HR in the hot seat: Jason Ho, head of group HR at OCBC Bank

by Miklos Bolza05 Jul 2016
What is your job title and what brought you into this role?
I was previously OCBC Bank’s head of asset & liability management, global treasury, before taking on the role of head of group human resources in July 2015 as part of a succession planning framework.
Prior to joining group HR, I was already involved in key HR initiatives such as the OCBC Mentoring program. I was a mentor to participants in the OCBC-Insead Executive Development Programme, which is held in collaboration with Insead Business School. Under this program, mentors, mostly division heads within the bank, are appointed to coach participants during the course and help prepare them for larger responsibilities within the bank. I was also involved in the conceptualisation of the bank’s leadership program for senior leaders.
The opportunity to keep learning and improve myself is what motivates me and many other colleagues to stay on in OCBC. The bank has career progression programs that nurture staff with a wide range of experience levels, from the fairly new to industry veterans. Even after spending over 29 years in the banking industry, I still find myself learning new things in OCBC.
What motivates or excites you the most about your current position?
I like the buzz and excitement that come with this position. HR has many touch points throughout the organisation that allow us to make an impact on our employees. It is a role that can provide one with the chance to influence the culture of an organisation – not many job functions can offer this. As OCBC continues to expand its scope and geographical coverage of its businesses in Asia, there will be even more opportunities for employees to grow with the bank. HR therefore plays an important role to facilitate the development of human capital within the organisation.
I also love working with the HR team at OCBC. Their passion and enthusiasm in rolling out new initiatives and programs that can make a difference to employees invigorate me. Some of the programs that have been implemented are unique to OCBC, and the possibility of coming up with more such innovative ideas in the future excites me.
What is unique about HR at OCBC?
HR at OCBC adopts a business partnership model. The division is structured with at least 40% of our headcount in “frontline relationship manager” roles, essentially embedding HR in the business. Our HR relationship managers are very much engaged with the businesses, working closely with the business leaders to address relevant business issues and support the implementation of business strategies.
We also proactively use multiple HR and business metrics to improve HR delivery. We conduct various surveys on a regular basis with internal stakeholders and external candidates to obtain feedback across various HR service delivery touch points, so that we can continually improve their effectiveness and efficiency.
For instance, we conduct an annual employee engagement survey to measure how well the employer brand is delivered to our employees, and find out how they feel about their jobs and work environment. This survey is also one of the channels for employees to voice their concerns and give feedback, which provides an opportunity for us to identify ways to address this. As a testament to the importance placed on our annual employee engagement survey, our Group CEO, Mr Samuel Tsien, kick starts the survey each year with a personal message to all employees to give an update on action plans implemented during the year. Our brand index improved from 84% in 2014 to 86% in 2015, above Aon Hewitt’s Best Employers’ average of 85%, while our overall employee engagement score has been increasing every year from 60% in 2010 to 79% in 2015. 
What will HR’s biggest challenges be for the coming year?
We anticipate three megatrends that will drive HR priorities over the short and long-term. These are:
  1. The rise of disruptive technologies that will change every aspect of the way we work. Therefore, how can we leverage fintech to attract talents or create a work environment and culture that will engage the “digital” generation? How should we transform HR to be more digital so that we can continue to partner the businesses effectively?
  2. The growing prevalence of the “boundary-less” organisation, where the workforce of the future will be virtual, connecting to work anytime, from anywhere and on any device. How should we rethink our strategies and policies so that we can fully embrace this trend to increase collaboration and productivity?
  3. The emergence of a “dumbbell” workforce profile – with a heavier proportion of older employees and fresh entrants – due to the growing pool of millennials entering the workforce, as well as larger number of mature employees with increased life expectancy and older retirement age. The challenge then is working out how we should re-invent our people programs so as to engage the different generation of employees, who have vastly different aspirations, priorities and working styles, and bring out the best in all of them.
Therefore, it is important that, in the coming year, we focus on continuously strengthening our employer brand so that we can attract young talents into the organisation, and at the same time, retain the experienced employees in the organisation. It is also vital that we enhance our people management capability so we can manage our diverse and potentially “virtual” workforce effectively.
If there’s one piece of HR-related advice you could give, what would it be?
Today’s world is a rapidly evolving one, with technological advancements and digital innovations making it ever more challenging for employees in general to stay current and employable. Therefore, every one of us has to continuously reskill and upskill to remain relevant, resilient and adaptable to stay ahead. Learning has to be an ongoing and relentless journey.
On the HR front, technology and automation will transform the way HR works, with the potential to greatly increase our productivity. We must take advantage of these disruptive technologies to raise HR competencies. At the same time, HR personnel must develop high learning agility to keep abreast of the changes. However, we have to remember that the core of HR will always be our people – our colleagues – and we must never lose sight of this principle if we want to be truly successful and effective HR practitioners.
What hobbies and interests do you have outside of HR?
Through the years, I have trimmed my many interests to just a few regular hobbies. I strive to stay fit by swimming twice a week in the early mornings for an hour each, and going for walks with my wife for two hours every Sunday. If my schedule permits, I play golf and go for Pilates weekly. I am an avid movie buff – a passion that I share closely with my daughters. I watch thrillers, comedies and action movies, but I especially love classics like “In the Mood for Love” by Wong Kar-Wai and “Brief Encounter” directed by David Lean, and have amassed close to 1,000 DVDs in my collection.