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Banking on a Resilient Workforce

Banking on a Resilient Workforce

  • 13 Apr 2021

When COVID-19 started to change the world, we were able to implement a quick and smooth transition into the new normal. In his interview for the HCP E-Bulletin Cover Story (April to June 2021), Jason Ho, our Head of Group HR shared how OCBC Bank built its workforce into one that is resilient and relevant in a world of fast change and inevitable crises.

1. One of the main contributors to OCBC’s success in managing the COVID-19 crisis has been the organisation’s long-term commitment to upskilling and reskilling its people, to build a future-ready workforce. What are the most important qualities to nurture in a resilient workforce and what talent development initiatives does OCBC implement to bring out these qualities out in your people?

OCBC takes a long-term view in upskilling and reskilling our people for the future so that our people and the organisation are well prepared for the ever-changing economy.

To date, we have embarked on two major initiatives to ensure that our 30,000 employees globally are armed with the digital skills they need for jobs of the future. In 2018, we launched a three-year, $20 million OCBC Future Smart Programme to equip our people with skills in seven key digital domains. Our people can access a suite of 6,000 online programmes as well as speaker sessions, workshops and classroom learning.

We also launched the Future Workforce Initiative, where we focused on workforce reskilling, upskilling and augmentation through technology. In 2018, we reviewed about 150 roles covering 9,000 employees across OCBC Bank and Bank of Singapore, and found high transformation potential in about one-third of them. After identifying the transformation potential of critical roles, vital future competencies, and key workforce transformation pathways, we created role-based learning roadmaps to bring about this transformation. Since then, we launched reskilling and upskilling programmes and placed 1,300 employees on the Professional Conversion Programme, and they should be set to take on new or enhanced roles by 2022. More learning roadmaps and initiatives are in the pipeline.

As one of the participating banks in the Technology in Finance Immersion Programme , we also groom mid-career individuals from non-banking background for roles in key technology areas within the financial industry. As of 2020, we accepted 18 trainees, four of whom have been converted into full-time employees.

2. How did you overcome the challenges brought about by the COVID-19 crisis?

The health and safety of our employees and customers are always at the forefront of what we do – that was our priority during Covid-19. We adjusted work arrangements to ensure continued service levels to our customers, regularly calibrated office workforce requirements to ensure that they were aligned with guidelines, environment, business requirements, and adopted a role-based approach to determine our work in office/remote working arrangements.

Our extensive investment in technology infrastructure allowed employees to work from home as much as possible. Safe management measures were implemented as we re-adjusted to working in a new office environment and respond to changing external environmental risks.

In an employee pulse survey, more than 90% of the staff who responded shared that they were able to adapt and manage well with the new work arrangements. As many of our employees were working remotely, our managers and leaders proactively reached out to engage them and ensure that their physical, emotional and mental wellness were taken care of. We also rolled out virtual courses on physical, mental and emotional wellbeing, as well as leadership, to sustain overall wellness of our employees.

We are mindful that we are not out of the woods yet, and we constantly remind our employees to remain cautious and observe strictly the safe management measures in place to ensure their safety.

3. Over the years, OCBC has invested heavily in digital transformation, both in your functions and importantly, employees’ skills. How have such efforts contributed to your success in responding swiftly to the shifts brought along by COVID-19?

On top of investing in our people, we have been investing significantly over the years to digitalise our frontend and backend. These investments have served our customers and us well, particularly during the pandemic period of reduced people movement.

We also adopted digitisation to enhance the employee experience so that we deliver a high service level to our employees, whom we look upon as our main ‘customers’. Having the right digital tools and processes is key so that we can serve our people more efficiently. During the pandemic, our in-house employee platforms remained instrumental in facilitating seamless access to HR processes and programmes while our employees worked remotely. Through these platforms, our employees continue to have access to select their benefits, file claims, apply for leave, view internal job opportunities and staff privileges, and retrieve a whole range of information on the go.

4. How has OCBC’s stance on talent development helped in mitigating the impact of COVID-19 on the business? Please share one or two examples.

The pandemic did not stop us from preparing our people for the future by investing in their learning and development. To ensure that our employees continue to pick up new skills to develop a resilient and growth mindset, we increasingly went virtual in delivering our suite of learning programmes.

In 2020, we saw a 66% increase in the completion of virtual learning compared to the previous year. Virtual learning was made possible through our cloud-based Learning Management System, which enabled us to switch to digital and virtual learning modes rapidly, converting 86% of in-person programmes to virtual modes.

Our annual Future Smart Future Workforce learning festival also went virtual. This gave us greater reach and resulted in large-scale participation by our employees globally over the six-month long festival.

We launched an internal “Around the World” campaign where our learning teams from across the OCBC Group took turns to host learning specials and provide a multi-faceted, multi-cultural learning experience to our employees.

5. A crisis is never expected, but the measures and effort to manage them can be extremely resource- and time-consuming. How can an organisation secure the support of leadership and managers during this time?

It is often assumed that leaders cope well in all situations. However, they too, need support, and we need to ensure that they are well-supported. With the changes in the way we work, leaders will need to adapt and up their game. To lead effectively, they will need to focus on sharpening their skills in empathetic leadership, building trust, managing multiple work arrangements, and cultivating a culture of growth mindset.

6. How does a company go about building a culture where talents are always ready to embrace both slow and sudden change?

Our culture which encourages experimentation, being nimble and agile, and adopting growth mindset served us well through the course of the pandemic. It is crucial that we shape the right culture to provide the optimal employee experience and create opportunities for them to learn, grow and transform.

We harness the power of data and people insights in decision making to help us optimise our efforts. We were able to understand our employees’ readiness for flexible work models, and therefore, introduce relevant supporting policies required. The future of work is already happening now, and our flexible work policies take into consideration how our employees can best do their roles efficiently and effectively, whether it is at the office, or away from it. 

By creating opportunities for continuous listening and encouraging open dialogues to obtain feedback from our stakeholders, we design and deliver unique solutions that really matter to the business and our employees. This creates a culture where our talents are confident and ready to face any changes and challenges at work.

7. What are your words of advice for businesses who may be unsure about committing time and resources in their talents as part of their organisational strategies?

Employees are at the heart of any organisations’ journey to create sustainable value for stakeholders. The more relevant their skills are, the more successful the business will be.

At OCBC, we attract, develop and retain talents by continuously investing in our learning ecosystem to enrich our employees’ knowledge and upgrade their skills so that they are future ready, and able to continuously contribute to the organisation.

Despite the pandemic, we were encouraged to see that the investments we had put in our people have paid off. Our employees were agile, adapting quickly to changes in their workplace and continued to serve our customers, amidst challenging times. 

If organisations are committed to invest in their people in the long term, they will be able to build a resilient workforce that delivers value to their stakeholders.


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