Post the successful acquisition of Panasonic’s subsidiary in Singapore and the subsequent integration of the facility and its business practices with UTAC SG, learn about UTAC's extensive transformation and execution plan, supported heavily by the HR Head and her team.

With a gold win for Excellence in Business Transformation at HR Excellence Awards 2020, Singapore, safely in the bag, P. Maheson, General Manager, United Test and Assembly Center (UTAC), is interviewed by Priya Veeriah on the winning strategy, roadblocks, ROI and lessons learnt.

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

United Test and Assembly Center (UTAC SG) is one of the leading independent providers of semiconductor assembly and test services providers located in Singapore. We operate in the semi-con industry which is cyclical, volatile and characterised by mergers, acquisitions and integrations between businesses.

Given our business landscape, our HR strategy is to develop agile leadership and change management capabilities to navigate UTAC through these changes. In line with creating ONE UTAC company, we also strive to build HR policies, practices, and people processes that are standardised and consistent to achieve our overall corporate vision and values.

Some key milestones in recent years include the successful acquisition of Panasonic’s subsidiary in Singapore and the subsequent integration of the facility and its business practices with UTAC SG. Specifically, this business transformation involved the integration of the Test Operations and consolidation of Assembly Operations to achieve the desired synergy.

Over the years both UTAC SG and its HQ, UTAC Headquarters, have been recognised for our change management and business transformation capabilities at various HR award platforms.

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

The strategy helped to integrate and define our overall people practices which were standardised with 'sense and simplicity' for execution. This includes the hiring, development, engagement, performance management and employee rewards practices to ensure we engage and retain our employees effectively. The talent management approach has also helped in identifying and synergising our talents to form a stronger bench-strength for succession planning. All this was achieved through internally developed initiatives while remaining competitive and cost effective in Singapore.

A key role undertaken by both the senior leaders in UTAC SG and in our HQ in Singapore was to act as champions and sponsors of this business transformation initiative.

The leadership team engaged and aligned various functions, guided by UTAC’s vision of 'passionate people providing customers with world-class turn-key test and assembly services'.

As leaders, besides setting direction and communicating the change to employees, we also embarked on an extensive transformation and execution plan using our internal swimlane methodology to ensure a process-driven approach was taken to align the transformation committee and programme managers. We also leveraged heavily on our HR Head, Jasmine Ng and her team to lead the people and culture agenda to communicate, engage various stakeholders, re-deploy and re-skill our employees.

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?

Competition and pricing are often intense in our industry with unpredictable business trends. Coupled with this were the legal requirements of this transformation and also the need to address the various stakeholders’ interests. The different work cultures, arrangements and terms also proved challenging as we worked towards achieving this integration and synergy.

This required us to engage various stakeholders that included employees and the union to communicate and discuss the changes for buy-in. To guide the managers to facilitate the changes, we conducted leadership and change management courses while employees were provided with comprehensive and structured new-hires training and certified on-the-job training based on their new roles.

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

We were very pleased that this business transformation initiative was selected as the Gold winner in the Business Transformation category for this year’s HR Excellence Awards.

From an ROI perspective, more than 100 employees were successfully re-deployed towards the end of 2019. Evidently, the transition was also a harmonious one resulting in a lower employee turnover rate of only one-third of our average turnover.

As a result of our approach, there was support from all stakeholders and we experienced no formal grievances.

The transformation also generated significant cost savings. We were further awarded a Professional Conversion Programme (PCP) grant in recognition of the company’s initiative to support and preserve local employees’ employment.

Q One of HR’s biggest responsibilities this year has been crisis communication and engagement and to act as a bridge between the management and staff. What are some lessons you’ve learnt in an eventful year of improving communication while leading business transformation?

Over the years, we have developed a strong communication culture guided by our UTAC Values (U-unity, T-trust, A-accountability and C-communication). We have built various communication practices within UTAC that are consistent across all our regions. For example, our CEO, Dr John Nelson – conducts his Quarterly CEO Town Hall globally on the business and even holds periodic skip-level meetings with middle managers across all regions. I replicate the same practices at UTAC SG with my GM Town Hall and also Skip-Level meetings to stay in touch with the pulse of employees.

We also engage our employees through focused group discussions to solicit feedback and to address any grievances. Periodic online pulse-surveys are also conducted to measure employee engagement and address internal gaps. To commemorate the achievement of major milestones and key events, we also release one-page ‘news brief’ online to keep employees abreast of the developments.

As in past practices, we also focus on communicating and building government relations on the changes we’re going through. This includes communication with our Union - UWEEI, SkillsFuture, Workforce SG and Singapore Semiconductor Industry Association for support, upskilling and funding of the business.

The impact of COVID-19 has caused unprecedented disruptions to our operations. Given the fast-evolving situation, we responded with lightning speed towards the changing conditions. Communication became critical to alleviate employees’ fear and uncertainty, especially given the significant number of employees working remotely. As we continue to communicate through the different channels, we have added an Employee Communicate Package that is constantly updated with the latest information on COVID-19.

Photo / UTAC Singapore’s GM, P. Maheson with HR Head, Jasmine Ng at the recognition evening.

Read more interviews on why organisations have won trophies for their HR practices - head over to our Winning Secrets' section! 

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