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Transforming passion for multimedia game development into a catalyst for enhancing employee experience and driving organizational performance

June 30, 2023

Divina (Senior People Business Partner at Bolttech Malaysia) gives practical advice on crafting the right talent strategy and systems to foster a culture of continuous learning and upskilling after a restructure

From studying multimedia game development, to contributing to the employee experience and organisational performance

Kitty: Tell me a bit more about your career journey. How did you end up in People and culture? And looking back, was it what you expected?

Divina: My career journey has been a fascinating tale of transformation, shifting from the captivating world of multimedia game development to the rewarding realm of Human Resources (HR). 

Pursuing a career with purpose, I found fascination in HR's potential to impact lives and organizations.

Although I began my professional journey with a qualification in IT, specializing in Multimedia, I soon discovered an unexpected passion for understanding the intricacies of human behaviour and interactions. Working on various projects and collaborating with diverse teams, I noticed how vital effective communication and people management were for project success. This realization sparked a newfound interest in exploring the field of HR.

Game development undoubtedly offers an exhilarating experience of creating virtual worlds and immersive experiences. However, as I delved deeper into the industry, I began to yearn for something more profound and impactful. I recognized that shaping the workplace culture and enhancing employee experiences could contribute to positive change on a larger scale, not just within the confines of the gaming world.

In my game development days, I often found myself mentoring and guiding fellow colleagues, helping them overcome challenges and achieve their full potential. Witnessing their growth and success brought immense satisfaction and a sense of fulfillment. This intrinsic desire to nurture talent and foster personal development aligned perfectly with the HR profession's core values.

The transition to HR allowed me to shift my focus from lines of code to lines of people. I recognized the significance of placing people at the heart of an organization's success. Becoming an HR professional offered me the opportunity to contribute to the well-being and job satisfaction of employees, recognizing that a content and motivated workforce is the driving force behind any thriving organization.

Fortune smiled upon me when I found myself working for a company that valued HR practices and employee well-being. This experience sparked my fascination with HR's potential to impact individuals and organizations profoundly.

Passion for people and culture drives my journey to create a positive workplace for all.

As my career progressed, I seized every chance to expand my HR knowledge and skills. I gradually developed a deep passion for the people aspects of the job. Creating a positive workplace culture and nurturing employee growth and satisfaction became my mission, knowing they are vital for both individual and organizational success

I specialized in People and Culture to focus on enhancing the employee experience, promoting diversity and inclusion, and driving organizational transformation. Witnessing the positive impact of HR initiatives on organizations and employees has been incredibly rewarding and fulfilling.

While my career ambition may not have followed a predetermined path, I am grateful for the opportunities that led me to the field of People and Culture. It was the leaders and the incredible people I met along the way that shaped my journey. Today, I take pride in contributing meaningfully to the success and well-being of both employees and organizations I work with.

4 sources of support for HR at startups: change management training, better internal communications, networking events and external experts

Kitty: Regarding the Southeast Asia context for a startup environment, you've had quite diverse experience in different types of organisations. Now that you're at Bolttech, where do you see the differences in support or resourcing for a startup vs a more mature organisation?

Divina: The support mechanisms for Southeast Asian startups can truly make a difference in HR's ability to lead and drive positive change. I'd be happy to shed some light on some strategies that have proven beneficial. I truly hope that HR professionals in Southeast Asian startups can harness these support mechanisms and lead their organizations to greater success:

Change Management:

Managing change is undoubtedly crucial for startups. I believe specialized change management training and tools play a pivotal role. HR practitioners can benefit immensely from programs that help them understand the reasons behind the changes, develop strategies to tackle resistance, and support a smooth transition. This knowledge empowers us to lead the organization confidently through any transformation.

Effective Communication:

Communication is the backbone of any successful restructuring. In startups, we need to ensure that information is communicated transparently and consistently. Regular updates are crucial, and having the right communication tools, like a company intranet or dedicated platforms, helps foster trust and alignment among employees. It's also important for HR to address concerns and clarify expectations right from the grassroots level.

Leveraging the power of networking:

Networking is a powerful tool in the digital age. Being part of HR alumni groups and engaging in online forums, social media groups, and professional associations dedicated to HR startups opens up a world of shared experiences and best practices. This collaborative approach allows HR professionals to gain valuable insights and find innovative solutions to challenges unique to startups in our region.

Embracing External Expertise:

While startups may not always have extensive resources, seeking guidance from external consultants or experts specializing in change management and structuring can be a game-changer. These experts provide comprehensive support throughout the process, offering additional resources and tools to navigate changes effectively. It complements the efforts of the internal HR team, giving the startup a solid foundation to tackle any challenges that come their way.

Using an organisational restructure to upgrade a startup’s talent strategy, identify high performers and implement more robust performance management for succession planning

Kitty: When it comes to a restructuring, if there's a big change, people will be moved around and they might be doing jobs that they didn't do before and they might need new competencies. How can a HR professional use the restructuring as an opportunity to rethink the way they're doing talent development?

Divina: Restructuring indeed presents a unique chance for HR professionals to reimagine talent development within the organization. When people are moved into new roles and responsibilities, they may require new competencies and skills. Here are some strategies that HR can implement to make the most of this opportunity:

Internal Assessment for Talent Needs:

Conducting an internal assessment becomes essential in understanding the evolving talent requirements post-restructuring. By identifying the competencies and capabilities needed to support the new organizational structure and goals, HR can tailor development programs accordingly.

Customized Talent Strategy:

Based on the insights from the internal assessment, HR should devise a comprehensive talent strategy that aligns precisely with the company's post-restructuring vision. This strategy could include various initiatives like skill enhancements, leadership development, and succession planning.

Identifying High-Potential Employees:

While restructuring might lead to new roles, it also opens up opportunities to identify high-potential employees (HIPOs) within the organization. These individuals can be nurtured and provided with personalized development plans to prepare them for future leadership roles.

Performance Management Alignment:

A robust performance management system plays a crucial role in ensuring that employee efforts align with the strategic goals of the restructured organization. Setting clear expectations and establishing Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) enable employees to focus on what matters most to the company.

Coaching and Mentoring:

As HR professionals, we should take the initiative to coach and mentor employees who find themselves in new roles after the restructuring. By offering guidance and support, we can facilitate a smoother transition and accelerate their development in their new positions.

The long-term impact of rethinking talent development during restructuring is multifaceted. Firstly, it fosters a culture of continuous learning and adaptability within the organization. Employees will see that the company invests in their growth, leading to higher engagement and retention rates. Secondly, by identifying and nurturing HIPOs, the organization builds a sustainable leadership pipeline, reducing the need for external talent acquisition. Lastly, aligning performance with strategic goals ensures that the workforce is more agile and responsive to the ever-changing business landscape.

Kitty: On succession planning, do you think it's a particular challenge in a startup because things are changing all the time? If the organisation today might be different in two months' time, how can HR practitioners do succession planning alongside the speed of change of the business?

Divina: Succession planning is indeed a complex process that requires careful and strategic execution. In a dynamic startup environment, where things can evolve rapidly, it becomes even more crucial to have a comprehensive plan in place. What I've found effective is taking the time to build a robust succession plan that spans months, and sometimes even up to a year.

For instance, in the past, I have used the nine-grid box to assess employees' strengths and areas for development. This powerful tool captures different aspects of their capabilities, enabling us to plan targeted development initiatives. For instance, if an employee excels in people leadership but requires improvement in communication skills, the nine-box grid helps us chart a tailored growth path for them.

This tool is proven to be remarkably effective in grooming talent. It ensures that as our organization evolves, we have a well-prepared talent pool ready to take on new challenges and opportunities.

Kitty: We're familiar with the nine box method as well.

Divina: There's so many methodologies out there, but I stick to the very simple traditional ones which I understand and have tried and tested!

Two areas of learning to upskill startup employees after a big change: training in agile mindsets, fostering design thinking and creativity

Kitty: Since we're talking about competencies and skill gaps, the next question is about learning. Every organisation wants to build a learning culture. We've noticed startups feel very confident that they can learn because that's the nature of a startup. Build, test, iterate, the whole product process is a learning loop. 

When it comes to structured learning, how can startups be more intentional or planned in how they are cultivating that learning culture?

Divina: Learning plays a critical role in helping startups navigate constant change and disruption. I’ll share some ways where learning can actually support startups in this regard.

Learning and adaptability fuel startup success in an ever-changing world.

First and foremost, it’s about mindset and adaptability. You hear a lot about the ‘agile mindset’ these days as it enables employees to respond to change and disruption. Startups can implement regular learning sessions or workshops on the agile methodology (even in HR, I use Kanban).  When startups adopt Kanban in their HR practices, it streamlines processes, enhances collaboration, and fosters a sense of accountability among team members.

Many HR professionals and practitioners are not fully familiar with the principles and practices associated with the Agile Mindset. The lack of understanding around the Agile Mindset in HR may lead to missed opportunities for HR teams to leverage its principles, such as adaptability, continuous learning, and collaboration, to drive organizational success. Let me provide an example on how Agile in HR works.

For instance, let's consider a fast-growing startup based in Southeast Asia. The HR team recognizes that in a rapidly evolving business landscape, traditional performance evaluations might not effectively capture the dynamic nature of the organization and its employees' roles. They decide to shift towards a more Agile approach by implementing bi-weekly or monthly feedback sessions between managers and their team members.

This Agile approach to performance management not only enhances communication and collaboration but also nurtures a culture of continuous learning and improvement. Employees feel more engaged and supported, knowing that their contributions are acknowledged and their development is a priority. As a result, the startup in Southeast Asia experiences increased productivity, higher employee satisfaction, and a stronger sense of cohesion within the organization's people and culture.

In an ever-evolving HR landscape, HR leaders should always be growing whilst taking care of their own wellbeing

Kitty: Do you have any tips or insight on how startups can allocate their learning budget? Is there a framework they can use to prioritise?

Divina: Absolutely! Allocating the learning budget for startups is a critical aspect to foster growth and ensure the success of the organization. When setting yearly budgets, it's imperative to prioritize learning and development based on employee surveys and feedback. We've experienced firsthand that the number one feedback we consistently receive is the need for learning opportunities. Employees want to know what lies ahead for their personal and professional growth.

In response to this valuable feedback, we decided to create a dedicated HR pillar focusing on learning and development for our employees. One doesn't necessarily need an overly complex system; a simple library where employees can engage in self-learning tied to their Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) can yield remarkable results. Empowering employees with easily accessible learning resources can enhance their skills and motivation, ultimately benefiting the startup's overall growth.

By fostering a culture of continuous learning and investing in employee development, startups can not only ensure higher employee satisfaction but also foster innovation and competitiveness in the dynamic startup ecosystem. So, make sure to prioritize learning in your budget, as it is a key driver of success and progress for any startup!

Kitty: I love that, tying learning behaviour with business KPIs to encourage a certain culture to form. Speaking of learning, what about you personally? What's in store for the next half of the year ahead? How are you growing professionally and personally?

Divina: Let's tackle the professional part first, and then I'll delve into the personal aspects.

I'm quite ambitious when it comes to professional growth, and I intend to continue that journey. I plan on attending various workshops, seminars, and conferences to network with like-minded individuals and expand my knowledge in HR leadership. Recently, I completed my Masters, which has been a significant milestone for me. In the upcoming year, I aim to focus on achieving a better work-life balance and prioritizing self-care, which are essential for sustained success in any role.

On the personal side, as I mentioned earlier, I want to invest more time in managing stress and exploring hobbies outside of work. This will allow me to recharge and find more joy in my daily life. Moreover, I've been reflecting on my spiritual journey, and I'm determined to stop making excuses and allocate time for prayer and meditation. Strengthening my spiritual connection is an important aspect of my personal growth that I want to nurture.

But my growth isn't limited to myself – I'm deeply passionate about giving back to the community. With my extensive HR experience, I see an opportunity to contribute to the younger generation of HR professionals as they enter the workforce. I aspire to share authentic, real-life perspectives through writing articles that provide valuable guidance to the HR community without sugar-coating the challenges we face.

My vision for HR revolves around continuous growth and development. By nurturing both my professional and personal aspects, I aim to become a more effective and compassionate HR leader, positively impacting the organization and the people I serve.

Investing in HR development, while prioritizing work-life balance and self-care

Kitty: I'm glad we crossed paths because that sounds like this will be the first or one of the first. I love that every HR leader that we speak to is so different, but at the same time, everyone has had a lot of shared experiences. One thing we've noticed is HR is always taking care of other people.

Divina: This was actually something running through my mind for for a while now. We are so busy taking care of employees' well-being and every stakeholder in the company. I'd say the biggest burnout is within the HR department. You're busy being everyone's go-to person. But people tend to forget that we are also human.

To address this challenge, I believe it starts with recognizing and embracing our own humanity. We need to acknowledge that it's okay to have our limits and vulnerabilities. Just like we provide a listening ear and support to others, we should also encourage open conversations within the HR team to discuss our own struggles and concerns. Creating a safe space where we can share our experiences and lean on each other for support is vital.

Additionally, implementing policies that prioritize work-life balance and self-care within the HR department is crucial. Encouraging flexible working hours, promoting regular breaks, and organizing team-building activities can contribute to a healthier and more cohesive work environment. I believe that when we take care of ourselves, we can be even more effective in supporting others.

Implementing these changes within the HR department will have a ripple effect throughout the entire organization. When HR professionals feel supported and valued, they can perform at their best, ensuring a smoother and more empathetic experience for all employees. As we model self-care and work-life balance, employees will feel encouraged to do the same, leading to a more engaged and motivated workforce.

Moreover, by openly acknowledging our humanity, we set an example for the entire organization. It promotes a culture of authenticity, where everyone feels comfortable expressing their needs and concerns. This, in turn, fosters better communication, trust, and a sense of belonging, ultimately strengthening the overall work environment.

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