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Leveraging organisational change to refresh talent strategy and kickstart culture-building

July 11, 2023

Vishal (Head of People Operations international at Gojek) shares some best practices on change management frameworks, communication and developing HR professionals into change champions

A HR career journey that began with curiosity

Kitty: How did you end up in People and Culture? Was it what you expected, if you look back?

Vishal: As an introduction, my name is Vishal and I am the Head of People Operations for the GoTo Group since March 2019. I lead the People Operations function for the international countries, namely India, Vietnam, and Singapore. 

How did I end up in HR? If you ask any HR professional, most of them wouldn't have thought of being a HR professional when they were young. I certainly did not. Your career aspirations, your career goals, it kept changing as you grew older. It was only when I was doing my bachelor’s degree in business management that I was exposed to HR as a module. And I thought, okay, first of all, what is that? It sounded interesting and I wanted to know a little bit more about it, and I ended up taking it as my specialization module. So, you can say it's by chance, you can say it's by luck that I chose HR as my major. 

I felt it was a natural progression to move from what you studied to what you do for work. So that's how I got into HR and I've been in it for nine years so far. The journey has been pretty interesting, fun and fulfilling at the same time as I get to navigate the different challenges. HR brings a different set of challenges, issues, and opportunities on a regular basis. We never get the same day in this organization as there is always something new to work on or something new to handle. It strives for me to learn more, to do more as a professional, because it's never ending. Different people react in different ways.

Different people react in different ways. And you, as a HR professional need to foresee that. You need to plan ahead, be ahead of the game, and be able to handle those kinds of cases when it's presented to you.

Looking back, was it something I expected? Definitely not. Like I said, I had no idea what HR was back then. But as you go along your journey, you kind of know what to expect. You kind of know what to envision ahead. And based on all those factors, you can be one step ahead of the game. So my journey has been pretty great. Pretty fun, challenging at times, fulfilling, but no regrets being in the HR profession.

Kitty: That's great. Glad to hear that you chose HR, but HR also chose you, in a sense. The HR life chose you.

Vishal: The HR life, indeed!

How HR professionals can learn from each other across different specialisations

Kitty: You're familiar with the startup environment from your current role, and also previously at RedMart. It seems like you've got HR generalist experience, so you've probably seen it all. What resources or support do you wish there was for HR professionals in a Southeast Asia context? Just in general first, and then we can talk about restructuring and change management.

Vishal: I think in an organization like GoTo where we are one of the biggest and most valued organizations in SEA, the support has always been there – one way or another. If you compare yourself to a slightly smaller organization where they don't have the luxury of having a bigger HR team, the smaller HR team may not be able to navigate the problems, or the issues presented to them because they don’t have the different specialists in the team.

Having the correct specialized individuals to be part of the HR team, that is something I wish most organizations could support or offer to the HR team, because that's how you get to learn from one another. For example, I am a people operations person. I don't have background in compensation and benefits or learning and development to begin with.

Being in the same environment where I can learn from my peers and stakeholders who are specialists in their domain by interacting, understanding the problems that they're facing on the ground, you get to learn a lot. It makes you, as a HR professional, start thinking, “If I'm in this position, how would I actually handle it from a compensation point of view, or from a training and development point of view?”

3 keys to successful change management: access to frameworks, transparent communication and training development programmes for HR professionals

Kitty: Yeah. So when it comes to restructuring or change management in particular, where do you see perhaps a resource gap or a support gap for HR professionals?

Vishal: The first thing is having a framework, because change management as a topic is complex. Having access to a comprehensive change management framework that provides - guidance on planning, on executing, on change initiatives etc. It is beneficial to the HR professional because there is a framework put in place. This is what that individual can refer to, to learn more about change management. The frameworks should consist of communication strategies, stakeholder analysis, engagement, training and development, and also a way to measure the impact of change.

Secondly, similar to having access to change management framework, there should be a training and development program. HR professionals will find it beneficial if they have access to specialized training and development programs which focus on change management. For example, the program can cover topics like change leadership, communication strategies, influencing skills, managing resistance, building culture that is adaptable to change etc.  

Finally, I would say communication resources.

People don't realize the importance of effective communication. It’s extremely important, especially if you're handling something very sensitive like a restructuring. Different people are going to react differently to the news when it comes out. 

Hence, having a clear communication plan is vital to ensure the key messages are highlighted. Useful resources include communication templates, guidelines on how to craft a message, the different channels to disseminate such information, whether face-to-face, a town hall or online. Access to these kinds of resources helps the HR team to be transparent with the employees. 

Using restructuring to align talent development with new organisational goals and build a learning culture

Kitty: Thanks for that comprehensive answer. You kind of already answered the next question about talent development as well, more from that perspective of HR. Just quickly, when there's a reorg or a restructure or a big change, how can HR use that as an opportunity to be even more strategic with talent development? Because you've got less people, more to do. They're probably doing new things they've never done before.

Vishal: After any kind of transformational or restructuring exercise, the first thing that any organization needs to do is to align the talent development with the new organizational goals. You have made a big change, which means you have new organizational goals set in place. Ensure the development initiatives we have in place are closely aligned with this new strategic direction. To put it in context, it is identifying key competencies or identifying skills required to achieve the organization goals, or to even design a development program accordingly. So that's the first thing, make sure that you align your talent development with the new goals.

Secondly, you need to foster a learning culture. HR should always encourage continuous learning. That's something I believe in.

HR should build a culture of encouraging continuous learning throughout the organization. It doesn't matter whether you're at top management or an entry level employee, learning tools should be provided to everyone.

How do we do it? This can be achieved through promoting a growth mindset, providing opportunities for employees to acquire new skill sets, recognizing and rewarding learning development efforts. Create an environment that values learning. HR can enhance talent development and ensure that employees are prepared to adapt to the changing needs of the organization. As cliche as it may be, change is a constant. 

Finally, we can offer tailored development plans. Coming up with customized development programs that cater to the specific needs of the different employee groups such as senior executives, middle managers, interns, fresh grads etc. This could come in various programs, for example, leadership development for managers who want to move up to senior management or technical training programs such as coding, phyton etc.

How a trial and error mindset in startups trickles through to organisational structure

Kitty: Thank you. You've already answered my next question, which is the role of learning. I do have sort of a tangent question, which is something I observed. Do you feel that startups are perhaps very confident in their ability to learn through osmosis or constant experimentation? So there's maybe a lack of a need to be more structured in learning, because they feel like, oh, we know how to build, learn, test, we know learning, there's less of a need to have a framework or some sort of plan around it.

Vishal: Having worked in a startup previously, they have the mindset of trial and error as that is how it has been from day 1.

Whether it's the products that they want to launch, or the services that they want to introduce to consumers, it has always been a trial-and-error kind of mindset. To an extent, they apply the same mindset when it comes to HR.

If you look at startups, for some reason, HR is an afterthought. It's only until they realize that there is a gap or a major issue, for example high attrition, then they will start to focus on the need of HR. Maybe have a proper retention plan or have a learning and development strategy to keep your talents. 

But eventually you need to come out of that mindset. Eventually you need to put your structure in place and start to build on that structure, right? If not, you will just be a startup forever. You'll never really get to be the big boy that you want to be. You're always stuck in your early days, your infant years. That’s why I feel that some startups don’t really succeed in the long term because they're not able to make that gradual change. 

Kitty: I'm glad that you've noticed that as well. , it's been a common pattern that HR leaders from all different functions, they're like, yeah, people come to us with a solution. They're always willing to pay to fix it, but less willing to pay to get it right from the beginning.

Vishal: You think about it and start to wonder – “I should have done this from the start”. It was not so complicated to begin with. It's always an afterthought, especially at the startup level. The culture is all about getting the product to be launched, let's make an impact, let's build up the brand name, marketing, sales, etc. HR is the last thing that they think of. Some startups realize it and they move on quite quickly because they realize the gap, but some startups don't. 

Kitty: Yes, that's right, cool. So just to finish up quickly, what's ahead in the year ahead for you?

Vishal: I am a believer in continuous learning.  In that sense, to continue learning and building my HR capabilities, knowledge, and expertise with the GoTo Group. We might be one of the biggest and most valued organizations in SEA, but there is still a lot of work to be done in the HR’s space. We have made good progress over the last few years, but we are not a finished article yet. With good HR leadership and direction, we can take the company to the next level.

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