Navigating Business Challenges & HR Responsibilities in Asia Pacific

As 2024 is well underway, businesses across the Asia Pacific region find themselves in a landscape shaped by the after-effects of the pandemic, presenting a mix of challenges and opportunities. Despite a global average of low GDP growth, the Asia Pacific region is expected to outperform other regions with a projected growth of 4% this year.  However, this optimistic number is set against the backdrop of financial, environmental, and social shifts, compelling businesses to reinvent themselves. 

Effectively managing people amidst the challenges of this complex transformation involves understanding key HR trends and business focuses that shape the workplace environment. Strategies must be attuned to local nuances and issues, while also aligning with global standards and trends. Here, we shed light on six overarching developments impacting HR functions across the region:

  1. Embracing AI, Data-Driven Decision Making and Responsible Adoption
  2. Focus on Ways to Increase Productivity
  3. Up-& Reskilling, Internal Mobility, Retention
  4. Focusing on the Employee Experience
  5. Leadership Development
  6. Adopting Technology

Embracing AI, Data-Driven Decisions, and Responsible Adoption

Generative AI made a big entrance in 2023 and is now taking hold in both our personal and professional lives. Its influence will expand with profound implications for productivity, data-driven decision making, work dynamics, and task execution.

While generative AI in HR is in its early stages, it has showcased immense potential in automating the talent acquisition, optimizing personalized employee development, offering new HR service delivery options, and predictive analytics. These tools usher in a new era of HR Excellence, where data-driven decision-making enhances the employee experience, fostering a human-centric and thriving workplace.

However, the rise of AI also raises concerns about data privacy, ethical considerations, and potential bias in AI algorithms. Evolving AI regulations add complexity, requiring a responsible approach to adoption. To drive responsible AI adoption, HR must focus on three key pillars:

  1. Align with Company Vision.
  2. Communicate Purpose and Benefits.
  3. Develop Skills and Competencies.

As generative AI gains momentum, organizations and their HR leaders must embrace it because their employees have already started integrating it into their work lives. Advanced technologies empower HR teams to gear towards data-supported strategies, reinforcing HR’s position as a strategic partner integral to business transformation.

Focus on Increasing Productivity

Productive companies excel in speed, agility, innovation, and, most importantly, reinvent faster than their competition. As surveyed by PWC, both employees and CEOs consider reinvention crucial for business viability in the next 5 to 10 years. However, the need for productivity stands in stark contrast to reality with CEOs reporting that 40% of time spent on meetings, administrative processes and emails is inefficient, effectively hindering the desired productivity.

To overcome this obstacle, business leaders and HR professionals need to adopt new strategies, such as:

  1. Adoption of HR platforms and other technologies (including AI) to overcome inefficient processes.
  2. Deriving greater capabilities from the existing workforce.

Enhancing institutional capabilities through the integration of people, processes and technology will be crucial for outperforming competitors. Productivity is the center of an HR department’s existence, encompassing organizational design, talent acquisition, performance monitoring, learning and development – its success hinges on contributing to the company’s growth.

Up- & Reskilling, Internal Mobility, Retention

The composition of the labor market is evolving, from struggling to fill new roles to a five-generation-spanning workforce and growing importance of cognitive skills. With operational cost concerns and a recruitment slowdown in Asia-Pacific, a delicate balance is needed between preserving the existing workforce amid economic strains and striving for expansion.

  1. Recognizing the nuances of the Asia-Pacific talent market, HR departments need to reassess their strategies and realign HR practices to navigate this dynamic workforce landscape. While retention and skill mobility should be prioritized, several strategies can be applied depending on an organization’s current and future skill needs:
  2. Building skills pools in areas of limited supply and long-term needs.
  3. Creating cultures of development and mobility with upskilling and reskilling projects.
  4. Internally developing and training to align current skills with future skill requirements.
  5. Implementing retention-driven development programs.
  6. Hiring individuals with transferable skills.
  7. Familiarizing with talent mobility strategies to accommodate talent migration.

Talent development programs that strategically blend skills-based (job competencies) with strengths-based (leveraging individuals’ natural talents) approaches will be key. This not only addresses current and future skill gaps but also cultivates employees’ unique strengths – both vital for a well-rounded and adaptable workforce that is productive and engaged.

Focusing on the Employee and Workplace Experience

Today’s workforce challenges are complex. As the dynamics of work and productivity change, the power balance between employees and employers is shifting, too. Adding to the complexity is a multiple-generational workforce comprising Baby Boomers, Millennials, Gen X and a trend towards a younger workforce. Each generation embodies distinct values and skills and prioritizes different aspects of employment.

  1. To adapt to evolving dynamics, HR should reassess company culture, redesign the employee value proposition (EVP), and enhance the employee/workplace experience to cater to different worker profiles and needs. Strategies HR can implement include:
  2. Investigating what workplace/ employee experience means to different worker profiles.
  3. Creating employee value propositions (flexible work, learning/development, career opportunities, employee agency, etc.) accordingly.
  4. Establishing an inclusive work environment.
  5. Developing a framework aligning employee and company goals.
  6. Enhancing reward and recognition programs.
  7. Developing strong leaders and managers.
  8. Embracing a digital employee experience.
  9. Actively listening to employee feedback.

Several factors influence employees’ perception of their employers. Business leaders and HR departments should shift their focus from short-term growth to long-term viability by attracting and retaining talent, recognizing that employees are the driving force behind business success and customer satisfaction.

Leadership Development

Given the intricate nature of contemporary workforce challenges, leaders and managers in companies are tasked with additional responsibilities, including overseeing hybrid teams, facilitating work flexibility, driving productivity, and reacting to many more changes. This exponential growth in responsibilities has surpassed manageable levels, leaving managers overwhelmed, burnt out, and unprepared to lead change, as found in the Gartner 2024 HR Priorities Survey.

HR’s conventional response of investing in more development programs is no longer sufficient, as issues lie with the workload, motivation, behavioral and process changes – things that more training cannot fix. It is time for HR to reevaluate current management support strategies and include steps to make the manager’s job more manageable. These steps include:

  1. Reviewing and reflecting on current manager effectiveness.
  2. Resetting role expectations.
  3. Rebuilding the manager pipeline.
  4. Rewiring manager habits.
  5. Removing process hurdles.

In these transformative times, organizations need agile and responsible leaders. Leaders who are engaging, inspiring and capable of guiding their teams through change. To achieve this, they need HR’s help to reframe and streamline the manager’s job.

Adopting Technology

A new reality in how, where and why people work has emerged. Staying relevant and competitive in this era of evolving work dynamics necessitates embracing digitalization, spanning from automation to emerging technologies. Integrated technologies offer tremendous potential to optimize internal processes, provide data insight, and enable businesses to differentiate their value proposition.

This includes people management. It is crucial for HR teams to explore adopting digital tools to liberate themselves from repetitive tasks and shift towards becoming a strategic partner that significantly impacts their companies’ business outcomes.

Choosing the right technology requires a careful assessment and vendor evaluation framework to ensure successful integration into the organization’s strategy. HR needs to identify the right software and vendor that caters to all their needs from start to finish, including:

  1. Defining business objectives that HR needs to align with.
  2. Assessing requirements.
  3. Reviewing technology options.
  4. Conducting best-fit technology and vendor evaluation.
  5. Measuring and replanning the path for transformation.

Given the ongoing emphasis on agility, employee experience and human-centric work design, embracing innovations becomes more important than ever. However, the scope of digital transformation is greatly determined by each business’ unique background – its goals, existing digital skills, investment budget, constraints, etc. HR must carefully evaluate how to support business objectives and select the right tools to deliver on desired outcomes.

Conclusion

Despite robust economic fundamentals and historical resilience, new realities influencing growth, the talent market, the digital economy, and the workforce are taking hold in the Asia Pacific region.

Businesses in the Asia Pacific region should become more intentional and proactive in their decision- making and strategic planning to navigate this evolving landscape of business challenges and HR responsibilities. The journey towards a thriving future begins with understanding, agility, and a commitment to lead through the complexities that lie ahead. By embracing the outlined developments, leaders can fortify their foundations for sustained growth and resilience.

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