Themed “HR in the Driver’s Seat: Purpose • Sustainability • Future Ready”, the HKIHRM Virtual Annual Conference 2021 will be staged from 11 to 12 November to address the main challenges and opportunities for the HR function.
In the evolving world of work, the Conference will help HR practitioners equip themselves as drivers of change for both their organisations and employees.
Interview with Professor Frederick Ma, Former Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development
Keynote Speaker – Day 1, 11 November
As companies navigate hurdles that reset work trends, the role that the HR function plays in shaping the workforce is more important than ever, according to Professor Frederick Ma, former Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development.
Collaborating with the CEO and other senior management, the HR director is instrumental in helping to define and drive the vision of a company. “Human capital management has become a mission-critical function within an organisation,” Ma said. As they roll out new work models to forge a new way forward, companies realise that without the “right” human capital their goals will not be achievable. “It is no longer simply a matter of hiring the right people, but ensuring that the right people are deployed in the appropriate position and kept happy,” added Ma, who held senior positions in the construction and banking and finance industries prior to his tenure as chairman of the MTR Corporation from 2016 to 2019.
As a veteran leader and professional who has witnessed the transition of the HR function from administrative management to strategic partner, Ma said the expertise the HR function offers is vitally important as organisations seek to make agile and effective adaptations. From hybrid work to work-life balance to wellbeing, the HR function is being asked to redefine how to deliver the most effective and supportive work experiences. “HR practitioners have a lot on their hands,” he said, acknowledging how navigating multiple hot-button issues at the same time calls for a high-level of emotional intelligence.
Importantly, as new ways of work
are implemented, Ma believes it is
crucial to understand how these
practices could impact the future
fabric of an organisation’s values and
culture. With this in mind, strategies
call for thoughtful initiatives which
require the HR function to be close
to the workforce. For instance, as HR
practitioners help their companies
and workforce traverse the challenges
posed by COVID-19, they need to
remain attentive to employees who
might be affected by being required
to work from home. Ma advised that
HR also needs to remain alert and
adaptive to unforeseen events, which
create increased uncertainty among
their workforce and pose threats to
“Communication plays a pivotal role in ensuring employee and business operations are optimised and driven towards a common goal,” Ma said. “Organisations that communicate openly and frequently show how they are supporting the wellbeing of employees as people over employees as workers,” he emphasised. While it is impossible to meet the expectations of every member of the workforce, Ma believes clearly communicating what the company expects from staff and what they can expect in return from the company in terms of opportunities, career and geographical mobility, is the foundation for building strong relationships. “The employee and employer relationship is not a oneway street. HR teams need to be creative in the way they engage employees and build a sense of team spirit,” he said.
Meanwhile, at a time when alignment to work and the workforce is needed more than ever, Ma recommended the HR function should constantly re-examine workforce planning and how this influences the employee experience as well as company objectives. To build a more responsive organisation, for example, where appropriate, employers need to develop HR strategies for operating in the Greater Bay Area and embrace opportunities created by the planned greater integration between Hong Kong and mainland China.
As an optimistic person, when looking ahead, Ma believes that human beings are masters of dealing with change. “There are always challenges, regardless of the circumstances – you need to do the best job you can,” he advised.
Interview with NiQ Lai, Co-Owner and Group CEO, HKBN Group
Keynote Speaker – Day 2, 12 November
For NiQ Lai, Co-Owner and Group CEO, HKBN Group, Purpose is a strategic element that connects employees and teams to the organisation and helps everyone operate on the same page. With company decisions steered by the Purpose to “make our home a better place to live”, Lai explained that, functions - including HR - have a roadmap which guides them to perform with Purpose. “Purpose is even embedded as a core element in our yearly Talent key performance reviews,” he added.
The strategic approach intrinsically aligns Talents’ work with HKBN’s sense of purpose, and provides them with an understanding of how their work contributes to creating purpose. This approach resonates with young Talents, especially Gen Z, who for many, while salary is important, purpose is key. Lai believes that demonstrating dedication to purpose can be an advantage when it comes to attracting, engaging, and retaining Gen Z Talents. “For Gen Z Talents seeking purpose in their work, providing them with a sense of mission connects them to making a difference, building better communities and societies, and even a better world,” he said. As one of the first companies in Hong Kong to allow their Talents to work from home, having a strong foundation of purpose was instrumental for HKBN to react swiftly at the onset of the pandemic. “COVID-19 taught us that while we can never predict the future, we can prepare for it,” Lai explained.
Sustainability is also viewed as a
prerogative, which rates highly with
Talents that want to work for an
impact-driven company. However,
with sustainability concepts spanning
business operations from energy
consumption to procurement,
Talents have a tendency to relate
to sustainability from different
perspectives. “It’s an area we have to
pay close attention to,” Lai admitted,
“We are constantly challenged to
keep a steady eye on our long-term
sustainability vision, not just short-term
While HKBN is perceived as a technology company, internally, the company considers itself foremost as a Talent company. “Over time our technology and infrastructure can be replicated, but our Talents and their experiences cannot,” Lai stressed. The Talent-first viewpoint is expressed as an obsession with talent development. “Our Talent engagement team work tirelessly to ensure that Talents are provided with every opportunity to grow, learn, develop, and thrive,” he added. By tapping into strategies that motivate Talents and align with company objectives, HKBNers approach their work with a sense of pride and passion to perform.
However, commitment from the company to provide career and personal growth opportunities come with the weight of expectations. For instance, the company considers its workforce as an Elite Sports Team rather than an extended family. “Talents understand their contributions will be fairly rewarded,” Lai said, adding that this doesn’t detract from ensuring that Talents work in an environment that offers flexibility and puts their wellbeing and family first.
HKBN also operates a Co-ownership practice, which offers Talents a “skin-in-the-game” opportunity to invest and prosper as part owners of the company. Even when working remotely, Lai said the Co-ownership culture is a powerful force in ensuring that Talents deliver high quality work and strive for performance. If expectations appear extreme, he said the intention is to encourage Talents to buy into the DNA of the company instead of being indifferent. “It is about finding the best fit between culture and Talent, and by being distinct, we are far more likely to attract the distinct Talents that are right for us,” Lai added.