Work will not change, but the way we work will': Lau Yin Cheng
Lau Yin Cheng is the Chairman of SCS Career Compass Steering Committee, where he helps organizations and leaders to be "Future Ready". YC was previously the Chief of HR & OD at Singapore’s Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) and was instrumental in building an award-winning HR & OD team that elevated IDA's employer brand to be among Google & Facebook based on Universum rankings. Cheng has over 15 years of HR & OD leadership experience in both large-scale private and public sector organizations. Prior to joining IDA, YC served as CHRO for the Ascott Group, the world’s largest serviced residence owner-operator with about 5,000 staff in 200 properties across 23 countries in Asia Pacific, Europe, and the Gulf region.
What is your view on the talent landscape in the APAC region? How are the businesses changing in the APAC region?
Different countries are going through different stages of economic and social development. Myanmar, Cambodia, and Vietnam are still growing economy regions and hence they need a lot of qualified professionals. In Singapore, it is more about skilling because the economy is maturing and there is still a skilled labor shortage. Japan is interesting because they have a lot of best-in-world technology. A lot of them are actually using Singapore as a base for expansion into Asia and rest of the world. India, on the other hand, has a huge workforce coming into the economy. I would say APAC has very mixed landscape. But what is common across is the desire of the young to innovate and to want to make a difference. I think it would be great if somehow we can connect parts of the region to South East Asia.
In context to the APAC region, I think this digitization is impacting all the sectors and many of the traditional businesses are asking themselves what to do next to stay relevant? There is a lot of desire to change and improve, but the big question is actually how to go about it? And hence there are a lot of experiments where a majority of the companies are actually figuring out “the how”.
What do you think is the biggest challenge that organizations encounter today? How do they keep their workforce engaged and at the same time continue to experiment in these ambiguous times?
I think the biggest challenge that organizations are facing is navigating through the future, and future of work is a very big term. Work will not change but the way we work will. And as HR practitioners, we need to help organizations figure out how the work will be re-allocated into three buckets –
Machines including Robots and AI: The work allocate to machines will be that where humans will have a lot of knowledge and they can train the machines to do it.
Permanent staff: The other bucket is home staff and they are critical they have the ability to innovate and build relationships. Hence organizations will need to hire and retain staff for the roles that require these two critical skills.
Gig economy: This has two categories of tasks – one that can be easily outsourced, and the other one is highly specialized where the individual does not want to be bound to one company. So, the future belongs to organizations and HR leaders who can navigate through this and that is what will define whether HR emerges to be invaluable or irrelevant in the future. Successful allocation of work into these three buckets will not only yield cost benefits but will also increase the output. This right allocation and navigation in future is the biggest challenge that organizations need to understand and appreciate.
This requires a huge piece of change management. What conflicts do you feel organizations are facing in bringing about these changes?
The biggest conflict has to do with the human mind. The human mind has not undergone any major upgrade for the last thousands of years however, the amount of information it has to process has increased exponentially. Change management is more about how we help individuals deal with this information overload keeping in mind the human emotions, aspirations, and purpose. Understanding the human mind, emotions, fears, stress, and interactions with the machines are the key to a harmonious change management. Thus, to enhance technology adoption, instead of overzealously pushing technology, it is important to understand the human factor behind that because machines will always support humans and not the other way round.
How do you see this challenge fairing for smaller more nimble organizations like startups and for the large corporations?
Startups definitely have an advantage of not having the rules in place and hence adopting what works right. Large organizations, on the other hand, have a baggage of success in the form of procedures. And hence, a lot of organizations are considering creating a bimodal setup with one organization dealing with the traditional cash cow business in the form it’s successful, and a separate organization with a different culture and different set of operations looking to tackle the business as it gets disrupted. And this way, organizations are trying to approach change management in the right way. What this requires is right leadership with mental agility and the courage to manage both the traditional businesses and the disruptive side of it.
Any examples of any companies or leaders who are doing that?
In my previous organization, Infocomm Development Authority in Singapore, we leveraged this bimodal setup to continue operating traditionally and also have a sandbox that looks at how digital technology can create different environments. At a global level, GE has done that beautifully with maintain the traditional business and in parallel create the businesses to capitalize on the opportunity in the industrial sector amidst digital disruption. And once this parallel business becomes stronger, it starts impacting the other parts of the businesses. To make all of this possible, it is essential for organizations to have a leader who is willing to open the mind and understand what is possible.
Taking these two examples forward, do you see any difference in how global MNCs situated in the APAC region and the homegrown Asian organizations are adopting technology?
Big MNCs have the resources and are always thinking ahead. They are willing to invest resources in the form of deploying leading consulting firms, developing leaders and building the right bench strength to navigate through these changes. For the homegrown MSMEs on the other hand, it is more about the understanding of what will work here and they are trying to learn, collaborate and create an innovative culture. China presents a good example of change, with Alibaba being a local corporation gone big and they have been successful in understanding what works in the region.
From a skills standpoint, what are the top skills that you see need to be developed?
My prediction of people who will be in high demand in the coming future will be those who can translate what’s possible and move people along to create that change. These people will appreciate technology, understand the impact, and will be able to navigate through the change.