Human Resource is one of the most long-standing professions and has played a significant function in shaping the workforce and businesses in the last decades.
But as we enter a new decade where the world of work, especially in the fast-growing region of Southeast Asia, is ever changing and evolving due to the rise of technology and contingency workforce, can HR remain as a function? Or is there a bigger role to play – not just as a function, but to develop people on a greater scale in this region?
The belief in the latter is the reason why Dr Bob Aubrey started the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Human Development Organisation (AHDO).
AHDO was started in 2018 with the aim of developing ASEAN’s management identity and culture with a core purpose of improving human development at work by connecting ASEAN’s national HR Associations into a professional community and working with ASEAN institutions on policy and initiatives.
“The 10 ASEAN countries have to create a regional model of human development which is important if they want to move out of the middle-income trap and if they want to become leaders and develop global companies,” said Dr Aubrey, an American born French citizen who had lived in China for five years before moving to Singapore in 2007.
“In ASEAN we now have to be able to define leadership and innovate in people management and not just follow and rely on Western development principles and practices.
“The way HR was defined is simply to be an enabler function for business performance. It didn’t have its own identity and human development principles, and this is a real problem and limitation of HR today.
“In Asia in the past, if you are an HR professional your value was in being executer and implementor – not a leader and thinker. That’s not the way it should be today. What should a human development professional be in today’s Asia?
“If you are a HD professional you need a dual set of priorities. Yes, you have to manage people for performance but you also manage and develop people as an end themselves. That balance of priorities is difficult to manage”
Opportunity to develop its own model
The rise of technology and the gig economy in this region has led to a need for HR to transform its role from a traditional and functional one to a role that is strategic.
Dr Aubrey, who is also the Chairman of HR committee at the European Chamber of Commerce in Singapore, added, “In the future, the profession will not disappear but will shift from administration to leadership, from adaptation to transformation and from generalist people support to a host of new roles and skillsets.
“AHDO’s mission is to anticipate the future and accompany professionals in this transition in their roles and functions.”
The human development term has been around and it is used in public institutions, education and NGOs, but it lacks definition, measurement and application. That’s what AHDO brings to the profession.
And Dr Aubrey believes Southeast Asia is at a crucial juncture of its development where the region has the opportunity to establish its own model for developing people.
“ASEAN is the southern cousin of the two largest workforces in the world. Both China, with its Belt and Road strategy, and India with its Indo-Pacific strategy, are expanding their influence across Southeast Asia and counterbalancing the influences of the former colonial powers,” he said.
“These influences show why ASEAN needs to build its own model of leadership, including thought leadership. The alternative is for the region to be only market whose workforce is managed according to values and practices invented somewhere else. The next ten years will decide if ASEAN can establish its own model for developing people or if it is a wasted opportunity in history.”