adoption of digital services means that digital skills will be required by employees doing just about every job. Businesses and workers who aren’t willing to adapt and embrace new technology will find it increasingly difficult to stay relevant
The level of uncertainty and unfamiliarity COVID-19 crisis has brought with it is unique in its own way. What are some of the top questions that leaders need to ask to prepare for the future of work as we strive hard to come out stronger from this pandemic?
Three questions come to mind.
Firstly, “How can we create a safe workplace for our staff to return to?” Building office spaces where staff feel comfortable and safe should be a top priority. While at the moment, employees have been extremely productive while working remotely, we believe that this is largely due to the capital that has been accumulated from prior face to face meetings and relationship building. As remote working continues, companies may also soon start to find staff struggling with feelings of isolation that can have long term effects on work output.
Secondly, “How do we enable remote collaboration across teams?” While the greatest value that the office has is bringing people together to collaborate, safe distancing guidelines look to be staying with us for the foreseeable future. The future of work must be able to continue to spark the innovation and creativity that is enabled by collaboration. Leaders need to consider how they continue to drive a culture of innovation and the tools needed to do so.
Lastly, “What mindset shifts are needed for the future of work?” We have already begun to see conversations spring up around work-life balance, setting boundaries, performance management and collaboration as the world shifts to remote working. It is critical to continue developing these changes and adjustments.