Since taking on the role of CPO of AXA Affin General Insurance in October 2020, Safinas Mohd Ibrahim has laid out an exciting set of priorities - building adaptive leaders and innovators, driving personalisation in the employee experience journey, and more. Find out her team's 2021-2023 path in this exclusive.

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"The opportunity to make people’s lives better, even in a small way; to give them new chances to unlock their undiscovered or under-utilised potential; and to support them to be the best version of themselves." Does this description of why our interviewee loves her career choice sound familiar? That's because it refers to HR. 

"To me, HR professionals are the lifeblood of the company because they curate and deliver values, with people, for people. HR focuses on the 'human' factor first, only then the 'resources'. HR is the only role in a company that can lead, partner and drive for the best of its people and impact the society as a whole," says Safinas Mohd Ibrahim, Chief People Officer, AXA Affin General Insurance (AAGI).

In this exclusive interview with HRO, Aditi Sharma Kalra speaks to Safinas about the current talent challenges her industries is grappling with, how her team's focus on 'workforce, workplace and marketplace' is the key to managing such challenges, and how she sees the role of CPO evolving in the years to come. 

Based in Kuala Lumpur, Safinas has been with AXA Affin Insurance since June 2017, helming various HR leadership roles, including as CHRO of the life insurance business, before being elevated to the role of Chief People Officer of AXA Affin General Insurance in October 2020. 

In taking on every role, her mantra is to first understand the business strategy, talk to the key stakeholders, followed by focus group discussions with people managers, key talent and employees. "I am a strong believer in the hybrid approach: outside-in & inside-out, which also means not only adopting best practices, but also evaluating the best fit. It’s not about the number of initiatives, but more on their impact to the people, company and society."

Based on these insights, under her leadership, the HR team's 2021–2023 priorities are:

  • New workforce 4.0
  • Robust people enablement
  • Fortifying simplifications
  • AXA as the most inspiring employer

Evidently, this strategy not only focuses on HR activities, but more on driving value for the business overall. Safinas says: "We prepare our people beyond surviving in the VUCA world, but to thrive, continue to deliver value in a positive and progressive work environment, as our DNA of #LifeAtAAGI."

Such a strong talent strategy is certainly needed, given that the pandemic has accelerated certain desired changes which may have taken a longer time to achieve under normal circumstances. For AAGI, this has resulted in the potential to reimagine the way the company works in managing employees and customers, coupled with the shift in lifestyle that has unlocked new opportunities and accelerated digital transformation. Ultimately, all of this requires new skills, processes, technology, and culture.

Safinas explains: "The first priority for the company is to have adaptive leaders who can survive significant unforeseen and foreseen changes in the VUCA world, this includes both the top management and people managers who have a direct impact on employees’ performance and company’s success." 

"We need innovators to reinvent the core of the insurance business, automation, data insights, and intelligence to transform and switch from surviving to thriving mode for the future."

To deliver upon these business needs of nurturing adaptive leaders and innovators, Safinas and her HR team are focusing on 3 main pillars - workforce, workplace and marketplace, all in a bid to answer one fundamental question: "Do we have the right skillsets and mindset to bring AAGI to the next level?"

Under the first pillar, workforce, AAGI focuses on building capability and capacity of people, beyond technical skills to include leadership and critical soft skills; foremost among the latter is the development of a ‘growth mindset’.

At AAGI, the first step to building a 'growth mindset' is leaning. "When there’s a will, there’s a way… the pandemic poses opportunities where employees realise the importance of building their own competitive advantage to stay relevant and be resilient."

To support this endeavour, learning offerings have been completely democratised, through various interventions such as e-learning, workshops, celebrating success stories of AAGI employees, sharing of flagship best practices with other AXA entities outside Malaysia, mentoring sessions, experiential learning via competitions, lunch & learn sessions, focus groups, partnerships with industry experts such as 30% Club, Leadwomen, CADs, Uipath & many more.

Another key initiative is the introduction of AXA Academy, formed in-house and supported by collaborations with  industry experts. AXA Academy currently consists of three faculties:

  • D-Faculty 4.0 that focuses on digital & data capability upskilling
  • LEAD Faculty that focuses on addressing essential people managers’ DNA, women’s development in leadership, tech and data space to further strengthen diversity, equity and inclusion agenda
  • NWoW (New Way of Working) Faculty that focuses on 'smart working' to equip employees with relevant skillset for hybrid work model. The topic of agile is addressed in this faculty.

The second pillar, workforce, is about enhancing the employee experience to drive personalisation in the employee journey. With this focus on employees’ day-to-day interactions that shape their experience in the company, the workforce pillar has three areas of priority:

  • People: Focus on company culture and people managers as leaders. the 'people' pillar defines what it is like to work for AAGI, and connects everyone associated with AAGI. "Sustaining this is of the utmost importance, especially when most employees are working from home," affirms Safinas.
  • Process: Focus on simplification, driving values, and purposeful activities within 3Is, namely, inclusive, innovative, and inspiring journey.
  • Technology: A prime catalyst, with an impact on employee satisfaction, motivation, and engagement.

Marketplace, the third pillar, focuses on strengthening brand presence by promoting AXA as the preferred employer brand and as an inspiring company to work for.

Forward outlook: The role of CPO and EXCOs

Safinas' action plan for HR is inspiring indeed, and one of the reasons behind that is she firmly believes the role of CPO is undergoing a radical transformation, given how the pandemic has taught HR to be more creative and innovative by curating new 'best practices'.

Other than aligning towards key trends, she calls upon her peers in HR leadership to learn beyond just one's own industry and competitors to fully evaluate opportunities in shaping a sustainable and future-focused people agenda.

She voices: "Let's be courageous to play a major role in influencing the direction of organsational change by challenging the status quo through divergent thinking and disruptive ideas. The CPO will play an instrumental role in embedding the culture of new norms, with key focus on empowerment, collaboration, trust, empathy and inclusion." 

Beyond HR, we nudge Safinas to share a wish for her management peers as well - if she could get them to start one action, and stop one action, what would they be?

"If I could get my EXCOs to start one action, it will always be growth mindset – where it talks about continuous learning, agility, lead new ways and disrupt the insurance industry."

"As for what I think we should stop is doing things the old way. We need to be creative in painting the picture of the future of the organisation; while being strategic, we got to be courageous, and take bold steps to win a cutting-edge advantage by leading the change that we want to see, explore potential beyond limits through continuous learning, and leveraging on the benefits of digital & tech."

Sounds like a bold yet exciting vision for HR and its C-suite peers is on the horizon and we look forward to being part of it!

Photo / Provided by AAGI

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