People-first solutions for the future

About a year ago, S&P Global was on a version of the classic three-pillar model where HR business partners reported into divisional heads while global Centres of Excellence and HR operations provided fragmented local support.

Realising this model limited HR’s flexibility to meet rapidly expanding global business complexities and demands, the organisation re-looked at its model, seeking to create a scalable, streamlined and empowered regional people function for APAC.

Today, the APAC HR model is divisionally consistent and agile. People partners, regardless of where they sit geographically, support all divisions and report into the regional people lead – who reports to the Chief People Officer and sits on the people leadership team. Moving forward, the team is striving to enhance the people experience by bringing in best-in-class, futuristic people-centric measures.

In this exclusive, Dr. Kumar Abhishek, VP & People Lead, APAC, S&P Global, shares how the firm focused on regional empowerment and people experience to implement structural changes.

Q How would you describe the company culture at S&P Global?

Culture is the glue that binds S&P Global across 70 offices in the 35 countries in which we operate, and guides the approximately 23,000 employees to power the markets of the future. Our purpose, or our ‘why’ as an organisation, is to accelerate progress in the world.

More than 150 years ago, S&P Global started out by providing transparency in the railroad sector, helping investors leverage that intelligence into smart investment decisions with the notion of accelerating progress. Until today, the notion remains and has been central in how we put our people first and deliver for our customers.

Our values – excellence, relevance, and integrity – guide our decisions and behaviour as an organisation, as well as at an individual level. We set the bar, moving with purpose to execute. Change inspires us to excel (excellence). We focus on what matters today while our curiosity and insights helps us to anticipate what matters tomorrow (relevance). We always do what is right and deliver with quality and transparency to earn trust (integrity). We strongly believe that in living our purpose and values, we are accountable to many: to the markets, our customers, and to each other.

Q I understand S&P Global transformed the APAC HR structure last year, moving away from division-based HR to a division-agnostic, regional structure for all four businesses. Please share the changes in the new and old model.

Our earlier model was a version of the classic three-pillar model of HR business partners reporting into divisional heads while global Centres of Excellence (COE) and HR operations provided fragmented local support. This came with all the inherent strengths and gaps of the traditional model that aligns with business structures. As HR provided division-specific services, there were duplications and inconsistent levels of support across the businesses. Our challenge was not that HR didn’t have a seat at the table, but that it lacked the flexibility to meet rapidly expanding global business complexities and demands such as speed-to-market and a cross-divisional approach.

Our values – excellence, relevance, and integrity – guide our decisions and behaviour as an organisation, as well as at an individual level.

Hence, we took this opportunity to create a scalable, streamlined regional people function for APAC. The current model is divisionally consistent and agile. Duplications have been reduced and collaborations across divisions have been increased.

Regardless of where they sit geographically, all of our people partners now support every division and report into a new regional people lead, who reports to the chief people officer and sits on our people leadership team. All product owners report directly into the regional people lead, with matrix reporting to global functions. This has enhanced regional empowerment and is based on the principles of “glocalisation”.

With the new structure improving the feedback loop from our stakeholders, we beefed up people operations, powering it by advanced phones and chatbots. These changes have helped us to be more effective, efficient and agile to customise talent solutions for the business teams.

Q How did you convince the key stakeholders to make this change? (within and outside the HR team, and more importantly, the global leaders) Take us through the process of the internal negotiation.

As we continued to evolve how we partnered with the business, we realised an opportunity to restructure in order to better align our support with business needs. Our new regional operating model was not solely built by the people team. It also took into consideration feedback from local and global business leaders, people leaders and learnings from employee experiences. This helped us determine the best operating model to enhance our performance, services, and delivery on our business strategy. The following four key characteristics helped us to provide the overall agreed framework to meet everyone’s requirements.

1. Governance: Effective regional oversight and decision making in line with local employment frameworks.

2. Divisional consistency: Provide effective HR support across the enterprise.

3. Service differentiation: HR services which balance the enterprise goals and specific regional business needs/ contexts.

4. Location of HR support: Co-location with client employee base having a critical mass, and the opportunity to provide face-to-face support.

Q What were some of the challenges you faced along the way?

Any change at this magnitude throws up known and unknown obstacles. During our change management we saw these conflicts playing up among the stakeholders:

Status quo vs action orientation: We had to overcome “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mindset for some of the stakeholders during the journey to break silos. We had to show and tell that “sufficiently” good is not good enough. We are aiming to make a great operating model which should operate on principles of putting our people first.

Present vs future: We have four different, hugely successful businesses and there were concerns around the ability for one people partner to strategically support the diverse businesses in a country. Our people partners have proved those concerns unfounded by bringing collaboration, consistency and a common platform to address issues across the organisation. We have a regional talent agenda that fosters cross-divisional moves.

Global vs local: There was apprehension on creating misalignment from the global outlook by empowering the region to do their own thing. We had to convince that the decision would be of higher quality if we stick to the principles of glocalisation with global alignment and local execution. This took a bit of time but local empowerment has added to the speed of decision making.

Fixed vs agility: The fixed structure was comfortably aligned to the business divisions but didn’t give us agility for any additional outreach. The new COEs/people structure provided much needed agility for our process enhancements. For example, with the inbuilt agility we were able to conduct an adhoc due diligence for M&A without taking any additional resources.

I am filled with pride that we have been able to deliver on our commitment through transformation of the people operating model.

We had to overcome “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mindset for some of the stakeholders during the journey to break silos. We had to show and tell that “sufficiently” good is not good enough.

Q What, in your experience, are the three key things that led to this successful change?

There are many factors in any large-scale successful change. Here are my top three picks:

1. Support from the top: Our Chief People Officer, Dimitra Manis, is an incredible leader who inspired the people- first approach and has been the main architect in driving the APAC regional empowerment, along with the global people leadership team.

2. Progressive business leaders: Our APAC divisional leaders from the regional governance group could instantly see the value of a simplified, consistent, and regional people operating model. They led from the front in helping this transformation to succeed.

3. Incredible people team: The adaptability of the regional people team has been excellent. Their hunger for providing solutions to the business teams has been a unifying force that carried the team during the times of uncertainty and self-doubt.

Q I understand that post the transformation, the HR teams and COEs are able to work faster and more efficiently, essentially doing more with less. Please share the qualitative results as well as numbers to back this up.

After establishing the people-first approach, we have been able to stress on the ‘human’ in human resources. The numbers tell the story for APAC. Overall attrition dropped by 28% and voluntary attrition of high potential employees reduced by 75%. The opportunity for internal movement through promotion increased by 50% last year.

Our cross-divisional collaboration is also enhanced and there are some notable cross-divisional transfers, resulting in a very healthy internal mobility rate. Apart from that, the overall engagement score that we measure through our annual employee surveys has increased by two basis points for APAC. The people team has also done well, with an engagement score of over 80 basis points, with high 90s in teamwork, collaboration and empowerment.

Q Post the transformation, the people leadership team has been working on various initiatives such as a change in the parental leave policy, career growth and wellbeing initiatives. Talk us through the direction that you have for the HR team going forward, and what you hope to achieve.

We have brought all the people initiatives under the auspices of a people-first approach. Since then, we continue to evolve our practices to enhance the people experience, based on market research and from feedback from our people, who have helped shape several changes. Each enhancement brings best-in-class, futuristic people-centric measures that are hugely popular with our people around the globe.

We recently expanded the parental leave to 20 weeks, offering the same amount of leave to both parents – a groundbreaking initiative for APAC. We are also proud to be among just 8% of corporations assisting with student loan debt in addition to education reimbursement plans for continuous learning. To add on, we have empowered our people to make their own lifestyle choices through initiatives such as flex time, remote work and telecommuting, compressed workweeks, as well as providing support during life event transitions.

Furthermore, our wellbeing programmes and preventive care are 100% reimbursable to local limits. We have also reviewed the benefits for all countries in APAC and enhanced the coverage to provide competitive offerings in each country.

On the development front, we aspire to create an internal talent marketplace that meets the career needs of all our employees. Hence, we are working on facilitating the career growth of employees by removing the minimum duration they have to stay in their current role to apply for internal jobs. The promotion cycle also doesn’t exist anymore and can be done during any time of the year.

We believe these enhancements and the positive reception by our people contributed to our recent Great Place to Work certification in the Philippines, and recognition by SHRI for employee engagement, alignment and workplace harmony.

Q Is there anything in the pipeline that you are excited about?

One of the great initiatives we are excited about is the launch of Global Career Coaching. We have dedicated career coaches who provide custom, confidential guidance to any employee on a one-to-one basis, regardless of location or division. The goal here is to help our people connect their skills and passions with career opportunities across the company. The reception from our people has been incredibly positive.


Vital stats: Dr. Kumar Abhishek, Vice President & People Lead, APAC, leads the strategic people agenda across Asia for all four divisions of S&P Global – Ratings, Market Intelligence, Platts and the Dow Jones Indices. His responsibilities include harnessing the regional talent agenda, optimising for agility, accelerating innovation and growth, and creating opportunities for the firm to become an integrated business. With two decades of experience, he is an expert in M&A, organisational effectiveness, business partnering, HR transformation, and more. He has also been teaching organisational behaviour at Management Development Institute of Singapore (MDIS) for six years.


This feature has been published exclusively in the Mar-Apr 2020 issue of Human Resources. Read this edition of Human Resources, Singapore:

hrsg mar apr20

Art Direction: Mohd Ashraf

Photography: Lee Guang Shun (Studio Three Sixteen Pte Ltd) – www.studiothreesixteen.com


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