Peck Kem Low is the CHRO of the Public Service Division of Singapore Public Service. RBL Principal, Darryl Wee interviewed her about the importance of both the Simplifies Complexity and Fosters Collaboration domains.
Please share a little about your organizational context, and the role that you play for your organization.
In the Public Service, with 153,000 public officers across 16 ministries, 10 organs of state and more than 60 statutory boards, we had to centrally manage the complexities and provide guidance to the different agencies so that they could better manage their teams and agencies’ workforce. The Public Service division plays the role of the central HQ for HR in being the center of expertise and provides tools and guidelines on the usual day-to-day operational running of the agencies.
As CHRO for the Singapore Public Service, I provide professional leadership to the HR community in the Public Service. Singapore Public Service is the single largest employer in Singapore, and we strive to be a role model for the private sector in fair and progressive people practices making the Public Service the employer of choice.
As the Head of the HR profession for the Public Service, my role entails uplifting the capabilities of the HR community, designing relevant programs to enhance the level of competencies for the community, setting standards of HR for the community and continuously being open to bring in new capabilities and learning from others, looking at HR from the outside in.
Why do you think this domain is relevant to HR and the work that you do?
The domain of fostering collaboration is critical to HR and especially in the work that we do. While the Singapore Public Service enjoys a decent level of employer branding, and we have been an attractive employer for the efficiency and meaningful work that we do, we do not do it all by ourselves. The Public Service exists to serve the public, citizens and businesses in Singapore. As Singapore is small, and without any natural resources, our only natural resource is our people. With a declining birth rate if 1.18, Singapore is dependent on foreign direct investments as well as foreign talent in order to complement our workforce. Also, as a multi-cultural, multi-religion city state, Singapore needs to manage a very diverse workforce. In order to punch above our weight, at a national level, Singapore has business friendly labour laws, collaborative tripartite relationships between Government, employers and workers’ union, and excellent internal relations with the super powers and our neighbouring countries and the ASEAN states.
How have you or your team applied the domains of simplifying complexities and fostering collaboration to situations or initiatives in your organization?
While Singapore may be small as a country, we do face a lot of complexities as a small sovereign state. With no natural resources to tap on, we must manage with our wits and use soft power rather than brute strength. To simplify complexities, faced at a national level, which translates to the Public Service at an organizational level, we had to be very prudent in how we invest in our only resource, our people and leadership. We proactively anticipate how the demographics might change over the years, given the low fertility rate and put in place policies to encourage marriage and procreation. We anticipated that we might be overly dependent on other countries for foreign talent, and as such, we built in quotas to cap and limit the foreign workers dependency at organizational levels. We anticipate an aging workforce in 30-50 years, and put in place policies and practices to ensure people lead healthier lives to their silver/golden age, raise employment and re-employment ages and make it affordable for senior workers to continue working if they choose to do so. Most of these are covered in our strategic workforce plans, and we use data analytics to project the manpower needs 10-20 years into the future. As a small country, we are able to also influence the curriculum of the institutes of higher learning to produce graduates which are needed by the industry.
By providing a centralised platform for the core HR functions like recruitment (Careers@gov) , rewards, development and training (Civil Service College), it cuts down complexities and leverages on volume. Central shared services like Vital.Org also takes away the administrative load of payroll, offer letters, security checks etc from the agencies’ HR. The use of technology and IT tools also created a common platform to ease administration for the HR departments. Generally, automation, digitization, centralization, shared services and consolidated learning and training (elearning – Learn@csc) are our strategy to simplify complexities.
That said, there is always a balance to allow room to manoeuvre to customise their solutions to meet situation needs, without compromising on the high tech yet high touch philosophy.
HR, being the main custodian of this precious resource has learnt to foster collaboration with different geographies, nationalities, races, stake holders, citizens and businesses. In the Public Service, we serve the government of the day that is elected by the citizens, and one of the key roles that the Singapore Public Service has to do is to support and take a lead in the national agenda. For example, when the national agenda is to push towards a Smart Nation and use more AI and technology and digitization to make our workforce more effective, the Public Service collaborates with the key stakeholders to push ahead with the national agenda, moving ahead in unison with the private sectors.
In fostering collaboration, we build on the strength of the HR networks within and outside of Singapore Public Service. Within the public sector agencies, we build a close-knit network where HR Leaders come together monthly to share practices and discuss the whole of government level people initiatives. These include initiatives to keep our workforce agile by having structured job rotation to move our talent across different agencies and also giving them a stint out to the private sector to learn from the private sector and bring the learning back to public service.
Outside of the Public Service, we collaborate with HR practitioners and companies in the private sector, with public sector agencies in other countries, and also with HR professional bodies like RBL, CIPD, SHRI, IHRP etc. As we have a common goal of developing our workforce to be ready for the future, we openly share resources and collaborative efforts with a growth mindset mentality. Our HR Leaders are encouraged to contribute to the wider community beyond their own agency or public service. Personally, I am on the board of the tripartite supported organization the Institute of HR Professionals and also elected President of the Singapore Human Resources Institute. HR professionals are encouraged to give back to the community, in whatever form or shape, for the benefit of mankind.
What were the benefits when applying this domain at work?
By fostering collaboration, benefits are immense! In the example of the recent COVID-19 Pandemic, with the close collaboration between public service and the private sectors, we were able to shift the grounded aviation sector workforce to the much-needed healthcare sector to be healthcare management ambassadors. The close collaboration between different public sector agencies also meant that we could swing available workforce from one agency to another which was critically short of resources. E.g. managing the temporary relief funds and issuing of masks, to taking on the role of a safe distancing ambassador. These are crisis period needs and without the close collaboration and high level of trust that has been established over the years, they cannot be executed in days.
So, leveraging on resources, movement of people, increased speed of execution, building a high level of employee engagement, and organization pride are but some of the benefits reaped.
Similarly, by simplifying complexities, keeping the end goal in mind and getting alignment to what we are all working towards, we were able to quickly move the airline flight attendants of the grounded planes to be trained and deployed to hospitals to assist the nurses who are over loaded. We were single minded in pushing towards to goal of helping one another overcome the pandemic, cut through all red tape and gave people assurances that we have their welfare and well-being at heart. With HR removing obstacles and facilitating the transitions, we were able to bring in much-needed resources to the healthcare sector and help the aviation sector workforce reskill to the capability that they bring – service management. HR’s value adds in simplifying the complexities in policy design and skilful facilitation and engagement with key stakeholders to cut red tape have made things happen with happy stakeholders.
What do you think are key factors that contributed to the successful application of theses domains?
Key factors to successful application are trust, alignment of goals, values, leadership and high level of engagement and collaboration with stakeholders.
There must also be investments in the right areas to facilitate the transition. It is not good enough to say do more with less as we all have limited time. Invest in tech tools and AI, go digital and high tech but never, never lose the human touch. So, it is important to communicate the intent, buy the heart share, and not just mind share. Give people the assurance that hi-tech can still be high touch.
What were some challenges faced when applying these at the workplace? How did you and your team overcome them?
Some of the challenges in fostering collaboration and simplifying complexities are when people have a fixed mindset. If we think that collaboration means you win, I lose, then there will never be any collaborative success. The “what’s in it for me” mentality must shift to a growth mindset of how might the collaboration result in 1+1=11?
Oftentimes, we also tend to overthink into the complexities and consequences and that can overwhelm and create unnecessary roadblocks to the initiatives. While it is important to plan and anticipate the consequences, it is more important to not over complicate or get stuck dotting every “i” and crossing every “t” before we move. We adopt a design thing concept and do quick prototyping, start small, act fast and scale up to the rest.
Translating the competencies into behavioural traits are key to the HR competency framework. In Public Service, we are driving towards a competency-based HR management system, where appointments, promotions, rewards, development and performance are based on competencies and behaviours that are exhibited to show the level of competency. The HR Competency Study Round 8 would be a huge anchor for the competency-based HR Management system to work for us.
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.