One quality every good HR leader should have is commercial acumen, says Sharon Lam Hang, Singapore and SEA HR Lead, Mundipharma, as she cites the increasing need for HR to understand how the people aspect affects the business and revenue. 

Q How did you venture into HR? What drew you to it?

HR is the closest fit for me as I have always been drawn to the people aspect, on top of the business aspect. I value the connections and relationships I make through my HR work, as I not only get to know my colleagues on a different level, but I also learn a lot from them.

It does help that my mother spent her entire career in HR as well!

Q What was the most innovative HR campaign that you’ve worked on, and what was your biggest learning from that?

At Mundipharma we have embraced technology as a key enabler to shift HR’s focus from administrative to business partnering, coaching, and advising. Delivering HR operational success is critical to shifting the function away from its historical roots as administrative to a professional member of the business team. I love upgrading our processes – we’ve done so many – in January we launched a tele-consult service which allows our employees to engage with a doctor from home or at their desk, which they find very convenient. The learning I’ve had from automating processes is to always plan ahead. Planning is key in order to meet our timelines, instead of rushing to get the job done without proper testing.

Q You started in community service before moving into HR – do you still get a chance to work on that, and what is a learning from the social working space that you have brought to HR?

I jump on the opportunity to give back to society at any chance I get, whether it is for humans or animals. I moved from volunteering at the dog shelter, to fostering cats, and now educating seniors in keeping abreast of technology as part of Singapore’s Smart Nation initiative by volunteering in a social enterprise company.

Through my training as a social worker, I learnt to be very attentive to all the details that may appear insignificant, but may give you an indication to the root of the issue. Any challenge, whether it is big or small, in my opinion, will be perceived differently by different people. Listening, empathising and understanding the issue at hand is a skill I have brought from the social work space to my HR career.

Planning is key in order to meet our timelines, instead of rushing to get the job done without proper testing.

Q Is there a phrase/mindset that HR professionals should do away with? And what should they replace it with?

“This is because it is written in the policy.” I believe HR should be more agile now and have an understanding of why the policy was crafted in such a way. Being able to relay the why behind the decision will make our employees understand there is a thought process done before making the decision, and not because it is the norm, practice or something that has been done in the past.

Q In your view, what do you think are the top three qualities of a good HR leader?

Strategic and forward-thinking: I believe an HR leader needs to take an interest in the organisation’s strategy and vision, and align the HR goals with the needs of the business, while ensuring they are prepared for upcoming challenges in the workplace by staying ahead of the curve

Commercial acumen: There is an increasing need for an HR business partner to not only look at the people aspect, but also understand how this affects the business, sales, and ultimately, the revenue. Understanding the nuances of such an impact makes a good HR leader more equipped on how to handle a certain challenge to attain a win-win situation.

Caring and ethical: A good HR leader has integrity and genuinely cares for the employees. We communicate, influence and listen. As such, HR has access to a great deal of sensitive information, and it is of utmost importance to keep that information confidential.

Q What do you think the future holds for HR in 2025? Will HR still exist?

Absolutely! Technology is developing fast, and with AI and machine learning, many of our administrative mundane tasks will be automated (thankfully!), hence, allowing us time to focus on the higher value-add work. Companies will still need people, and people will still need people. The warmth, care and empathy cannot be replaced by machines at this point in time.