Nora Abd Manaf, Senior Executive Vice President and Head, Group Human Capital, Maybank, Malaysia 
Nora Abd Manaf, Senior Executive Vice President and Head, Group Human Capital, Maybank, Malaysia

Maybank, Malaysia's largest financial services group, serves customers in 17 countries. The company — which is a client of Towers Watson's Kuala Lumpur office — has over 40,000 employees and total assets worth more than US$100 billion. Nora Abd Manaf has been the Head of Group Human Capital of Maybank Group since October 2008.

What are the most urgent human capital challenges Maybank faces today?

Although we have achieved a lot of traction since we launched our group transformation programme in 2008 — including earning our largest-ever profit in 2010 — we are still very much in transformation mode. Managing human capital features strongly as a critical enabler for our success and the realisation of our 2015 aspirations.Two of our urgent challenges are the need to more quickly prepare employees to fill key roles and perform at the required level, and the need to build pipeline pools ranging from entry level through to branch managers, to leadership. For example, we have set a target of building a pool of 500 relationship bankers in the short term to service high-net-worth customers. Another top priority is productivity improvement. We have set a target of increasing our sales force productivity by 40%.

We are also focused on enabling our employees to operate regionally, as Maybank aims to become a regional powerhouse and eventually a significant global player. The key challenge is to build a workforce that is globally adaptive, as well as geographically and culturally diverse. Managing across borders could require managers to confront a basis for stratification different from the one with which they are already familiar. Employees with such ready-made capability are scarce in the region, as well as in Maybank. This is crucial for us to realise the potential of our merger integrations.

Along with these priorities, we are rolling out multiple support programmes to help employees ensure that our operational and customer service transformation objectives are met. These objectives range from skill development to incentive plans.

What HR programs are you focusing on?

Our focus continues to be on building capability — from a core banking perspective as well as a talent management and leadership perspective. Aside from the initiatives I've mentioned, we continue with our climate- and culture-building programmes, and we're working on raising the effectiveness of what I call our Maybank Skilling Factory.

Which human capital initiative has been the easiest, and which has been the most difficult for you to adopt and implement

The enhancement of any component of total rewards is well received by most staff, and that eases the execution process. The implementation of our pay-level policy and the recent launch of our Employee Share Scheme — as the long-term variable component of total rewards in the pay mix — were well received by all levels of the workforce. Much more complex are initiatives on organisational climate change, manager capability building and productivity improvement. Having said that, though, every milestone we achieve is very fulfilling and gives us the boost to keep going.

What learnings gleaned from your experience in multinational companies have helped you at Maybank, a government-affiliated company?

One of the most valuable learnings, I have to say, is the honed ability to successfully leverage diversity and inclusion. In fact, being equipped with this learning should put one in good stead to handle most situations and be successful in life!

As parts of the world begin to emerge from the recession, the war for critical-skill talent is heating up in some industries. Is it becoming more difficult for Maybank to attract or retain top talent? If so, what are Maybank's strategies to address this challenge?

I was just reading the latest results of The Conference Board's CEO Challenge Survey 2011, which confirm the point you raise — that talent is the top critical challenge faced by CEOs, especially in Asia. Business growth came in second. In Maybank, critical-skill talent is absolutely necessary for our business transformation and growth. Finding the right employees, developing them, rewarding them and keeping them are some of our highest priorities. We have a multipronged strategy that includes a compelling employee value proposition with a competitive reward package.

The success of the strategy is reflected in our recruitment performance dashboard, which we monitor closely. The dashboard tracks not only the rate of vacancy closure but also the offer-acceptance rate for the various categories of experienced professionals, fresh graduates and senior managers. Maybank will continue to implement the strategy in order to build a regional talent pool that will be at the forefront of our regional expansion.

What are some of the most innovative HR tools and ideas you have encountered in recent years?

Technology has been in the forefront of many business areas, including HR. It enables so much within HR, and some of the most innovative tools are coming from this area. We continue to explore using web-based applications for many HR processes.

Other interesting innovations include the Retention Prediction Algorithm by Google Inc. Google's algorithm is designed to identify which of its 20,000 employees are most likely to quit. What's unique is that the algorithm incorporates a wider range of variables than those that have traditionally been used. Google casts a much wider net. They look at things like promotions, pay history and performance appraisals, as well as other kinds of HR and non-HR elements that haven't traditionally been used. It helps the company "get inside employees' heads" even before they think about leaving.

There is also IBM's HRThinkFuture. The ability to leverage social networking is growing as vendors add more platforms to HR technology systems — but IBM is a step ahead. To ensure HR plays a strategic role in the company's future, they convened a "jam" — a global, virtual dialogue. They conducted real-time webcasts of live events held within a 24-hour period in four cities around the world. Each session was devoted to an HR topic related to work and the future. After that was a 72-hour virtual dialogue. Then five teams explored some of the ideas to be applied to strategic planning and implementation over the next decade.

How do you see changing demographics and technology affecting employee job satisfaction in the future?

Multigenerational workforces, changing demographics and technology have a direct impact on employees' expectations, growth in an organisation and engagement levels.

Our IT transformation includes the aggressive and progressive deployment of groupwide data intelligence mining. This will give us insight into how we can empower our workforce to increase productivity and provide a differentiated value proposition to customers. It also fosters efficiency, connects geographically dispersed teams, improves responsiveness, and gives employees immediate access to knowledge, advice and networking.

Part of our transformation plan is an enhanced onboarding experience that we call the Signature Employee Experience. The process, which is tracked centrally, allows us to ensure Maybankers have the right tools and work conditions to motivate them to perform. To meet employees' expectations, we also nurture a work climate that encourages feedback and fosters idea generation. And through many media, we openly encourage Maybankers to share how we can make it easier for them to perform at their peak. These include an online Ask Senior Management forum, our flagship Ideas Generation programme and our Employee Engagement Survey. This commitment is necessary, as it affects the quality, efficiency and productivity levels of not only the employee but also the organisation.

There is a high level of appreciation that a growing portion of our workforce — be it the sales, service teams or our specialists — is working offsite. Technology plays and will continue to play a key role in enabling these workers to work efficiently and make necessary decisions quickly, on the go. Technology also enhances work/life balance.

Your team of HR advisors supports a workforce of more than 40,000 employees. How do you ensure the HR team is effective in that vital role?

I just ensure we do the basics right: I organise properly, do my part in positioning the team right, ensure each team member is committed to personal awareness, and execute on skill and competence building. Our corporate mission — humanising financial services from the heart of ASEAN — applies to how we do business, not only externally, but also internally. It is about how we operate as a team and how we treat each other.

I have also created an HR Transformation and Change Management unit, so there is discipline in HR in pursuing our improvement and performance goals. This ensures we do not lose sight of our own needs in order to be able to serve others — so that we won't be "cobbler's children."

From an organisation structure standpoint, the HR advisors are well supported with an enabling HR organisation structure. We are committed to ensuring that the structure — which is based on the Ulrich model — helps us meet our objectives. We have HR business partners embedded in the business and functional areas of the organisation. They are well supported by the various centres of expertise and shared services, resulting in the seamless provision of HR solutions. HR team members are encouraged and supported in their professional development and are required to pursue formal certification in their respective areas of HR expertise.

As a successful senior executive, how do you balance your work and personal life?

I thank God every day for a supportive husband, children and extended family. As the saying goes, there is actually no balance in "balanced work and personal life!" There are days it's work all the way, and that's when my support system — husband, children, family, bless them — just rallies around me and is there for me. But I do make it a point to ensure I do not take this for granted, and we have special times together that mean so much. It is absolutely important to build trust, confidence and independence within the family. That is the strong platform that we continue to nurture and build upon.

What is your advice to young women in Malaysia — and around the world — who aspire to be successful career women? What will it take for these young people to succeed in today's business environment and in the future?

I strongly believe that we must ensure we are competent in what we are doing, and remain so for the next role we desire. I learned very early in life, that "it is up to me." I think that is a good philosophy to have. Any help we get — as I have over the years — is God's gift. Competence, along with bucketfuls of confidence, with humility, will put us in good stead to be successful. Today and tomorrow are unpredictable times. We need to be equipped with those traits to be able to respond to each moment and every challenge that comes our way!