Strategic Workforce Planning (SWP): A Strategy For Business Survival?

Yap Aye Wee, OCBC’s Head of Learning and Development, and Organisational Development, shares why SWP could be key to survival in a fast-changing world.

19 Feb 2021 Interviews Recruitment Best practices Future of work Human capital partnership

Ms Yap Aye Wee, Head of Learning & Development and Organisational Development, OCBC Bank

Q: What are the key reasons that OCBC adopted SWP?

While workforce transformation has been a priority at OCBC for many years, the world’s digital transformation agenda is evolving faster than before. We saw the need for a long-term, holistic and future-ready plan to address the scale of transformation our organisation would need to stay competitive. The enormity of the change meant that we had to address challenges at an organisational level, instead of targeting just specific job roles, which sufficed in the past. 

Secondly, we saw opportunities for redeployment across the organisation to fill competency gaps, and to re-skill employees to continually excel in new roles. Such cross-functional synergies require the more holistic and in-depth analysis afforded by SWP. 

Lastly, we wanted to increase awareness of the importance of having greater alignment between business and workforce transformation. Our main objective with SWP was to translate business needs and challenges into workforce transformation strategies, rather than focusing narrowly on re-skilling. 

Q: In your view, is SWP a necessity or a “nice-to-have” for businesses to succeed?

It has become more of a necessity, and even a strategy for survival.

In the past, acquiring the right talent to plug a skills or competency gap was relatively straightforward. But in today’s context, we have to juggle both the challenge of managing the digital shift, as well as a shrinking labour pool. This includes getting access to the right talent or skill sets you need. An organisation that fails to maximise its internal resources today might find itself lacking labour resources to support its business growth in the future.

Q: Have OCBC’s SWP efforts helped mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on the business?

COVID-19 has forced many Singaporeans to consume digital services. Fortunately for us, OCBC had already anticipated the future of banking pre-COVID-19. To facilitate internal mobility of talent, we had begun to redeploy more of our staff to higher value-added job functions, and such redeployment efforts are expected to continue.

For instance, we reskilled our bank tellers to take on the role of a digital ambassador – moving them away from transactional administrative functions to one where they had to support customers in their adoption of basic digital banking products and services. This meant that they had to learn new skills so as to provide value that meet our customers’ rapidly evolving needs. 

In essence, SWP has prepared OCBC for the challenges that COVID-19 has brought. And this started from our decision made six to seven years ago to embark on a journey to future-proof our workforce.

Q: An effective strategic workforce planning solution requires the business to commit resources; it also involves various factors such as data collection, robust analytics, forecasting and modelling capabilities. Having successfully implemented SWP for your organisation, what are some best practices and advice to help businesses maximise the benefits and value of implementing SWP?

SWP is linked to business strategy and hence, a key success factor is getting the buy-in of business leaders to examine business transformation plans as part of the workforce planning process. We asked ourselves how the business would change in the next one, three or five years; and the type of resources required to enable the businesses to grow. This process forced us to create an informed point-of-view of the future, and such a point-of-view need not be wholly accurate or complete for it to position us in readiness for change. As part of this forward planning, we identified skill needs, skill gaps and established a plan of action. Most importantly, it brought the focus on change and the need for employees to transform. 

At an operational level, we appointed an SWP ambassador in every business unit as the key point of contact for all parties involved. We also involved our HR Business Partners in sharing their views from the human capital perspective, including breaking down the requirements of specific competencies and levels of proficiencies required for the business to succeed. As businesses may not possess an in-depth understanding of competency and proficiency requirements of roles, the partnership of HR becomes instrumental.

Q: Getting buy-in from line managers is necessary for SWP to succeed. What are some key steps OCBC has taken to secure the support of your managers?

Start by securing the support of top management, as SWP as a purely bottom-up initiative is insufficient. We had the support of our Group CEO and his endorsement to work with various divisional business representatives. Thereafter, we sought support from the next level of leaders, and so on. This was followed by one-on-one sessions with the managers on assessing their business and staff needs – what their staff are working on right now, and how we can change the way they work in future. Through many rounds of conversations and a lot of hard work, workforce strategies in priority areas were formulated. And as roles were disrupted, we started to see the benefit of having these strategies in place. That created more buy-in and the beginnings of a virtuous cycle.

Q: How has implementing SWP benefitted OCBC Singapore? 

SWP has raised awareness amongst our stakeholders of the urgency of transformation. It has engendered cross-functional and even cross-border collaboration with our offices in Malaysia and China. Additionally, we are maximising our talent potential across the organisation and its various departments. 

Career mobility has been enhanced, and people who were previously set in their roles are better able to move to other units. For example, there has been a rise in call-centre demand in recent years – customers are calling in with their enquiries, instead of heading to physical branches. We have since moved many of our frontline talents to the call centre, and they are doing well in advising our customers on digital banking matters. In the past, organisations might not have thought about reskilling a frontline staff for the call centre. With SWP, we are better able to strategise for career mobility amongst our talents.

Was this helpful?