Stop Believing HR Is Just an Admin Role, Olivia Chua, CHRO, Jebsen & Jessen Group Tells Peers

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“HR has a crucial role to play in providing different information to different stakeholders, and to do that they need to stay on top of what’s going on and stay in tune with the business,” says Olivia Chua.

Olivia Chua, Human Resources Director of Jebsen & Jessen Groupis a scammer.

To get to where she is today was not pure luck, but sheer courage, grind, and (a lot of) planning. When Chua graduated from college, she already had the experience of eight jobs – in industries such as catering, retail, sales and marketing – in her portfolio, thanks to her entry into the world of business. company at the age of 15.

Her next step in personal (and professional) growth was then to “join a company where I could learn how to be a professional”.

“I sought to learn the ethics of being a young professional and to learn how to conduct myself,” Chua told Lester Tan. “I thought it would open a lot of doors for me, so I applied for jobs in large multinational companies (MNEs), as well as consulting firms.”

With that, Chua landed a job at Accenture and was tasked with handling graduate recruitment for Asia – which kickstarted her journey in the HR field.

“That’s where I was able to travel to different countries, like the UK, Hong Kong and the Philippines, so I got a lot of exposure, even in a junior role. It was something I treasured. a lot at the beginning of my career, and it sparked my interest in furthering my knowledge of human resources,” she shares.

Subsequently, Chua secured positions at Korn Ferry, Sunway Group and WTW – where she successfully learned HR and development fundamentals – before moving to Jebsen & Jessen Group.

“To anyone considering making a change, I strongly encourage planning first. Planning helps to reduce risk and make changes more acceptable. Also, don’t be afraid to fail, know that everything that happens is part of the learning process and it will help us make better decisions in the future,” she says.

Continue the conversation below as Chua dives into her life and HR responsibilities, such as the hardest decision she’s had to make as a leader, the specific projects she and management are working on. close collaboration, and more.

Q What was the most innovative HR campaign you worked on, and what was your biggest lesson?

In my first corporate role, at Sunway, organizational development (OD) was not well known in Malaysia at that time, and Sunway was one of the first to introduce OD, so I was kind of pioneer in this field because I helped to set it up.

Beyond talent management, succession planning, etc., I went deeper into systems design. I’m not an IT guy but I designed the workflows and worked with the IT guys to do the programming. I don’t like administrative work and I’m always looking for ways to shorten the process or the time it takes to do something, and since the company wanted to create a bespoke platform, I was in for that. So, I would say it’s the most innovative project I’ve worked on.

When I started to transition from consulting to business, I found that many HR managers were afraid of change and stuck in routine work. The problem is that when we get so used to the routine, we tend not to want to change, even if there are improvements that can be made. What I learned during the OD project I talked about was that since the system was completely new, it made change management easier. Also, I discovered how important it is to offer support; to sit down and share the load with members of the HR team. This is where you can really spark innovation and get people excited about change.

My message is similar to the one I mentioned earlier: don’t be afraid of change or failure, remember you are not alone and the journey is more important than the outcome.

Q On the other hand, what is the hardest decision you have had to make as an HR manager?

Personally, the hardest decision I had to make was to leave a company because I couldn’t tolerate their ethics. I had to do it twice in my life so far. The first time I was only 20 and spoke to the owner. I felt that there was discrimination, against which I decided to denounce and I was prepared for the consequences. I was not fired but I decided to resign. I felt immense relief after doing it.

Some people may think why not just leave because you know nothing is going to change, but I don’t believe it. If everyone believes in it, then nothing in the world will change. And I did that for my own conscience and that’s good enough.

Q How closely do you work with the CEO and what specific projects do you both work closely on?

I would say that on most projects I work independently. There is a great deal of autonomy given to Jebsen & Jessen, and the Group’s Chief Executive Officer on the Board of Directors is an excellent sounding board.

If there’s a major project that we can both bring different things to, we work closely together. For example, we were working together on a management excellence program. The topic was about employee lifecycle management and corporate governance, so that’s where Per Magnusson, the group’s CEO, contributed a lot and it was great to work on it together.

Another current example is the design and implementation of flexible work arrangements now that we are emerging from the pandemic. This is a complex issue that will impact the way we work and can gradually change the culture of the organization if we are not careful, so it makes sense to work closely with the board to make sure we find the best solution.

Q Who is the person who has inspired you the most in your career, and why?

Larry Yap, the executive director while I was at Sunway Group, who sadly has since passed away. He was my first CEO who is also a CEO. I was very inspired by his management style; it was all about brainstorming, coming up with new ideas and making us feel like nothing was impossible. He saw possibilities rather than problems.

Q How would you describe your leadership style and how has it worked for you so far?

I’ve tried different styles, but most people would say I’m a democrat. I also make sure to delegate well, but I also believe that you need to be very supportive when delegating. As you move up the ladder, you realize that you can’t achieve things on your own, especially when expectations get higher, and you can only do that by managing others. I admit that there are times when I am more autocratic, in situations where I feel that urgent decisions must be made and instructions must be clear.

Q In today’s rapidly changing environment, what do you think is the best way for HR to add value?

I would say being an advisor or a business partner. Human resources are important advisors in the areas of structure, employee development, employee engagement and retention, talent attraction, etc. People are truly the greatest asset of any business. So, beyond the administrative part, I saw the value and knowledge that HR can add in other areas of interest to stakeholders; they are often great listeners and can offer a different perspective.

For example, during the pandemic, we saw how many people struggled to cope. It became difficult for managers to navigate, and that’s where HR stepped in to offer them different ways to handle these challenges for employees.

Q Is there a mindset that you think HR professionals should eliminate? And what should they replace it with?

The mentality of HR professionals who believe they have no say and that their strength lies only in administrative work. What they may do instead is ask “how can I better understand this business?” and don’t forget to learn. HR professionals are usually the ones who organize the trainings, but they often forget about their own development.

As I mentioned earlier, HR has a crucial role to play in providing different information to different stakeholders, and in order to do that, they need to stay on top of what’s going on and stay in tune with the company.

Q Before we wrap up the interview, we’d like to ask you: given that Jebsen & Jessen is always finding its way in a changing world, let’s bring it back to the HR context – what is the one thing you would like to see invested in the future of HR to ensure it has more impact in guiding the business function, talent, and workplace to their “true north,” and why?

I would like to see investments in HR systems to make them more automated; to allow more time to be devoted to business partnerships. Self-service for managers and employees became even more apparent during the lockdown, where workflows and the approval process could be further automated. With automation, we need to be careful not to let systems take over conversations; this is where HR plays an important role in bridging this gap, as conversations and connection will always be more crucial to human engagement.

Read also: Snapshot: Minor Hotels CPO sees skills and essential skills development as next top HR priority


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