Kulshaan Singh, Group CHRO, Thai Union Group

Thai Union Group took home the Gold award for Excellence in CSR Strategy at the inaugural HR Excellence Awards 2021, Thailand.

In this interview, Kulshaan Singh, Group Chief Human Resources Officer, Thai Union Group, shares the approach behind this win – the overarching themes which ground its HR strategy, how the organisation constantly prioritise its employees’ wellbeing, and more.

Q What is your organisation’s winning HR strategy, and what are some milestones you’ve accomplished along this journey?

Our HR strategy is anchored around two overarching themes:

  1. Organising work & teams to create business impact, and
  2. Employee engagement.

HR teams work closely with business to ensure work is purposeful, and create impact taking into consideration ever-changing consumer needs and technology.

Achieving high levels of engagement requires a balancing of moving parts, including a strong focus on employee wellbeing, capability building (for today and tomorrow), and entrenching a sense of purpose, and linking people initiatives to measurable performance.

In terms of milestones, we have implemented various initiatives around those pillars mentioned, including the acceleration of executive leadership development and the launching of programmes around agility and operational excellence.

However, given the challenges we have been facing over the past two years, the key standout point was our ability to prioritise employee wellbeing, whilst maintaining business continuity. This was not easy as we have factories around the world which we had to unpredictably shut down/reduce capacity entirely. Every action was focused on keeping employees safe and the supply chain uninterrupted (from a customer perspective).

What helped was certainly the continuous reinforcement of the sense of purpose on how our efforts solve issues around nutrition for humans and pets during the pandemic. I am not sure if we can consider those as milestones. I tend to look at it as a continual learning experience, as we are now better positioned to manage uncertainty.

Q How has this strategy helped you achieve your HR priorities, and what role has the leadership played in helping make this initiative a reality?

The strategy has given us a framework to better mobilise our global HR teams, with clear direction on the high-priority people initiatives that we intend to focus on. We have a global HR leadership team, who is responsible for strategising and implementing these initiatives, thus ensuring an effective cascade to all the HR teams.

In addition, we work closely with our communities and stakeholders as we are expected to take a strong leadership role within our industry. In Thailand and Europe especially, our factories employ many people within the local communities, as well as a large migrant workforce who are temporarily stationed away from their homes. During the pandemic many of our employees were not able to return home due to border closures, and our leaders ensured that accommodation and safety measures were set up for them so they were safe and looked after.

I would like to reiterate that these were unprecedented times, and we were learning on the go, but our focus on employee wellbeing and community leadership never wavered.

Q Unexpected roadblocks are part and parcel of executing any initiative. What were some of the barriers that you and your team experienced while rolling this out, and how did you successfully get past them?

The biggest barrier we encountered was how we to maintain engagement, and deal with the unprecedented pandemic.

To overcome this, we accelerated our efforts to take all our engagement initiatives online as we could not hold back while waiting for the situation to eventually improve.

Some of these included accelerated e-learning, online leadership town halls, internal social media campaigns, remote working recognition efforts, and others that enabled our priority placed on employee wellbeing.

As a by-product, such online focus allowed us to increase our levels of global engagement as it helped remove barriers of communication, and added visibility on how we as a company banded together during the pandemic.

Q As evidenced by the win, this initiative clearly delivered some amazing results. What was your gameplan for measuring ROI? What are some proud achievements you can share with us on this front?

Rather than focusing on ROI, we believe in a longer and more meaningful approach of doing business and work for all our colleagues. Measuring ROIs gives a rather short-term view to these programmes which are so central to our mission, culture, and beliefs.

We are proud of the efforts of our HR teams in managing an unprecedented situation, and taking care of our 43,000 plus employees around the world given the ever-changing landscape, as well as ensuring the proper alignment with regulatory requirements.

It was a complicated endeavour, as a significant number of our workforce are migrants, who are naturally anxious not only about themselves but also for their families and communities in their home countries. It was a dedicated effort in hyper collaboration mode with regulatory authorities, community leaders, and employees.

Q We’re now seeing HR manage portfolios that were previously considered far from their job description. In your view, what are the top three skills and attributes of today’s successful CHRO?

While the focus areas might have shifted, I believe the capabilities needed from successful CHROs had emerged almost a decade ago.

Today’s successful CHRO needs to demonstrate three key capabilities:

  • Business understanding, acumen, and change drivers (of the business the CHRO leads);
  • Hyper collaboration with organisation’s internal and external ecosystem, and
  • Agility, this comes with deep listening, problem solving, and through a growth mindset.

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