Shai Ganu heads the Rewards business in Asia Pacific for Willis Towers Watson. He also oversees the Talent & Rewards business segment across ASEAN and South Asia, covering Board Advisory, Management Consulting, and Data Services portfolios. Shai leads a team of 450 consultants providing human capital advisory, data, and software solutions to organizations across the region. This includes advising companies on their executive compensation, board effectiveness, performance management, talent management, sales effectiveness, and Diversity and Inclusion strategies.
Here are the excerpts of the interview with Shai.
How can HR impact organizations' business strategy?
HR is a critical function; and its role is increasingly evolving to be the custodian of corporate culture and driver of business performance. Today, most organizations tend to classify roles into one of three buckets - value creation roles (Business Development, R&D, Sales), value preservation roles (Finance, Risk), and value enabler roles (legal, HR, IT, corporate functions). I hypothesize the HR of the future will have a separate category - which, together with the CEO, and the Digital strategy team would play the role of Value Transformation. In other words, redefining what ‘value’ stands for, and helping to deploy the company’s most important asset – its human capital, in effecting desired changes in the company’s purpose, processes, and operating models.
Do you think businesses today are investing enough in human capital to bridge the much talked about skills gap?
There are some progressive companies who are leading the charge, but across the Board - there certainly is more that can be done. The first step in the process is acknowledging the need to change; when it comes to technology disruption the question is not ‘if’, rather ‘when’. Next, business leaders need to have a clear understanding of current skills inventory in the company - this is where HR can play a critical role. In fact, HR functions in many organizations in the region have started to take actions, such as identifying the emerging skills required for the business, deconstructing jobs and identifying which tasks can best be performed by automation and matching talent to new work requirements.
Following which, and this is the tricky part, is defining future skills needed by the company and the industry as a whole. This is where macro, industry-wide studies (such as the skills frameworks developed by SkillsFuture Singapore) are leading the way. Finally, it is important for business leaders to make the required investments in upskilling and re-skilling the workforce; knowing that this may not result in short-term results, but is akin to sowing seeds for the future.
Do you see emergence of new training programs that workers will need to perform the jobs of the future?
Indeed, we will see the emergence of new training programs related to data science, coding, applications development, and others. However, learning in the future will be more organic. Rather than attend training courses and classroom-learning, the workforce of the future will likely have continuous learning; be it using gaming technology, freelance work, self-learning, social learning.
Do you think it's time for HR leaders to leverage new tools such as analytics and explore value creation opportunities just like business leaders do?
It is already happening, and to an extent, among the more progressive companies - it has already happened. Through data analytics, process automation, and stronger governance models - it is not inconceivable to think of HR as value-centers rather than cost-centers (as they are currently seen today). Some of the more progressive companies have set up their HR functions as a consulting team. Payroll and other administrative services are transitioned to shared services, and the HR functions and business partnering roles form part of the internal consulting team. Business leaders become users of consulting services, and pay a fee to the HR team for services provided; transforming HR to a value-adding profit center.
Can you share some strategies that HR must be considering today to gear up for the uncertain future of work?
The fundamental question for HR function to consider is that of value - defining it, creating it, and preserving it. Some futurists have claimed that organizations of the future will only have two roles - CEO and CIO; with the rest being outsourced or co-sourced. However, I believe that we would also need a third role - that of the CHRO to help define the ways of working and to manage the hyper-distributed workflows and contingent workers.
HR should be on top of new technologies, be able to manage a gig-economy and freelance workforce, structure smart contracts, monitor performance, ensure regulatory conformance, and also have a strong appreciation of ethics and values. Many employers agree that leader and manager activities will change over the next three years to address the changes brought by technological disruption. These activities include communicating and leading change around the new combinations of humans and automated workers, measuring performance, productivity and outcomes on a more frequent basis, and educating workers on how automation changes work.
With AI and robotics likely to have a major impact on work and productivity how do you think they will affect how work is done?
Indeed, this is probably the most exciting part about the future of work. Willis Towers Watson Future of Work survey found that in Asia Pacific, while currently only 13 percent of work is done by automation, this is expected to increase to 23 percent in three years. More than one-third of the companies in the study indicated automation and digitalization are currently used to support, not replace humans, and two-thirds responded that the primary goal of automation is to augment human performance and productivity.
Technology developments will broadly impact work in three areas:
- Efficiency - Robotics and Machine Learning will help streamline work processes and add to operational efficiencies;
- Information access - IOT, 5G, AI will help companies get access to real-time information and insights; and Blockchain technology will ensure the information is irrefutable;
- Social Capital - one of the biggest upsides of AI, Machine Learning, and Blockchain is that it will help quantify hitherto intangibles, such as social capital, culture, reputation, values. This is an area where HR can play a very important role and will help unlock tremendous value for the companies.
What are the keys to a healthy CEO and CHRO partnership, and how can the duo execute business strategies together?
If you ask any Board Chair or CEO about their top three priorities, then most would respond saying ‘People’ - either not enough people, or not the right people in right roles, or how to extract the best out of people. That’s where the CHRO plays an integral partnership with the CEO and even the Board. Indeed; there are few companies where the CHRO reports directly to the Board Chair or Chair of the HR Committee.
My advice to CEOs would be to see the HR role differently. HR should be the CEO’s right-hand in defining and executing all business strategies. As one leading CEO puts it: “My head of sales is the value creator, my CFO is the value preserver, but my CHRO is my trusted advisor and implementor.
For their part, CHROs should also view their roles as definers or value and as Chief Transformation or Chief Culture officers. Progressive HR leaders should have multi-discipline knowledge and experience broader than HR; ideally in marketing, PR, and P&L experience leading businesses.
But equally important is for HR function to be responsible for keeping things ‘human’; promoting a collegiate, inclusive, respectful, compassionate, and ethical culture - where everybody works together harmoniously for the collective success of the firm and the collective good for society.
CHROs are probably one of the most important roles in any company - and with that power, comes the strong responsibility; of doing things right as well as doing the right things.