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On June 8, AmCham China took a new look at human resources, bringing distinct insights and a nuanced approach to the ways we think about and perceive of HR. The theme of this year’s conference was “C-Suite Perspectives on Human Capital,” focusing on what top-level executives think of the people that power their companies. With perspectives from industry-leading multinational CTOs, CFOs, COOs, CXOs, and CEOs, the conference provided a wholly new understanding of where human resources is today, how it’s changed in recent years, and what we can expect to see develop in the future.

Over the course of the all-day event, nearly 200 attendees had the opportunity to listen, participate, and learn from a series of highly-specified talks and dialogues focused on the executive perspective of human resources. The conference proved an excellent opportunity for our honored C-Suite speakers from Microsoft, Chevron Oronite, United Family Healthcare, Dell, Procter & Gamble, IBM, and Bayer to address a wide range of issues. This included discussions of the evolving multinational corporation (MNC) business environment, the digital transformation of HR, as well as dialogues from C-Suite executives on talent attraction, digital innovation, and amazingly, a panel devoted entirely to millennials.

David Hoffman, Senior Vice President and Managing Director at The Conference Board China explains the economic implications for HR professionals.

The Effect of Economics on HR, Transforming the Dialogue

For the first keynote speech, David Hoffman, Senior Vice President and Managing Director at The Conference Board China, was joined by Nick Sutcliffe, Executive Director Asia at The Conference Board, to discuss the evolving MNC business environment in China and its implications for the function of HR. Exploring how micro- and macro-economics have affected HR historically, Hoffman and Sutcliffe articulated ways in which history has repeated itself for MNCs in China, as well as the ways in which things have changed entirely.

“Typically, when an MNC breaks through in one sector or another, they experience several years of great growth and maybe profitability. But eventually, they find their market space chipped away by regulation, or the entrance of new competitors. And we see this happening now in the private sector, primarily in the digital space,” said Hoffman. He went on to say, “Businesses here must constantly reinvent their value proposition in order to create new and interesting growth spaces.” It is here where Hoffman pointed to the opportunity and challenge faced by HR professionals – at the intersection of human capital and technology.

Addressing this intersection, Sutcliffe noted that, “The world of HR is on the cusp. It’s changing dramatically.” Sutcliffe went on to say that, “At this point, we’re seeing the impact of digitalization. We’re seeing the impact of workforce analytics. We’re seeing the impact of cognitive learning bots and AI. We’re seeing reform in the type of work we do in the structure of HR.” Sutcliffe also stated that despite the advantages provided to HR professionals by technology, there is always the question of what is happening in the business environment and macro-economically.

Sutcliffe went further to say that, “HR pros cannot do their jobs without understanding the macro-economic and strategic elements.” He also stressed that there is usually a disconnect between business leaders and their HR officers. While business leaders focus on quarterly ROI, HR officers talk about transformation. And it’s this disconnect in language that presents a problem. “HR probably has to move away from ‘We feel’ to ‘We know.’ To support their conversations with data, to articulate the ROI." 

He added how important it is "to be able to understand the key business performance indices that the business leader is chasing. But also, the business leader has to think about the sustainability of the business, the importance of talent – not just as a commodity, but in terms of the growth of the business.”

Eric Hirsch, Regional Director at Jones Lang Lasalle, explains why HR professionals are pivotal in connecting the different parts and people of any organization. 

C-Suite Seeks Solution to Talent, Tech, and Teamwork

Following the opening keynote speech, AmCham China was proud to host a C-Suite dialogue with Horace Chow, Chief Operating Officer at Microsoft Greater China, Eric Hirsch, Regional Director at Jones Lang Lasalle, Roberta Lipson, Chief Executive Officer at United Family Healthcare, Eugene Ng, Managing Director at Chevron Oronite, and David Hoffman of The Conference Board China to discuss how HR can support business success, and the opportunities and challenges brought by digitalization.

During the discussion, Lipson was quick to bring up a key HR issue arising from digitalization – the often prevalent disconnect between existing talent and their familiarity with the digitalized world. “The talent is not necessarily out there. There might be IT and digital talent out there. And there might be clinical or management talent out there. But the folks that can bring both of those things together – it’s not an IT question, it’s an operations question,” she said. For Lipson, to increase her existing talent’s familiarity with technology and the digitalized world, United Family Healthcare provides continuing education programs that teach employees about recent technological developments and methodologies in the healthcare industry.

To close the C-Suite panel, the executives were asked what one thing they would say to their human resources officers or managers. Resoundingly, the importance of communication was the thing that the executives wanted to communicate to their HR departments – stressing how important it is to the functionality of an organization. “HR plays such a pivotal role within any organization. The fact is that they, more than anyone else, should have a fingertip on every single different business line and know what everyone is doing. And so, they play a pivotal role in being able to really connect the dots and in making sure that everyone is aware of what’s going on, and can help each other,” Hirsch explained.

Underlining a key aspect of the conference, a CHRO vs. CFO panel discussion highlighted one of the event’s primary goals – communicating the intricacies, challenges, and importance of HR and human capital to the rest of the C-Suite. In this discussion, the panelists – a mix of CFOs and CHROs – focused on how to maximize efficiency and productivity, improve employee experience, and minimize losses. Summing up a key takeaway from the panel, AmCham China President Alan Beebe highlighted that the executive panelists predominantly view talent as both an investment and an expense. He added that the key to productivity is a collaborative, teamwork-oriented environment that fosters a culture where employees ask questions and work together to solve problems.

Microsoft's live AI translation service gives the audience a bilingual look into talent attraction.

Translating Talent Attraction

The day received an exciting twist with a panel discussion focused on the thriving local economy and talent attraction. The twist came from a live translation powered by Microsoft’s AI translation service. As panelists discussed in Chinese, above their heads appeared the English translation in real-time. While impressive, the AI proved that professional translators are not yet out of the job, providing a few comical translations which the audience returned with good-spirited laughter.

A millennial panel explains to the old guard why millennial talent seems so different than employees of the past.

Millennials Motivated for More

Closing out the day, audience members were treated to a first in HR Conference history – a panel solely devoted to millennials. Sitting on the panel were Alex Lee, Greater China Talent Acquisition Director at Dell Computers, Shaun Renwick, Site Director at Procter & Gamble Beijing R&D Center, Abe Sorock, CEO at ATLAS China, Thomas Cheng, Growth and Partnerships Manager at VIPKID, and Tina Li, Manager of China Government Affairs at Dell Computers. The panelists delved into the differences millennials exhibit in terms of job hunting, career planning, and job longevity.

One of the biggest burdens for the young panel was to explain why – compared to their older counterparts – millennials are so quick to switch from job to job, and seem to lack a sense of company loyalty. Cheng pointed out that this phenomenon is very likely a product of today’s environment. “I have lived here only five years, but I see that the speed of development here is unparalleled. Cities are built overnight, which means that organizations and people who are building these cities in record time keep doing it. People keep asking for more and more, and pushing the limits of what they can get, and how fast. People want new challenges, and new ways to grow,” he said. Cheng suggested that millennials have an innate drive to accomplish more with every achievement and every undertaking – outlining a difficult job for today’s HR professional looking to retain its young talent.  

Li explained that at Dell they minimize their millennial talent attrition through Employee Resource Groups (ERGs). Through the ERGs, which focus on activities and interaction outside of work, Dell is able to engage and retain the young talent through community, and shared interests. “It’s not relevant to work, but we found that this is very important for the young generation,” said Li. She explained that the ERGs provide millennial talent with a feeling of newness in everyday, supplementary challenges in addition to their work, and – somewhat jokingly – a platform for selfies and social media opportunities to share with friends and family. Supporting this point, Li shared an instance where the recipient of an annual ERG award had the option between a brand-new iPhone or RMB 7,000. The winner chose the iPhone because you “can’t post a picture of RMB 7,000 on Instagram.”

Closing the 19th HR Conference

The 19th annual AmCham China Human Resources Conference was a resounding success, bringing together a spectrum of executives, thought leaders, and human resources professionals to share their expertise and insight with the community. For their continued support, AmCham China would like to thank all of our generous sponsors who contributed to this event: Microsoft, CXA Group, ETS, United Family Healthcare, MDS, YCIS, TEDA, CDP, and Initialview. And for their pivotal role in the execution of such an unforgettable HR Conference, we would also like to thank our partner companies: The Conference Board, FESCO, BIMBA PKU, the University of Maryland, Viva, and CKGSB.

Building off of this year’s conference, AmCham China will continue to support the development of human resource professionals, showcase their importance to all industries and across all sectors, and work to reduce the distance between those in the biggest offices and those that keep them there.