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HR Spotlight | Jo Fisher | Putting your people first...

Background on Jo Fisher:

Jo Fisher has a fantastically varied and rich background in the world of HR going back 2 decades across multiple geographies. Jo studied for her Degree and Masters in Australia, started her career in the UK and has spent the last 13 years in Kuala Lumpur. Jo cut her teeth working in the heady world of retail for brands such as Dune and Wickes. More recently, Jo has honed her expertise in the Digital sector, having supported both Adparlor and subsequently, Ada, grow from being a start up to being the largest independent digital marketing agency across SEA over the last 5 years. In this Spotlight, we ask Jo a host of questions that lead her to express many 'heart-felt' views and insights on the role and significance of HR in the region.

- Q. What attracted you to a career in HR?

I got into HR quite by accident... I actually studied science at University with a major in Psychology... I happened upon HR and it turns out I wasn't bad at it and I loved it!

- Q. What do you enjoy most about it and what gives you most professional satisfaction?

This probably sounds a little simplistic and not terribly insightful, but I genuinely enjoy seeing people succeed. If I can do something that makes someone else better, or influences them for the better, then that has a direct effect on the success of the business I work in.

- Q. What do you see as the main objective of HR and how does this function create value?

HR is 100% about people and enabling them to succeed so that the business can succeed. HR does not exist in a vacuum though and we always have to weigh the needs of the individual with the needs of the business. If you work within an organisation whose values align to your own and those of your team, you should encounter minimal conflict though.

- Q. How do you see effective HR strategy helping to build Malaysia's role as a globally competitive hub?

I think that for businesses to succeed long term, they need to think very carefully about how they respond to current world events. Consumers today are extremely savvy and will not spend with businesses who do not respond to issues in manner that aligns to their values. I personally think that this is an enormous opportunity for HR to step up and show how we add strategic value...

Firstly, as a result of the pandemic employees are facing new challenges in relation to maintaining their physical and mental health. As such, organisations need to take far greater responsibility in helping to manage and improve the total well-being of their employees, because the way that we work has changed. In the past there were many barriers to working from home but as we can see most of these have been overcome and this new way of working is set to stay in some form or another. how well-being is managed will of course will have a very real knock on effect to workplace culture, productivity, retention, employer brand, and the bottom line.

Secondly, Diversity and Inclusion is sky rocketing up the agenda... This used to be solely the purview of HR, but not anymore. Businesses who choose to ignore the issues will be judged harshly, and rightly so. It is no longer OK to complete a report and display a policy, businesses need to show evidence that they are taking this seriously and are making progress to remove barriers that stifle opportunity based on gender, race, disability, sexual orientation (and others). Once again HR should be stepping forward here to work with business leaders to make meaningful changes to ways of working and to educate employees.

Finally, with all of the change that we are seeing across the globe this is the perfect time for HR professionals to get out from under historical constraints and find new ways of working. I'm not downplaying the role of in-person interaction by any means, but I think we need to be open to permanent remote working, hiring of great candidates who may be based in different countries all together, and reductions in permanent office space (albeit with proper thought put into how to set up and manage home/ virtual offices). In addition, we should look to automate repetitive tasks in the organisation, and specifically look at how we can make more day to day HR admin tasks 'self serve'. This would also be a great time to see how benefits can be personalised. All of this enhances the employee experience, increases productivity and retention, and improves the employer brand.

Obviously this is by no means an exhaustive list, but in my opinion addressing these areas in a positive way will go a long way to ensuring Malaysia's competitiveness on a global scale, not to mention elevating HR to the strategic level that it deserves.

- Q. Where are we in relation to this currently and what do you see as the main gaps?

In terms of total well-being I think that a lot of organisations have responded positively during the pandemic and have put into place measures to check in on employees. I do think though that the real test will be whether they maintain and build on the work done so far. In Malaysia specifically I don't think that there is much recognition of issues around mental health and I think that this needs to be addressed, particularly in light of the myriad of different issues that people are now facing (from lack of social interaction to concerns over job security and paying their bills). People are also generally facing a decrease in non-exercise related physical activity as a result of home working which also needs to be recognised and managed.

I also think that there is a lot of work to be done on diversity and inclusion. I am not discouraged by this though as it's such a fantastic opportunity for HR teams and individual businesses to lead the way and make positive changes that are absolutely correlated to ongoing success. In my experience the area of gender inequality is probably most widely recognised in Malaysia, but there is a lot more work to be done here and in all other areas.

I don't think that Malaysia is any different than the rest of the world though when it comes to most of these issues. Businesses are trying (to varying degrees) to address them as they deal with other competing demands. The key takeaway for me though is that businesses will succeed or fail based on how they treat their people, hence the vital role played by HR and the reason that we need to work as an integral part of every business.

- Q. What needs to happen to ensure we close these gaps on current practices and mindsets?

If I had to pick one thing to help close the gaps it would be education, training and development... We can't address issues if we are not aware of them and the ways in which they impact our people and the ongoing success of our business.

I often sense resistance to automation of tasks because individuals feel it will take away their job and livelihood, and organisations feel the costs will be too high. The reality though is that it would free people up to do more meaningful and fulfilling work that improves the bottom line - it is the role of HR to make sure that this happens.

With regard to diversity and inclusion, I believe that in some cases bias is unconscious and/or is imposed by society. An awareness of the issues and the benefits of an inclusive environment can be a first step for HR teams and senior leaders to embark on. It goes without saying, however, that cases of overtly discriminatory practices need to be addressed immediately and rectified.

Training and development of Managers in how to improve employee wellness is also vital. Being a Manager implies that you are responsible for the well being of your teams, but the level of support, and the types of issues employees are facing has now changed. We can't expect managers to possess the skills and behaviours to respond to the raft of employee concerns that we are seeing (and will see going forward). We also need to ensure that Manager's know when to refer issues to others who are better placed to deal with them.

Q. How do you see the future of the talent pool in Malaysia playing out and are you optimistic?

I am very optimistic! On the one hand Malaysia has a great pool of Gen Z employees who are already well versed in the use of the technologies that businesses need to adopt going forward. On the other we have an aging population with a wealth of knowledge and vast experience of change. The key to success will be in marrying these together in an inclusive and continuously learning workplace environment. I also think that Malaysia has a great balance of local and foreign talent.

Q. For the recent grads out there - What advice do you have for people looking to pursue a career in HR?

If you don't truly think that people are the most important part of any business then you are pursuing the wrong career.

I can't stress enough the importance of understanding what your business does and how it makes money. HR skills might be transferable, but if you don't understand the context within which you work you cannot ever truly add value and make a difference. I cannot overstate this...

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