By: Nick Sutcliffe Executive Director, The Conference Board, Asia

The Gist

  • For HR to truly be effective in supplying and managing talent, it must speak the same language as the rest of the business.
  • HR must become a business partner, leveraging data to show the value they deliver.
  • To remain effective, HR needs to take an active role, helping leaders to plan ahead to address their talent needs.

Nick, your organisation is at the forefront of shaping the future of work – what are some of the trends you’ve been seeing?

We’re very excited by what we’re observing in a new, borderless workplace. As the boundaries between countries become diminished, the boundaries between job functions are breaking down, too. The result? More overlap between job functions and a breaking down of the silos that kept different areas isolated for too long. Just consider how HR is now responsible for corporate social responsibility and recruitment marketing or how CEOs are more involved in shaping talent’s impact on the business than ever before.

The boundaries between job functions are breaking down

The other big factors are wearables and big data and their growing presence in today’s workplace. I recently spoke with a company using facial recognition software to determine how engaged and happy their employees are in real-time, continually. Shell issued 25,000 wearables to their employees to drive down insurance costs by demonstrating they were heathier than the norm.

New jobs are appearing that no one has previously dreamed of We’re also watching what skills will be needed moving forward. New jobs are appearing that no one has previously dreamed of, requiring completely different skill sets. We need to foster collaboration to get work done, as no one person possesses all the skills needed. Although renaissance candidates with multiple talents are more than just a dream, the competition for these individuals is intense. Meanwhile, HR is bemoaning how poorly academic institutions prepare talent for the workplace. And automation might mean that a lot of previously white collar jobs become obsolete.

New jobs are appearing that no one has previously dreamed of

What does the HR function of the future look like?

Ideally, HR shouldn’t be called HR: They should be seen as business partners. That said, HR isn’t always fluent in business speak, until recently, they didn’t even have access to the data and analytics necessary to participate in business conversations.

Every other business function is able to solve business problems using hard data – but HR fails to do so. When there is a business downturn, HR, training, leadership and development are all targeted because HR cannot articulate the ROI of these activities in a language that is readily understood by the business. We’ve seen this problem before – marketing once had the same issue, which is why you see the proliferation of tools and metrics that provide evidence for the value of marketing efforts.

Strategic workforce planning is HR’s big opportunity to use the myriad data points available on the workforce, and CHROs need to spend their time looking at how this information impacts business drivers, metrics, geographic challenges and future growth opportunities. In other words, HR needs to break the habit of only speaking the language of HR, gain fluency in business and acquire the skills that ensure they are crucial to their organisation.

HR needs to gain fluency in business

What other advice do you have for HR professionals?

Close the gap. Every year, we ask CEOs what keeps them awake at night, and the number one or two answer consistently is ‘talent’. We also ask what strategies will enable them to address this concern. When we ask the same question of HR, they come back with an entirely different set of strategies; they really do speak totally different languages!

Ditch the race to the bottom. Asia’s growth has been a “race to the bottom” in terms of producing the cheapest and fastest talent. Millennials aren’t interested in working for a brand that’s known for being the cheapest; in contrast, they want to work for the most innovative, hot up-and-comers (even Apple is now seen as an old-school company by younger entrants into the workforce). Asia represents immense opportunities in terms of middle-class growth and the corresponding rise in consumer spending, but there are very few Asian-based companies that are positioned to leverage that.

Millennials want to work for the most innovative companies, not those known for being the cheapest

Get your leaders ready to lead. Business is an international language spoken in every country. Millennials are fluent in multitasking on several devices and apps, simultaneously. Being able to network might be the best way to source skills, whether through traditional employees or contingent workers. HR needs to help its leaders plan ahead and predict, instead of react and retreat.

Based in Singapore, Nicholas (“Nick”) Sutcliffe is the executive director of The Conference Board for Asia. Responsible for its strategic development and operations within the region, he shares responsibility for enhancing the organisation’s stature and reputation as a relevant, objective and ethical institution serving business and society.

Having worked in Asia since 1994, Nick has a deep understanding of the cultural and social issues that affect the region and a passionate interest in Chinese and Indian business relations and cultural drivers. He has worked throughout Asia, the Middle East, India, North America and Europe.


About The Author


Nick Sutcliffe
Executive Director , The Conference Board, Asia

Nick spearheads human capital research projects across the region and has co-published numerous research reports on leadership, talent development and human capital practice, with a specific focus on India, China and ASEAN.