“Leaders Need to Adopt an Agile Approach During These Trying Times” Interview with Evelyn Chow, Founder of DecodeHR

In the midst of emerging from a world-wide pandemic riddled with a host of economic and social ramifications, very few industries have been put under the spotlight as much as the Human Resource sector. For this month’s Member Interview, we had a Zoom chat with Evelyn Chow, Founder & Principal Consultant of DecodeHR to find out more about the company as well as the challenges that lie ahead in these extremely uncertain times:

[SPECTRUM]
Tell us a bit more about DecodeHR and how the company was formed.

[Evelyn]
The company was first formed in 2011 and established itself as a Private Limited entity in 2013. Being the founder of the company, I wanted to venture into the world of HR consulting as I felt I needed a break from my career that was heavily focused on recruitment at the time. After leaving my position at Hudson, I was fortunate that both my ex-clients and ex-bosses approached me with various projects and so the move to incorporate my own business in the field sort of just seemed like a natural progression. I remain grateful to this day for these friends.

I would have to say that it was providence that my past positions gave me referrals that jump-started the process – I was intent from the start not to give myself any pressure and to make sure that I enjoy the journey of entrepreneurship. Both these factors have been a guiding mission till today.

[SPECTRUM]
How does the company deliver innovative, insight-driven yet practical solutions to its clients?

[Evelyn]
This has been a philosophy that resonates with both myself as well as my team.

We are intent on addressing the needs and issues that our clients are facing and this requires looking at solutions that are both innovative and less overt at times. This includes the crafting and designing of tailored solutions after a keen understanding of their work environment, culture and context. We have also found that effective solutions have to always be easy enough to execute – these are often not that simplistic in nature as they have to be sustainable. After that, we have to ensure that our clients also have to be able to continue to make these implementations.

[SPECTRUM]
Can you tell us more about Agile HR and what it actually means?

[Evelyn]
The term ‘Agile’ has become a catch phrase in today’s tech-driven world. I would say that in short, it’s a state of mind in addition to being a framework.

The terms Agile is actually an umbrella of tech frameworks that include such methodologies as Scrum, Kanban and the likes.

When it comes to HR, as the words literally suggest, it describes the ability to evolve and be adaptable to traditional principles or concepts. Let’s take performance management as one example. This process has evolved considerably over the course of the last several years, with employers realising that frequent check-ins are much more effective than annual or even bi-annual appraisals. This, of course depends on the culture of the organisation. One that is agile would see this and that transparent goals as well as open communication are good measures to be much more effective. Of course, an organisation has to be ready for this form of transparency, one needs to be cognisant of the fact that not every organisation is ready to adapt drastically and certain implementations may be detrimental to the way in which it is run.

There is also the area of Agile Leadership, which we are a big advocate of and I feel -particularly in these times – that it’s more of a requirement than a good-to-have. Being able to lead in a responsive and innovative manner is becoming more and more critical to future success. It’s also important to experiment – with the necessary parameters in place of course – making sure that the risks involved can be afforded. Employers should provide psychological safety to the employee of today, making sure that they feel safe to openly communicate and suggest alternative perspectives as and when necessary.

[SPECTRUM]
What are some of the best examples of agile practices adopted by organisations that you have seen during the Covid period?

[Evelyn]
There have actually been quite a few.

One example is those that have implemented a day off once a month such as the last Friday. This is because employees tend to work longer hours from home and are subject to burnout and fatigue. I really admire such practices as they display trust.
Other examples cover companies that have managed to have their remote teams work closely through Zoom lunches to hang-out and even the sending of care packages to team members. Some companies have even set up WhatsApp chat groups that don’t allow any discussions about work. They are purely social in order to encourage team bonding and allow team members to feel connected.

Incidentally, DecodeHR had our team strategic planning session recently and used the digital workplace app for visual communication MURAL. It was really effective with two breakout groups via Zoom, the team really loved the exercise and felt that it was a comfortable and fun way of sharing ideas. Such tools allow employees to share opinions without actually verbalising them – everyone gets to input their own feedback.

[SPECTRUM]
Do you think the changes brought in by Covid such as flexible working arrangements are here to stay? Will remote work be the new norm?

[Evelyn]
Firstly, I would like to say that term ‘New Norm’ has been grossly overused!

On a serious note, I think we can see that the shift has been a good mix of varying attitudes. Many companies have decided to change the way in which they function in terms of office space usage. Some have said that they are going to allow 50% of their in-house staff to work remotely and others have proposed concrete plans that are mirroring what employees have voiced out in terms of preferences to work at home.

Other companies can’t wait to return to business-as-usual as some bosses prefer seeing their employees working at all times. Many are sitting on the fence and waiting for phase 3 to consider their options. I would agree that global tech companies seem to have been leading the shift towards changes when it comes to working arrangements.

[SPECTRUM]
How did most of your clients deal with Covid in terms of retaining employee’s engagement? What are the other challenges they faced and what solutions helped the most solving these challenges?

[Evelyn]
I think it really depends where one’s business lies, those in the essential services sectors faced totally different challenges.

At the beginning, it was hard from a regulatory as well as a managerial standpoint to balance who gets to stay home and who needs to be at work. This conundrum lasted for a while and companies needed to be clear as there was no precedence to this whole situation. All this took a toll on some organisations, having to find their footing and ensure that communication was key.

At the end of the day, employees want the security of hearing from you, not saying enough is far more perilous than overcommunicating. I think strong leadership was critical in the midst of the uncertainty we found ourselves in and it remains essential today. Leaders need to send the right signals.

[SPECTRUM]
How do you see the future of HRTech to evolve? What are the key areas that are most likely to be transformed by AI and other emerging technologies?

[Evelyn]
I think we are entering exciting times.

The scene is already vibrant, the tech is only going to get deeper and at the same time I believe that accessibility will increase – both economically and also how people will start to understand the tech and also explore its benefits. AI is already very much used on the recruitment front, but there are other areas where it will emerge such as in more advanced chat bots. Other emerging tech will also help in the areas of assessment and selection. Another area is analytics, still very nascent but its potential is great when it comes to organisational network analysis, helping organisations to assess employee engagement, the ability of its workforce to innovate and readiness for internal and external changes.

[SPECTRUM]
How has your experience been with SPECTRUM so far?

[Evelyn]
It’s been extremely positive – although I would have liked to be in the office more often during this period to reap all the advantages you have on offer!

There is definitely so much potential for collaboration here – one example that comes to mind is where the space has been so facilitating in terms of business expansion as seen in the talks that have been going on to create a consortium that will add so much to both a local and regional level.

And that wraps up our interview with Evelyn from DecodeHR. You can find out more about their services here. As always, you can keep up-to-date with what is going on around SPECTRUM here.