Lo & Behold Group's Chief Talent Officer on HR Technology and Leadership

Insights from Lo & Behold Group's Chief Talent Officer on HR Technology and Leadership

Published 15th January 2018
Sara R Moulton

Editor of HQ Asia

Published 15th January 2018

Lo & Behold Group’s Merle Chen discusses the importance and relevance of companies investing in technology in order to improve employee experience with HR. Chen also shares how she defines a leader and insights she’s gained throughout her career.

How technology can improve the relationship between HR & employees

As is typical with most start-up enterprises, while the Lo & Behold Group continues to actively explore opportunities to expand and scale our operations, we are limited by the capability of our current business processes and technologies. Although these have served us well to date, processes and technologies are severely limited by the ability to scale and cater for an organisation of increasing size and complexity.

At the same time, recent advancements in technology, specifically Cloud solutions, are enabling ubiquitous access to shared pools of configurable system resources and higher-level services that can be rapidly provisioned with minimal management effort and resources expended on IT infrastructure and maintenance.

We envision that the acquisition of and implementation of an integrated, unified, consumer-grade UX (user experience design) platforms such as Workday, across Human Resources (HR) and Finance functions will:

  • Enhance the employee experience; and
  • Greatly improve the Group’s reporting and analytics capabilities; leading to a
  • Forward-looking and data-driven approach with the use of predictive analytics in decision-making

In the first, employees will have on-the-go access with consumer-grade UX to HR services—personal particulars, medical and lifestyle expense and reimbursement claims, career opportunities across the Group, performance feedback and appraisal—as well as tie our current recognition initiatives such as Catch Me Doing Right to rewards. This level of access enables employees and managers alike to take full ownership of their career at The Lo & Behold Group (TLBG).

Departments such as Human Resources and Finance are inundated with highly administrative tasks and transactions. The adoption of technology to alleviate/reduce administrative load, provides an opportunity for these departments and the broader Company to reallocate precious time, energy, and resources to focus on analysis of data that yields greater value to the business.

The opportunity to add value through HR practices comes more from stopping the wrong outcome from happening, rather than from historical reporting. Yet the focus for much of HR data to date has been largely transactional. For example, HR typically produces reports on turnover. The cost of voluntary turnover has been established at approximately 1.5 times annual base pay for salaried employees. Therefore, if you retain or re-deploy two high value employees with average base salaries of S$50,000, the company would have saved approximately S$150,000 excluding the cost of recruiting and onboarding a new hire.

In order to achieve this level of insight into costs savings and make resource allocation decisions ahead of time, HR will need to make use of sophisticated algorithms to interpret a plethora from performance and learning records, to tenure, etc.

Effective learning tools

Advancements in technology will continue to evolve the food and beverage (F&B) and hospitality industry in ways that allow us to better understand our customers and anticipate their needs and preferences. Advancements will also increase the efficiency of service in a way that allows staff to focus on interacting with their guests.

Companies need to invest in learning and development and be deliberate in thinking about how to arm employees with the competencies; mindsets, skills and knowledge they need to develop and grow.

Yet, learning need not be fixated in a formal setting or have complicated processes, especially in an industry and business like ours where most of our full-time workforce are based in the concepts. We also rely on and have a fairly sizeable cohort of contingent workers. Learning can be introduced in a creative manner that enables accessibility while being Social, ‘Snackable’ and Fun.

We recently rejuvenated learning content for use at daily briefing sessions at our concepts (restaurants). The ‘Daily Dose of Awesome’ covers a skill or competency area and/or celebrates a company value (P.A.S.S.I.O.N) through sharing stories of employees who have demonstrated behaviours aligned with a company value. This reinforces desired behaviours while also anchors the right competencies on a daily basis.

Identifying trends in L&D, HR and OD

I have never quite believed in the latest fads/trends nor in HR, L&D and OD as standalone pillars, rather the function exists to enable and further the Group’s vision and mission: building and developing the next generation of leaders who grow our concepts sustainably, deliver results and make an impact in the communities in which we operate.

Hence, much of it involves a constant evaluation of our current state, horizon scanning of developments—political, economic, technology, socio-cultural—that may have impact on the business and thereafter, taking the appropriate interventions or plans where it comes to HR, learning & organisation development.

The decision to embark on implementing an integrated, unified, consumer-grade UX platform tying HR and Finance was borne out of a deliberate move towards an envisioned future state.

In today’s context, I think it is less of what you know or read about vis-a-vis reaching out and learning from others to broaden one’s perspective. I continually inform myself through speaking with leaders and employees in our concepts to understand where their pain points are and developments in the industry, as well as interacting with other HR and business leaders.

What are the challenges around creating L&D initiatives for employees who are part of the service industry (which typically has high attrition)?

There are some challenges that are unique to the industry in which we operate such as the need to ensure accessibility. Apart from this, I would say that we have similar challenges as other organisations.

Most L&D functions in organisations have the same intent, that is to enable and support the growth of their employees, using various programs and initiatives not only to help in the acquisition of knowledge but to aid in the application.

This is generalising somewhat but a key challenge is how L&OD can enable the organisation in a manner that ignites and sustains a passion for learning, unlearning, and relearning at the individual level. At the organisational level, it is about creating and sustaining a culture that celebrates and recognises learning agility.

Granted that both the pace and the scope of ongoing change has accelerated by leaps and bounds and the broader workforce is challenged to keep up. It is all the more important for the individual to embrace and have learning agility, which requires challenging existing paradigms, letting go of old rules and assumptions, and ‘relearning’ skills, mindsets and behaviors that will be relevant in their work, career and life in general.

The difference between a leader and manager

Industry definitions have always been fluid, yet this fluidity has accelerated with the ongoing digital revolution causing a radical reordering of traditional industry boundaries and sectors to appear, disappear, and merge at a much faster rate than before.

On top of this, there are profound demographic and social changes—aging workforce in developed countries, globalisation of talent, and family structure—and one cannot help but wonder what the world of work would look like 20 years from now and which organisation(s) can (with)stand the test of time.

Using the Chinese word for "crisis" 危机 (wēijī) as a metaphor, this operating context while challenging also carries opportunity. Where the character jī (机) means "a point where things happen or change", in the same manner a leader can make the difference between crisis and opportunity.

Much will rest on the unique operating circumstances and the corresponding decision, however in my opinion, there are a few key competencies, mind-sets and behaviours such as:

  • The ability to set and communicate a clear vision, direction and mission.
  • The ability to inspire others to action, open mindset, reliance on a network will increasingly become more important in an increasingly ecosystem driven environment.
  • Moral and leadership courage to make the right decisions.
  • Yet in all this, have the ability to manage his/her own energy.

It is an absolutely difficult position to be in!

Leadership Lessons

I have had the privilege of learning and drawing insights from some amazing leaders in both the public and private sector. If I were to distill these, it would ultimately boil down to three philosophies or habits that I hold close to heart:

1. Having and keeping a growth mind-set

The pioneering work done by Dr. Carol Dweck at Stanford (on mind-sets; specifically fixed vs growth mind-set) provides greater clarity and articulation into what some might already be aware: that is, the importance of having a growth mind-set.

In a growth mind-set, the internal monologue is not one of judgment but one of voracious appetite for learning; thriving on challenge and seeing setbacks and feedback not as evidence of unintelligence but as a springboard for growth and for stretching our existing abilities.

As futurist and philosopher Alvin Toffler once wrote that "The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn." At its core, it is about right believing. I continually challenge myself and my team - it is alright to not succeed the first time or even the second time; the question is, are we learning anything from this or simply fixated over the binary trap of success and failure?

History is peppered with the stories of individuals whom we today recognise for genius and success, yet we seem to have forgotten the mindsets that these individuals embraced whilst on their journey. For example, reports claim that inventor, Thomas Edison, made 1,000 unsuccessful attempts at inventing the light bulb. Had he fixated on his failures and stopped there, attempt 1,001 would not have happened and the final outcome would have been quite different.

2. Treating employees, business partners, colleagues alike - with sensitivity, dignity and respect

During my time at DBM, I had a great mentor in our Managing Director who was an experienced executive. One of the lessons she taught me was treating employees, business partners, colleagues alike with sensitivity, dignity and respect. People do not care about what you know, they want to know that you genuinely care about them and their well-being.

Most organisations know and say that people are their greatest asset. Yet not many truly live up to this belief in their human capital and talent philosophies. Even the toughest messages can be delivered if with the right spirit of treating people with sensitivity, dignity and respect.

3. Making time for self and reflection, and finding Ikigai(1)

Many have asked what I enjoy about the HR profession, and it is been about being at the forefront of shaping an organisation's culture through its people by searching for, acquiring and uncovering strengths in right and best talent, capitalising on and maximising these strengths; nurturing, refining and stretching towards excellence.

I have been fortunate enough to discover my ikigai that is in bringing people on board, developing them; supporting them with what they need, mentoring, coaching and guiding; then rest and watch the ripple effect that moves the organisation a step closer to furthering its mission and objectives.


(1) Ikigai (生き甲斐, pronounced [ee-kee-gah-ee] is a Japanese concept that means "a reason for being." The term ikigai compounds two Japanese words: iki (wikt:生き) meaning "life; alive" and kai (甲斐) "(an) effect; (a) result; (a) fruit.

Back to top