hr leader of the year, winning secrets, tanie eio, ups

In this interview, she shares with HRO the journey to achieving this title: an active involvement in the workforce's engagement, a push for leadership development, and more.

Founded in 1907, UPS is an American multinational transportation and logistics company operating in more than 220 countries and territories, with a workforce of more than 500,000 (USPers). 

In 1988, the company expanded into the Asia Pacific region, and today, it employs more than 13,000 employees in 41 countries and territories across the region.

Sitting on the HR leadership in the region is Tanie Eio, Vice President, Human Resources, UPS Asia Pacific – who was a proud achiever of the HR Leader of the Year award at the HR Excellence Awards 2022, in Singapore. In this interview, she shares with HRO the journey to this win: an active involvement in the workforce's engagement, a push for leadership development, and more. On a whole, Eio and her team's human capital strategy has led the company to progress in four key thrusts - read on to find out what! 

Q Congratulations on the achievement! Could you take us through the highs and lows of your people strategy?

UPS’s human capital strategy is based on five key pillars that reflect what we as an organisation believe are essential to creating a best-in-class workforce – developing future leaders, building a high-performance environment, enhancing compensation competitiveness, strengthening safety culture, and elevating employee engagement.

I’m proud that the human capital strategy paved the roadmap for us to improve the organisation’s hygiene factors, increase employee engagement, leadership behaviours, and female representation in management and leadership positions.

Hygiene factors are fundamental aspects of the employee wellbeing that are so often overlooked as potential areas for improvement. These include compensation, career progression, and training and development opportunities. By focusing on these aspects, we strengthened the foundation that allows people to feel safe and more engaged, so that everyone can simply focus on doing their best work for the company.

All leaders need to understand that it’s not just what you say, but how you say it, that makes all the difference to people’s mental and emotional wellbeing. Leaders need to model the behaviours they want to see in their people. That’s why I made leadership behaviours part of the human capital strategy, and as a result we equipped leaders with the necessary skills to tackle tough issues and have important conversations with their teams. I’m also proud to say that we’ve successfully taken the proportion of women who are in management positions in Asia Pacific to 45% which is higher than the company’s global average.

Success didn’t come easy though. One of the biggest challenges I faced was to obtain geographical and functional leaders’ buy-in, without which we wouldn’t be able to bring the human capital strategy to life. Getting them involved early, and often, is what really made a difference in the end. I did this by having regular one-to-one conversations with my peers to understand their concerns, and help them connect the dots between employee engagement and their business growth strategies. This gave them more confidence to walk the talk, and over time they understood and appreciated the importance of the human capital strategy and how to adopt and prioritise it as part of their teams’ goals.

Q How did the HR team identify and align the business & employee needs, and craft this perfect solution?

Ensuring a data-driven approach to HR is crucial, because you can’t improve what you can’t measure. With data from our International Balance Score Card, Likelihood To Recommend metrics, and upward feedback surveys, we can make improvements based on not just business results, but more importantly the valuable feedback we get from employees through our annual Culture Survey. I believe leaders who are self-aware make better decisions for their people and ultimately for the company. So I introduced upward feedback as a mechanism for any leader to create an environment where 360-degree feedback is valued, but more importantly to promote self-awareness about how they’re managing their teams.

As an HR leader, I’ve always believed in the importance of keeping up-to-date on market trends and business disruptions, because what impacts the world is also what impacts our people. Without this constant view of what’s on the horizon, we lose our ability to attract and retain the best talent. I regularly participate in external events as a conference speaker, network with business leaders from all industries, absorb ideas and best practices from leading publications like Harvard Business Review and McKinsey & Co., and also actively engage in internal courses like the senior leadership development programme, which is a global programme for the top 20 UPS leaders to learn from businesses around the world and meet with UPS’s executive leadership team.

Galvanising a large matrix organisation like ours towards a shared vision takes everyone’s commitment to make it a reality. But by spending time aligning with my peers, updating my world view with the changing global landscape, and leveraging our people’s feedback, I can identify what’s on the horizon, justify improvements that need to be made, and most importantly make sure that our leaders are on board with the vision, so that our human capital strategy stays relevant in the long run.

Q Could you share the results that your strategy has delivered – be it on the business, HR, or people side?

As a function, HR has successfully bridged our people’s needs with the business needs, to ensure a strong foundation for organisational growth. This has led to our leaders’ ability to capitalise on growth opportunities during the pandemic, positive culture change, HR modernisation, a stronger talent management programme, and robust framework for change management, and across many more aspects of the business including diversity, compensation, and safety.

Ability to capitalise on growth opportunities. Nobody knew the pandemic would hit, but when it did, we realised just how important the human capital strategy was in readying our leaders to move quickly and decisively to capture growth opportunities. Thanks to the groundwork we’d already established, our leaders were able to manoeuvre swiftly during the pandemic to deliver what were record-breaking profits, and the best results we have ever achieved as an organisation.

Culture change. We successfully rolled out the APAC Vision Map identifying three key people traits – empowerment, agility, and innovation – which we want our people to emulate towards becoming a best-in-class workforce. We deployed more than 80 local ambassadors across APAC, launched a cadence of activation programs, and even developed a mobile app to drive employee engagement.

HR modernisation. We streamlined outdated HR processes by implementing cloud-based tools to empower employees to take charge of their career journey and digital employment records. The adoption of digital tools also paved the way for the restructuring, re-organizing and re-equipping the HR departments across all countries, which I had already anticipated as necessary in order for HR to remain relevant and agile as a function.

Talent management. We maintained a performance-driven environment by promoting capable people from within UPS, ensuring we provide future leaders with tools to succeed through training and mentorship programmes. This was evident in the year-on-year increase in promotions from within into leadership positions by 7%, double the management census getting promoted to 16%, as well as keeping more Asian talent within the region by increasing intra-Asia assignees by 19%.

Change management. We implemented frameworks to shift employees to adopt a more critical thinking approach to problem solving, launched interest groups to better engage women and millennials, and acted as sponsor for internal Toastmasters Group to strengthen public speaking skills among employees.

At the end of the day, while we aspire towards milestones in our human capital strategy, in practice, there really is no end game. It’s not a static concept, but a constant process of refinement each year to keep pace with employees’ needs and the changing external business environment.

Q What is your message to all the stakeholders who have supported you in this journey?

I am so grateful to everyone who has contributed to the success of the human capital strategy, from conception to execution, and continued refinement over the years. It would not have been possible without the inspiration I received from my leaders, the partnership from my colleagues, support from my awesome HR team, and the thousands of UPSers whose lives have been touched by the various initiatives derived from the strategy implementation. Your constant encouragement, feedback, and adaptability has all served to guide me and my team to ensure you get the best out of your experience working at UPS.

Q What are you most excited about when you think about the future of HR?

The past couple of years have been a rollercoaster ride, and while we’ve made much headway in the face of uncertainty, we also have a long way to go and lots more to be excited about. The most exciting space will be transforming the way we organize work and preparing our workforce to embrace and thrive in a digitalised and technological driven world, while maintaining the human element of trust, respect and collaboration.


Lead image / Provided (Featuring interviewee Tanie Eio)

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