Cara Ang is the Group Chief Human Resources Officer of AIA. RBL Principal, Darryl Wee interviewed her about the importance of the Accelerates Business domain.
Please share a little about your organizational context, and the role that you play for your organization.
AIA is the largest independent publicly listed Pan-Asian life insurance group with a presence in 18 markets across the region and over 23,000 employees and many thousands of agents. Despite our long history, in AIA, we like to say we are “100 years young” and this start-up mindset is what’s driving us to forward, especially given that things are changing faster than ever before. It is an exciting time to be a part of an organization that is rewriting insurance for the modern world.
Big external shifts, such as the increasing need for individual protection, rapidly shifting customer mindset and pervasiveness of new technologies mean there will be fundamental changes in the way we work. 2020 has highlighted how hard-to-predict shocks require a continual need to build resilience and prepare organizations and talent to be future-ready.
At AIA, our purpose is to help people live Healthier, Longer, Better lives, and this purpose rings truer now than ever. As the Group Chief Human Resources Officer for AIA Group, I work alongside my incredible team and colleagues across the Group to make this real for our customers and our employees by shaping a forward thinking, human-centric and diverse organization where our people can flourish and enable our purpose from the inside-out.
We are an organization where digitally minded and passionate self-starters gather to make an impact.
Why do you think the domain of Accelerating Business is relevant to HR and the work that you do?
This domain resonates with me because it echoes the way I work with my peers, the lens I apply when making decisions, and how I hope that HR and the work we do is perceived by the business. Any action we take needs to accelerate the business in some shape or form and add real value to the organization.
All this starts from having a deep understanding of the organization’s strategy and goals so that we can propose and partner in delivering the right solutions. An outcome-based approach towards getting things done means we prioritise the work that will move the needle, and we are activating the kind of change the business actually needs. Given the external shifts we are seeing, we also need a significant amount of agility and appetite for change within HR, to be able to manoeuvre at pace with the organization and establish HR as a reliable partner you want by your side.
How have you or your team applied this domain to situations or initiatives in your organization? Please share 2 examples.
One of our core strategic priorities is to shape our organization for the next era of growth, and in 2020 we launched a program, called “Organization of the Future”, to help enable our new corporate strategy. Through the program, led by HR, we are optimising our organization structures, introducing Agile ways of working, and strengthening our people, culture and capabilities. This program will impact many parts of our business, so we must partner effectively with business colleagues across all functions to succeed. As you can imagine, this type of transformation requires that all our stakeholders are on-board, and significant emphasis is put on working with leaders and staff so they can understand, embrace, and lead the change.
We have a lot of work to do and this is where having an outcome-focused mindset is essential. We must focus on the right things and prioritise meaningful action that drives impact. We want to be a simpler, faster, more connected business, and our “Organization of the Future” program provides a great opportunity to put this principle into practice and showcase HR transformational leadership to the business.
As part of the program, we looked closely at how leading organizations operate, not just those within our industry, and incorporated best practice into our thinking. The business looks to HR for guidance and expertise on how best to shape the organization to enable our strategy and trusts our judgement when it comes to how best to transform at scale.
A key initiative for AIA is to embed Enterprise Agility, where applicable, in our business units and parts of Group Office. We are working together with colleagues across Technology, Distribution, Finance, Operations and other areas to make this happen. HR has jointly defined the Agile playbook for AIA and has a key role in driving Agile ways of working across the organization. We are piloting change in parts of our organization to scale-up Agile models and encouraging broader behavioural shifts towards higher degrees of autonomy and experimentation. Adopting a test and learn approach helps to demonstrate the value that Agile brings to the wider business, refining our models before scaling.
I’ve mentioned how we are a purpose-led company that strives to help people live healthier, longer, better lives, and this very much includes our own employees. Research shows that people would prefer to work for purpose-led organizations, and a strong sense of purpose is a key driver of people-performance. HR are not the custodians of AIA culture, that role belongs to all of us, but we have a part to play in working with the business to make our purpose come alive and make our employees feel that it is embedded in everything we do.
What were the benefits when applying this domain at work?
Our employees are already noticing a difference in how we operate. Regular pulse surveys and focus groups across pilot business units indicate a positive reaction to the change and that we are becoming a faster and more collaborative organization. In a recent survey, ~85% of respondents believe the changes we are making will make a positive difference to the organization. This is encouraging and validates that we are focusing on the right priorities.
Across our frontrunner business units in the program, we have or will be launching 10-15 Agile ‘Tribes’ by the end of 2021, which comprise three-to-five cross-functional teams. I expect that over 500 people will be staffed in these ‘Tribes,’ spearheading Agile ways of working at AIA by end of 2021. We are already realising the benefits of our Agile transition, improving customer-centricity, cross-functional collaboration, and speed-to-market. Additionally, our people are developing new skillsets and knowledge, which will benefit their careers both at AIA and beyond.
What do you think are key factors that contributed to the successful application of this domain?
We have built credibility as a transformation partner due to consistent and impactful execution of change. But with organization-wide transformation you also need courage and conviction as an HR function to step-up. We must be prepared to make mistakes, learn from them and course correct if necessary.
Another key factor is about effectively articulating the work we do and how it contributes to overall business results. This helps gain buy-in, especially when discussing transformative change with our business partners.
What were some challenges faced when applying this at the workplace? How did you and your team overcome them?
We are operating in a dynamic, fast-changing, environment, and it is easy to get distracted by curveballs that aren’t focussed on the real objective. It is important to maintain a macro view and continually reprioritise what we are working on to make sure that we achieve our main objectives. To successfully support the business in such ambiguous conditions means that we ourselves must be able to operate with fluidity in uncertainty. Plans change, direction may need to be altered, and what was deemed crucial this month may be disrupted and replaced with something else. At the heart of it is being able to respond professionally and to work with the business to make sure we are focusing on the right things.
Recognising that, internally, we as HR need to embrace agility and be resilient to change, we have launched an HR Fitness Development program with the Group HR team to equip our people with the skills they need to lead change. The program involves a series of curated learning modules on topics related to change, execution excellence, ownership, risk and importantly upskilling all HR employees in technology, digital and analytics skills.
Read other articles in the Exemplars of the Domain series: Advances Human Capability, Simplifies Complexity & Fosters Collaboration, and Mobilizes Information.
If you are looking to strengthen HR competency on an individual, department, or business level, RBL is prepared to take that path with you. Contact us to get started.