Article: We plan to increase our focus on leveraging tools to foster greater engagement & productivity: Manulife Asia CHRO & Head of Global Learning

Strategic HR

We plan to increase our focus on leveraging tools to foster greater engagement & productivity: Manulife Asia CHRO & Head of Global Learning

For Manulife, since 2018, we have invested more than CAD 750 million to enhance our digital capabilities, including for our customers, shareholders, and employees, says Joy Xu, Chief Human Resources Officer, Asia and Head of Global Learning, Manulife.
We plan to increase our focus on leveraging tools to foster greater engagement & productivity: Manulife Asia CHRO & Head of Global Learning

READ the August 2021 issue of our magazine: The Rise of Work Tech

Joy Xu is the Chief Human Resources Officer, Asia, and Head of Global Learning at Manulife. She is also a member of the Company’s Asia Division Executive Committee. In April 2020, she took over additional responsibilities as Head of Global Learning and Future of Work in addition to her HR role for Asia.

In her role, Joy works in partnership with Manulife’s business and Human Resources leadership to help drive culture transformation and ensure the Company attracts, develops, and retains a high-performing global workforce.

Prior to joining Manulife, Joy worked for Novartis where she served as Global Head of Human Resources for the company’s Sandoz business, based in Munich, Germany. Prior to that, Joy was with PepsiCo for almost ten years, holding senior leadership roles in Asia and globally. Joy started her career with Procter & Gamble in 1995 with increasingly broader leadership roles in both China and the US. Joy has significant experience in cultural transformation, diverse talent development, and organizational engagement.

Here are the excerpts of the interview.

What are the top trends according to you in the HR and work tech space today and what is the driving force behind them?

I would say there are two main HR tech trends that are changing the workplace, corporate culture, and the learning environment. 

First is a reimagination of the Future Workplace: The pandemic and lockdowns have forced many people to adapt to new ways of working, some of which are here to stay. Depending on job roles and other factors, in the future world of work employees will be able to choose from either working from the office or home every day or a hybrid working routine between the two. One key lesson that has been learned is the value that comes from collaborating in person. This makes solving problems easier, spurs innovation, and most importantly allows us to build deeper connections with colleagues across our organization. While we recognize that developing those relationships is important for our well-being, we also know that our lives are made easier when we have some flexibility around when and where we do our work. That’s why Manulife recently announced its Working Better initiative, which allows both flexibility and collaboration. We realize that a “one-size-fits-all” approach is no longer a suitable way to enable our colleagues to do their best work.


Second is about being "future-ready": Accelerated shifts in customer expectations and behaviour have highlighted the growing need to be nimble and digitally literate. To Manulife, it’s clear that to sustain our ongoing success and momentum, we need to continue learning new skills that will help us to advance our digital focus and improve our customers’ experiences. We launched a suite of blended training in human-centred design, agile and advanced analytics. That’s why invested heavily in supporting our colleagues and ensured alignment with the transformation of our organization. For example, we launched a new digital learning platform, Pursuit, earlier this year as we ramped up our drive to make learning a priority.  

There has been a mounting focus on the employee experience and the growth of work tools designed for employees. How can organizations exploit tech to elevate the employee experience and differentiate themselves from the rest?

At Manulife, we heard from our colleagues that they want more opportunities to learn and grow. We also understand that employees are seeking a more personalized learning experience and each colleague’s learning needs and aspirations are unique. That’s why when we were envisioning the new learning experience that we imagined it to be almost like a “Netflix for learning” experience – employees can access personalized and curated learning paths at their own pace, wherever and whenever they choose, including on their mobile devices. Our new Pursuit Learning Hub brings together all our learning resources into a single easy-to-use site. In particular, we curated more courses that align with our companies’ current and future needs, such as agile learning and human-centred design.  

COVID-19 disruption has shone the spotlight on how technology should be leveraged to manage remote workforces, and meet customers’ and employees’ needs such as well-being. What according to you are the top areas where companies are investing most as they come out of this crisis?

Digitization would be the top area. For Manulife, since 2018, we have invested more than CAD 750 million to enhance our digital capabilities, including for our customers, shareholders, and employees. For several years now, despite the pandemic, Manulife’s growth has centred very much around making meaningful progress in becoming a digital customer leader.

We have deployed human-centred design globally, with a dedicated team of practitioners to systematically research, design, iterate and deliver best-in-class experiences, validated by customers at each step. In the past year, Manulife has engaged more than 7,500 customers in this process, contributing to a 50 per cent increase in NPS. 

We are accelerating our customer & digital strategy by listening to customers and addressing their most important feedback real-time and upfront, building market-leading experiences that emphasize high-value interactions that matter most to customers, and focusing on extending relationships and advice for customers in addressing their health and wellness needs.

HR technology offers a great way to support workplace diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives. Do you see a change in how corporations are leveraging work tech to fill those gaps the pandemic brought to the fore?

Technology is a powerful tool in our recruitment process, helping us to recognize talent in a very objective way. At Manulife, we are firmly committed to advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) across all aspects of our business operations. We see this as not just a key enabler, but when done right, it is a differentiator for our business. It drives innovation, collaboration, and high performance.

In fact, Manulife has committed CAD 3.5 million worth of investment to DEI initiatives over the next two years. The investment focuses on three pillars: increasing the representation of diverse talent at all levels; creating greater inclusion through enhanced training, including in unconscious bias; and supporting organizations that help minority communities. We are pleased that Manulife has made it into Bloomberg’s Gender-Equality Index for three years in a row.

It’s important that businesses rise to the challenge and act boldly. Only then can we protect hard-won gains in gender diversity and other DEI issues and become better workplaces for everyone.

How are you leveraging digital tools to foster innovation, collaboration, engagement, and productivity? AI and people analytics seem to be ahead of others in terms of implementations?

As with many other companies, necessity required us to adapt quickly to lockdowns and remote working. Given the progress in our digitization journey at Manulife, we were able to do this seamlessly, which in fact helped us to both innovate and take fresh approaches to the way we work.

It’s all underpinned and aligned with our broader business strategy. It draws on employee feedback – even more so in the past year as a consequence of remote learning – so we understand what works best for staff regionwide. It reflects the changing skills needed within the industry and fits well with our effort to empower employees to take ownership of their learning.

We are focused on listening and getting to know our staff better. It means acquiring a much deeper understanding of them – looking at their skills and experience, suitability for the role, and their career potential and aspirations. It helps us get the right people in the right roles and tailor their training accordingly. 

To that end, later in 2021, we will build digital tools, like our AI-powered “one-stop-shop” Learning Experience Platform, to foster greater engagement and productivity. 

With workplace dynamics changing, how can HR demonstrate a whole new level of agility in the new world of work?

It’s easy to get caught up with technology and process, but a mindset – particularly a learning mindset – is of paramount importance. This is even more true in today’s marketplace where the skills and capabilities we need to achieve our ambition are changing fast. Performance-driven cultures instil an “always learning” mindset, backed up with a mindset to “learning-it-all” rather than “knowing-it-all”. An “always learning” mindset thrives on challenges and sees failure not as proof of lack of intelligence but as an inspiring platform for growth and a way to stretch existing skills and capabilities. This is how individuals challenge themselves and how they learn. We want our employees to have a growth mindset and to be open to new ideas and fresh challenges. 

How do you see the adoption of HR tech two years down the line? What are your priorities and new focus areas for Manulife?

One of the silver linings of the pandemic is that it accelerated digitalization at unprecedented speed and scale, and that also applied to our HR operations – from L&D, recruitment, and other day-to-day operations. With that, it also comes with opportunities for data and people analytics. For example, we can better predicate turnover patterns; understand the correlation between skills and performance, learning, and employee engagement; analyze organisation’s collective competence against the requirements for key strategic priorities; forecast the workforce needs based on the organizational analysis. We are able to solve more business problems if we can harness this capability well. For example, we can personalize the development of talent better or address DEI challenges, giving us greater insights into our workforce.

Read full story

Topics: Strategic HR, #RiseofWorkTech

Did you find this story helpful?



What are the top work tech investment focus areas for your company currently?

Have you been reviewing your tech and IT strategy in the aftermath of digital acceleration?

READ our latest issue to find out how others are adapting their digital approach today.