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CHRO Lens: New Way of Working after COVID-19

Updated: Sep 15, 2021

Special Interview PMAT x Workday

Khun Kantima Lerlertyuttitham,

Group Chief Human Resources Officer,

Advanced Info Services Pls (AIS) and Intouch.

Let’s meet again for our special interview with the Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO) on the issue of CHRO Lens: New Way of Working after COVID-19. Today, we will take you to learn through experiences and viewpoints of Khun Kantima Lerlertyuttitham, Group Chief Human Resources OfficerAdvanced Info Services Pls (AIS) and Intouch, one of the businesses that has been well known in Thailand and its people for more than 25 years.

Khun Kantima gave the PMAT team an honor to talk about a key issue related to AIS’s interesting topic of Digital Transformation Journey that provides advice on changes in people, work, and organizational management during the time we have to face the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the concept of developing people’s skills within AIS and the “Kid-Pua” mission for Thai society in terms of human development to keep up with global changes. We have gained a wide variety of valuable knowledge and experiences to pass on to HR professional colleagues with the following details of each issue.

Getting out of “Comfort Zone” before Falling into the “Trap of Success”

AIS Digital Transformation Journey had been initiated six years ago in 2015 just before the Disruptive World forced organizations and businesses to adapt themselves. With the vision of Mr. Somchai Lertsutiwong, AIS Chief Executive Officer, he initiated to take the organization out of “the trap of success” by pushing and supporting it to apply “changes” in all dimensions leading to a better organization which delivers value to society.

The challenges in doing business & organization transformation in the case of AIS differ from other organizations, which often adapt when disasters strike and must speed up their changes to keep up with the global trend. As for AIS, AIS people are pulled out of the snare of “success” and “comfort zone”. Khun Kantima explained that the period of AIS’s Business & Organization Transformation is the time of trial-and-error learning. Both successes and failures are learnt from valuable lessons.

Looking back six years ago, business and organization transformation was unbelievable. Many people in the organization did not realize its importance because AIS at that time was strong in terms of image and operating results. In addition, the external environment at that moment did not have negative factors affecting organizational performance. Answering to the question of AIS staff, “Why do we have to change ourselves?” has become the AIS challenge. “Why does a strong telecom operator have to change to a digital service provider?”.

Khun Kantima defined the transformation as “serious” in the beginning as mentioned that AIS has undergone the transformation when it was 20 years old. It was the time, during which it was strong and successful. Thus, it was facing two serious issues.

The first issue is to break the conceptual framework that we are number one and have been successful. At this point we should not let past successes become a barrier that prevents us from moving forward in the future. The trap of success will stop us to develop and tend to use the same methods in doing business. This is a blind spot that makes many organizations lose their competition opportunities.

The second issue relates to the disruption of the first unit, that is, the HR department. Concerning the HR nature of work, we usually think of a supporting unit as a secretary. However, people strategies have not been applied. If the HR department cannot disrupt itself, it will be difficult to transform its organization.

Khun Kantima provided an interesting insight to remember that talking about disruption, people are a major concern. Don’t be impatient but adhere to the principle of speed because “people” must be adjusted in many aspects at the same time, both awarding and communication, which is the most important factor. As for human resource development systems, AIS previously focused on training, but the training department was abolished six years ago. Now, the AIS Academy is established, and human development has been changed based on the following journey themes:

1. Change people’s belief in developing themselves, enhancing their potential, being responsible for themselves and being provided with resources by the company so that all employees are equally accessible to knowledge under the developed education platform to support self-learning called “Learn Di” by AIS Academy

2. Employees’ learning was assigned by their supervisors. AIS is now adapting to applying the concept “Giving employees an ability to control their future work” through the program “Career Model” initiated to help them grow in their career paths. This program guides those who wish to shift their former roles to other ones or those who wish to be promoted. It lets them know which knowledge, skills and expertise they should possess.

3. Concerning promotion, we often heard that “those loved by supervisors will have a bright future”. This did not appear at AIS. Staff loved, preferred, or appreciated by bosses tend to resemble their supervisors and copy their thinking process. As for the new generation, such as talent groups, it is impossible that they are obedient and follow their instructions. Thus, AIS has allowed employees to draw their own future. They must be responsible to acquire knowledge by themselves.

The knowledge and immunity accumulated by AIS throughout the activity period to achieve Business & Organization Transformation have brought benefits that enable it to cope with emergency situations. Khun Kantima compared, “Nowadays, we receive the results of good deeds from past lives.” AIS adapts itself quickly and do not wait for forcing situations. Its early start enabled AIS to build up useful experience, which has a positive impact now, as AIS can adapt to the approaching waves of changes.

Zero Customized – a Principle of Using AIS Technology

Due to the situation forcing employees to work out of office, the communication and coordination styles have been changed from face to face to online systems. It is the right time to encourage employees to be equipped with digital experience, including self-services. Based on the AIS principle, technology has been used in a zero customized model without adapting technology to employees’ behavior and habits. However, it is emphasized that people adjust themselves to the platform, not the platform to people because the platform selected by organizations across the world has been used to optimize their works.

While employees may initially regard the behavioral changes arising from the use of different platforms rather than people both difficult and unfamiliar in the beginning, adaptation will occur gradually and achieved step by step. Factors that enable employees to accept and change is a service unit in case of any problems related to the use of platforms called by AIS as “People Champion”, which is a team from other departments to act as a representative to coordinate with the HR department. This group is a significant factor because in the event of any organizational changes, employees can be connected to understand and accept these changes.

However, we often discover that most organizations devote their budget for technology. But the organizational potential and the environment may not be ready. Khun Kantima suggested how to select platforms or technologies to lead to efficient people management, that is, to suit organizations. For example, buying a mobile phone, we tend to choose a phone with various functions. But in our daily life, we use only few applications or functions. Thus, organizations should take only the size of organizations and technology features into consideration. The goal of technology application must be clearly set. As for AIS, this raises the question of using technology to enhance employees’ potential without wasting time in administrative jobs.

Organizational culture can be changed as the world moves on

As for the next issue, Personnel Management Association of Thailand (PMAT) asked Khun Kantima how organizational culture has an adverse effect on organizational transformation. AIS Organizational Culture Journey relates to gradual changes in organizational culture, e.g., delayering can make the organization function better and move faster, including the changing working environment. Currently, offices on some floors do not have regular desks because employees are free to select their workplaces and build their co-working space. There is also a digital library without single books. Employees can download e-books and return them to the smart-return book cabinet.

However, the important thing that HR must emphasize involves the adjustment of organizational culture in line with the rewarding system. AIS also found that the designer of organizational culture is the old generation, who holds a command position but not those who lead organizations to the future. AIS has, therefore, designed a new corporate culture to match those who will become future manpower of the organization.

For instance, the concept of open and expect has been used. It starts from the desire for social changes. In the past, we valued what executives thought and saw it correct. AIS is now adjusting the concept of listening to the voice of young generations because they have diverse potential and skills the old generations did not possess. Thus, the idea to integrate experiences of old generation and skills of young generation has emerged.

As for culture transformation problems and obstacles, Khun Kantima stated that problems arise every day because every change is a step beyond our familiarity. Therefore, when we used to what is done and good results, leaving the existing one and stepping to the new one is a challenge. Thus, it should be regarded, “Overcoming familiarity is to review the existence and discover that something has to be disrupted.”. For example, concerning evaluation in the existing culture of Thai society, supervisors are comfortable to make compliments. However, feedbacks for staff development will bring about discomfort among supervisors and subordinates. Skill sets for assessment have to be changed. Supervisors have to learn skills for giving feedbacks, while employees have to learn responsibility.

Development of employees’ skills to keep up with global changes is one of the HR key missions. Despite human efforts to adapt themselves, this situation is also difficult. What creates learning is growth mindset. Over the past few years, AIS changed organizational DNA. We often think that “once corporate culture is created, such culture will exist forever”. In fact, corporate culture should vary in accordance with the global context. The changing world may not require the same corporate culture. Thus, a clear business problem can help us know how corporate culture should be determined. Based on the AIS concept, what we make a habit, we do not call it corporate culture.

AIS Academy: Social Development along with Business Development

To serve Business & Organization Transformation, it is very necessary to develop people to keep pace with changes. Thus, AIS Academy has been initiated with the objective of developing organizational people and providing social services.

Previously, when we talked about organizations, we tended to think of organizations only. However, it should not be overlooked that as for sustainable development, organizations must go hand in hand with strong society. Therefore, organizational development and social development must be parallel. Without social growth, organizational growth alone will not be balanced.

Another AIS social development activity involves “Kid Pua Mission”, which presents knowledge accumulated by AIS and shared to Thai society to solve the inaccessibility to knowledge due to many limitations, such as lack of capital and opportunity to gain knowledge. A project entitled “AIS Academy for Thais is, therefore, initiated.

It is a thought to apply knowledge transferred by AIS to society through AIS Academy for Thais: Intelligent Nation Series, which was organized for five times with no costs for participants. The first one was held in Bangkok and expanded to Khon Kaen and Chiang Mai. Unfortunately, this came to a halt because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Then, it was changed to online.

The AIS people development promotion activity was also carried out via the project called JUMP THAILAND by AIS NEXT, comprising activities, such as AIS InnoJump Competition to support employees to participate in sharing ideas for innovation creativity, and brainstorming ideas to solve significant problems using the startup process focusing on solutions to pain points and Online Hackathon.

The activity named “Aunjai Volunteers for Occupational Development” is initiated to cushion the impacts of COVID-19. This may make some Thais lose their opportunities to perform their occupations. Thus, AIS people skills are applied to upskill Thai people to extend their jobs and find marketplaces. Currently, there are more than 10,000 people joining the program “Academy for Thai.”

LearnDi is a learning company under the AIS Academy to develop various contents so that medium-scale organizations can access to knowledge by using low capital. The name of LearnDi comes from digital learning and word play in Thai expressions, e.g., come di, let’s have fun together. Thus, both words are combined as LearnDi.

Thanks to experience and skills learned, AIS and AIS people can manage emergency situations well. The clearly proven event is dealing with the unprecedented incident like “a large outbreak of COVID-19” that has affected people worldwide. In Thailand, we are all facing the situation and have been affected so far by the third wave of COVID-19.

Coping with COVID-19 in the AIS Style

Khun Kantima shared her experience of coping with COVID-19 in the AIS style to benefit many organizations, which are seeking approaches or suggestions on work and manpower, and organizational management, as well as organizational rehabilitation. She stated that the effects on AIS had been the same as for all other Thais, e.g., economic impacts on operating results, reduced tourist income because of restrictive travel measures for entering and leaving the country, and impacts caused by customers’ livelihood and behavioral changes. This has led to an agenda that brings about AIS development of its future business.

Dating back to the first date of epidemic announcement, AIS executives stationed in Singapore. After returning to Thailand, it took AIS few days to apply the work from home policy immediately because of technology readiness that supports the remote work style.

As for the first wave of the Covid-19 outbreak, AIS employees had experience of using technology to support operations. Having been supported by AIS technology, employees who refused to work on digital platforms, are more open to work on digital platforms due to the situation, in which they have to work in different areas, not in the office.

Khun Kantima provided additional insights into working from home style during the Covid-19 pandemic. It is often stated that it is a new normal period. Thus, it is dangerous because it is a misunderstanding point. It is mentioned this because technology plays a significant role in changing the way we work. Covid-19 only accelerates humans to adapt faster. When we look back, we have talked about digital transformation and Thailand 4.0 for a long time. In practice, we are only a few steps away.

The real entry of new norm is to work from anywhere. The function of office buildings has been changed. If we mention about the agile team operation, we must understand that our daily activities do not have to be carried out in the scrum room because technology plays a role in helping people to coordinate in working together despite being in different areas.

Despite AIS preparedness of the COVID-19, AIS must deal with emergency situations for a while as we are in uncertain situations. In particular, in the third wave of the outbreak, none can deny that it is severe, and the extent of impacts is so wide that we do not anticipate when it will end. However, businesses must continue. People readiness is, therefore, the most important to result in strength and potential for driving the organization to move on.

During the COVID-19 situation, AIS has tried new tools for their work, e.g., application of Workday HCM System to help the HR operation and deliver HR services to internal customers or employees smoothly. In addition, it has transformed the style of work into digital operation more quickly. The former operation was a combination of digital and documentation. Currently, all of them are in the digital platform for easy access and information sharing.

The next topic to be additionally suggested involves morale building at work. This will lead employees to the same target. Khun Kantima shared AIS’s interesting practices.

Firstly, communication is significant, especially in the situation, whereby people are not in the same location. Communication’s channels must be accessible, timely and updated at all times. For example, during the first round of the COVID-19 epidemic AIS executives communicated with employees by singing a song of encouragement. Communication is, therefore, important and must be regularly conducted, particularly during organizational unusual conditions because it can keep employees connected to the same goal.

Secondly, self-responsibility has been applied by monitoring their operations and appraising their performances, which will be carried out intensively. Supervisors will monitor if their team can increase productivity to reach the goals. More importantly, the supervisor’s role in this situation is changed from instructing and waiting for the subordinates’ presentation to assisting them in their operations. The AIS principle is “all employees must be responsible for themselves.”

As a result of work style adjustment under the COVID-19 pandemic situation, various organizations have found out that some positions are not necessary anymore. This has led to changes in workforces. Some may lose their jobs after this situation. This is not because of economic poison but accountability and competence or self-development. As digital has divided people into two groups, which are more distant: Group 1 – competent employees who can adjust themselves, move forward and keep abreast of the world, and Group 2 – those who choose not to adapt themselves. This group will be left behind.

Change does not always have to be successful

Organizations must change employees’ thinking methods so that they are not afraid of failure. It will be alright if changes are unsuccessful. When we fall, we must find out what we learn from this failure. The AIS program called “learning from failures” let those who failed or encountered obstacles share their experiences. As an example, a patient who has lain in a vegetative state can get up to fight and reach the summit of Mount Everest. These people are a significant change agent. To drive organizational changes, more than 1,000 people have joined this program from the beginning of 300 people. They shared their failures by giving an idea that failures will not make them fail again. Overcoming failures and learning from them are a key component of creating organizational innovation.

In the VUCA World, it is uncertain and tends to fail. Failure leading to learning is always valuable, e.g., learning not to repeat the same failure. At present, to start doing many things rely on speed. If you think for a long time, it may not be in time because speed is vital.

To move forward, new generations must dare to take risks. Executives must have the guts to try something and are open-minded. Like raising children, if we do not let them fall, they will never grow and be independent.

HR must disrupt itself before changing others

HR must speed up to develop itself. In the past, HR put itself behind the house and were not interested in business. Whenever business plans were mentioned, they became outsiders. HR must understand the business and get involved in the areas, where organizational strategies are discussed. The HR department must know more than the front line because it has a duty to develop people. In practice, it is found that HR makes changes and repairs.

The first two groups that often remain the barrier to changes comprise the HR and executives, who are not open-minded to welcome changes and leave the comfort zone. The approach to good organizational development relates to openness and listening to others’ opinions. Business operators must promote the HR department to disrupt itself. At the same time, executives must listen to views of young generations and integrate their skills with organizational experience. One issue that should be open-minded is that the period of employment of new generations will be shorter. Employees may work in organizations for only 3-5 years. The major concern relates to what they have created to the organization. They may bring about more organizational success than those with longer employment, who are loyalty to organizations. The period of employment should not be taken into consideration only.

In the next two years, people management will be definitely changed, namely employment, evaluation, and reward systems. The employment system will change because new generations require freedom. Full-time staff will also decrease as competent staff wish to design their ways of life. There will be co-hiring among partner organizations.

Organizations must differentiate between satisfaction and engagement, which are different. They may be pleased with the high employees’ satisfaction survey results. However, satisfaction parallels the comfort zone, that is, employees are delighted to the existence. This may lead to lack of passion. Many organizations take good care of their employees, but their rewarding and evaluation are unclear. As a result, organizations have lost enthusiastic and responsible employees because such employees desire to work in a workplace that allows them to better show their potential.

Finally, Khun Kantima gave her fellow HR professionals some interesting advice that as CHRO in driving and revitalizing organizations, HR must upgrade itself to HR business partner. The HR role has been redefined due to the changing world. It is remarkable that we can predict that the HR role tends to disappear when technology replaces various functions.

However, from Khun Kantima’s perspective, the HR role will not vanish but be upgraded to HR business partner (HRBP). Thus, HR must ask itself if it can really become a HRBP, get a chance to be present at the business discussion meeting, acknowledge and take part in setting organizational goals, and be capable of providing advice to executives about resource management for maximum organizational benefits. Because of these, HR has to ask and develop itself.

Following this interview, it is expected that readers will gain knowledge and techniques, as well as expand their perspectives on how to better manage “people”. Let’s meet again in the special column, “CHRO Lens: New Way of Working after COVID-19” at the next opportunity. Please stay tuned for CHRO’s perspective on human resource and organizational development.

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