Written by Lyndsay Hill and the AIMS International Marketing Team

25 June 2020

VP Sustainability, Leonie Pentz and EVP APAC, Jonathan Khoo joined forces to host APAC regional HR Roundtable discussions. We will be publishing a series of articles based on each of the challenges brought forward by the HR Leaders during these discussions.

The overarching topic of this discussion was HR Challenges during COVID-19: How do we overcome and sustain business?

Today we discuss the first point raised during this discussion, namely leadership during a crisis: (not only an HR issue) in more depth.

In times of crisis, we look to our leaders for guidance and support. Leadership is made up of a body of people including top management and the board of directors, but in most cases, employees consider the Human Resources (HR) department as the key place to find answers or solutions and to raise concerns. While HR is specifically focused on human relations, HR practitioners in turn rely on organisations’ leadership teams, especially in times of crisis. It is critical that leadership is aligned, most specifically when it is not ‘business as usual’.

Covid-19, and subsequently the Black Lives Matter Movement, put a spotlight on leadership and especially the need for leaders to be accessible to their employees. According to Mr. Himal Tewari, Chief Human Resources Officer of Tata Power Group in India, top leadership should show their human side so that employees can relate and feel engaged. Most importantly, they need to show that they care about their employees’ well-being.

As health and safety and humanitarian priorities become a norm in our society, so must organisations realign their organisational goals and values to adjust to this new norm. HR can play an important role to support the leaders of their organisations by facilitating engagement processes and communication platforms to share regular updates on top-down strategy, market feedback, and general information sessions. Together, HR can create a united front with top leadership to combat the crisis with as little negative impact as possible to employees. Not only when it comes to business processes but personal health (mental and physical) and the safety of employees as well as sustainability agendas are shifting to the forefront of organisational priorities.

During our Roundtables, APAC HR leaders have shared with us that the process of dealing with this pandemic has made them acutely aware that, with the availability of technology, leaders can easily engage with their stakeholders more frequently even in the most remote locations. In many cases, we found that the COVID-19 pandemic has actually brought leaders closer to their employees. Some organisations had put all HR activities on hold in order to personally connect with every single employee via telephone or videoconference. This personal approach to the crisis positively surprised employees but also put them at ease knowing that their leaders care about their personal well being. 

Sustainable human capital is key to long term survival of organisations today. People need to connect with each other and with their leadership. They need to form part of a greater purpose and to understand the meaning behind this vision or purpose. When leaders engage openly and then encourage their employees to do the same, everyone becomes closer to the purpose and willingly participate far beyond the lines of duty. Leaders should work with their employees to develop a longer term strategy or recovery plan and not only focus on the crisis at hand when it hits.

In order for an organisation to transform its culture to become sustainable in a volatile business environment, HR practitioners and leaders should consider strengthening relationships with their local communities, countries, and across the globe. Teams who are dispersed across the globe can and should connect more frequently online. Friendships and open discussions amongst colleagues enhance and strengthen collaboration, leading to a positive contribution to a collective bottom-line. Ultimately it is up to the organisations’ leaders to inspire their people with positive behavioural examples. 

NOTE: This roundtable discussion moderated by Leonie and Jonathan included a panel of highly experienced HR professionals throughout the APAC region. The panel included Himal Tewari, Chief Human Resources Officer of Tata Power Group in India, Alan Jin, Human Resources Director of De Beers in China, Keith Goh, Chief Operations Officer of ShieldCov Medical Supplies in Singapore and Vivian Lee, General Manager of Euro Asia Holidays Ltd. in Singapore. Special guests Qingyang Zhu and Alice Xu from the Shanghai Human Resource Consulting Association (SHRCA), gave a short presentation about the Association.

Written by Lyndsay Hill and the AIMS International Marketing Team

Lyndsay Hill worked as Marketing Assistant AIMS International and AIMS South Africa until she tragically and suddenly passed away on 2 June 2020. She worked tirelessly in these full time roles while supporting the Performing Arts in South Africa during her free time. She will be sorely missed. 

Final Edit by Leonie Pentz