In conversation, Mohammad Hafiz Al Ahad sheds light on the innovation taking place in Lankabangla and how the rapid adoption of technology is orchestrating solutions and creating paradigm shifts in business models
With over two decades of experience in the field of Human Resource, can you give us an overview of how your journey has been?
When I was a student, I didn’t think I would be an HR professional, nor was I aware of the role of HR in an organization or even that HR was a profession to pursue. Following my bachelor and masters in Philosophy from University of Dhaka, all I needed was a job. I got a job in 2000 as an HR Associate, an outsourced staff with American Express Bank, an entry to the most amazing and challenging world of human resources. The journey has evolved from being an HR Administrative Expert to Employee Champion and Change Agent to Strategic Partner. Today, I see my role as a results driven, strategic and innovative HR professional who translates business strategy into HR actions that improve individual performance, organizational profitability, growth and employee engagement. An empowering professional who supports companies and the Senior Leadership Team (SLT) with a unique perspective that human capital is the greatest asset of the organization. Passionate influencer who thrives on challenges and converts visions and strategies that are actionable and value-added goals.
Joining Philip Morris International (PMI) in 2009, after achieving an MBA from Oxford Brookes University paved the way to explore and learn the global best processes and practices of human resources with a Short Term Assignment (STA) in PMI Pakistan. This world class development assignment dramatically augmented the learning curve. On the job and off the job development assignments, involvement in different international HR transformation projects awarded me the role of Head of Human Resources for Philip Morris Bangladesh market. PMI transformed me at the mastery level with business acumen and HR acumen.
Coca-Cola International Beverages Private Limited (IBPL) further molded me as a business oriented and strategic HR professional through the direct guideline of the Chief Executive of the organization since my joining in 2011 as Head of Human Resources for the Bangladesh market. This outstanding learning provided by the organization supported me and guided me to derive the business return through human resource productivity, drive the culture of excellence by introducing systems and process, diversity and inclusiveness and win the market by managing and developing talents.
My professional career journey will be incomplete, if I don’t recognize my role as Director-Career Development Center, University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh (ULAB). 2015 was an amazing year, where I had a chance to engage with graduating students for their employability skills development and placement.
Today, I am effectively managing and maneuvering “Thought leadership, People Leadership and Functional Leadership” skills and competencies as Senior Vice President & Head of Human Resources of LankaBangla Finance Limited.
How are you translating your vast knowledge of HR management into the HR space in LankaBangla?
LankaBangla Finance Limited is an organization that loves and thrives for continual development related to its people and culture. It is a very forward looking organization that is currently going through a phase of digital transformation of its business process where HR is not an exception. I found LankaBangla is an ideal platform where I am able to approach and introduce, gradually, all the best HR practices I have learned from globally renowned companies. These include, reformulate its peoples’ strategy, talent management, learning and development initiatives, etc. This is a local organization which allocates BDT 20 million as budget to invest in people development initiatives almost each year.
It has already embraced global standard competency development framework for upskilling and reskilling its people, Managing and Appraising Performance (Performance Management approach) to reward and recognize the entire talent pool, work remotely (commonly known work from home), and an ambitious and vigorous Senior Leadership Team (SLT) Development programmes, under which a number of MANCOM members are pursuing executive development programmes in globally top ranked business schools and universities which includes but not limited to Cambridge Judge Business School, Wharton (Penn), MIT (Sloan), London School of Economics and Political Sciences (LSE), Indian Institute of Management and Singapore Institute of Management, etc.
So, basically, I am able to introduce many best practices related to people and culture that I learned in the past. It is worth noting that this amount of HR initiatives and investment in its people is possible here in LankaBangla for the outstanding attitudes of its management and the Board which is embedded with its mission i.e. maintain a culture of meritocracy in the DNA of the company.
In your opinion, do HR operations vary from sector to sector? How is it different in a financial institution like LankaBangla?
It is a matter of fact that HR Operations vary from sector to sector but the key philosophy is identical across the industry whether its local or international and that is managing and developing its people for productivity and profitability. This is the nature of the modern capitalistic economy. The question is, in which manner is it in the form of exploitation and deprivation or engagement and by creating a sense of ownership and belonging? LankaBangla chose the second option i.e. through engagement and by creating a sense of ownership and belongingness. And thus reflects, very explicitly, in its reward and recognition strategy, compensation and benefits strategy, learning and development strategy and of course it’s investing in people strategy.
One other key component of HR Operations varies with respect to nature and scale of compliance. Being a Financial Institution, LankaBangla is highly compliant with the rules and regulations of its regulatory bodies (e.g. Bangladesh Bank), laws of the land, labour act, rules and regulations and of course its strong internal policies and processes. And these reflects in the defined core values of LankaBangla i.e. “Act with integrity and professionalism”
Precisely, the philosophy of HR Operations is the same, should be the same, but it varies in its applications in practice. However, compliance with prevailing acts, rules and regulations and internal policies makes the difference.
You have obtained international exposure in the field of HR. Can you tell us the difference in HR operations between Bangladeshi organizations and international organizations?
From my two decades’ experience with local and multinational companies, I would like to answer this question by focusing on three key areas which makes the difference, with due respect to Bangladeshi organizations (not all companies, certainly) and international companies i.e. a) intention to be compliant or non-compliant, b) Talent Development Approach and c) competitiveness and internal equity in treating people.
- Compliance: The key difference is with the intention of ‘to be compliant or non-compliant/manage compliant’ – simply, if you look at the nature of accidents in the workplace and its remedy and compensations offered among Bangladeshi companies and international companies.
- Talent Development Approach: I think this marks the most visible difference between local and multinational companies. To be precise and certain, you can look at the budget allocation and utilization of the budget on people development. This single data will depict the scenario. In my experience, I found that most of the local companies (not all) are more focused on buying ready talents from the markets rather than developing talents. Most of the companies are at war on talent acquisition. Maybe a few companies are investing in developing talents but they are having trouble retaining talents.
If you also look at the talent hiring trends, mostly local companies are hiring required talents from the multinational organizations at a very high rate, sometimes above and beyond the pay structure of the market. This creates an imbalance in the market and puts the good companies in continuous challenging situations.
In my opinion, companies should focus on developing talents rather than waging war over talents. And if this development intention continues, we will have an adequate supply of talents in the local markets, a great number of local talents in both local and multinational companies’ leadership roles and thus will reduce the dependency on very expensive expatriates in this market.
Finally, externally competitive and internally fair, local companies should have a well-defined compensation and benefits structure based on market survey so that they can pay externally competitive pay packages to its resources, at the same time all benefits should be determined based on performance and meritocracy not based on reference and preference. This unfair compensation and benefits practice drive out the good talents from the organization. With respect to multinational companies, this remuneration approach is widely practiced religiously, they have a total remuneration package based on market data and implement through their performance appraisal process i.e. their total remuneration represents the “Rewards” element of its Employment Value Proposition which is rarely practiced in most of the local companies.
Precisely, treating people with respect and dignity in all forms makes the difference, in my opinion, arguably others may have different opinions.
The pandemic has proliferated the prospects of digitization. How is LankaBangla introducing digitization to its HR operations? What are the benefits of automation in the field of HR?
Despite the catastrophic impact of the pandemic, there are many positives, especially with respect to innovation, usage of technology, relationship management and healthy lifestyle, etc. However, the innovation is taking place in rapid adoption of technology orchestrated solutions and by using it as a paradigm shift in business models, I mean, the way of doing business. In a broader sense, digitalization. Let me briefly tell you what is happening inside LankaBangla on digitalization.
Coincidentally, digitalization became one of the key strategies of LankaBangla, immediately before the pandemic. This pandemic has accelerated the process for us. Currently LankaBangla is transforming its business processes from manual processes dominant to technology dominance. And you cannot have a digitalization strategy until and unless you have a well-defined business process and well-structured data which is secured. LankaBangla spearheaded ISO/IEC 27001 (IMS) implementation in 2020 to manage and secure all kinds of data; this certification is very rare in the industry. LankaBangla has also obtained Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) certification and Loan Origination and Credit Approval System (CAS) at the end stage.
In alignment with this business environment, LankaBangla has strengthened its already implemented IFS HRMS. During the pandemic we implemented a “Work Remotely” culture which has now become a permanent feature of managing its people and doing business. Certain roles have been identified and implemented that will work from anywhere permanently. From a business point this has reduced the business operational cost at the same time working freedom towards set objectives. More or less 30% of its employees are currently working remotely.
Key digitalization is happening in its learning and development wing. The training which used to take place physically with a large gathering, is now being conducted online. LankaBangla HR and business team jointly developed dozens of e-learning modules which are running successfully using its internal platform. Interview to Orientation almost everything is now happening using digital platforms.
Most importantly from a HR perspective, this pandemic has enhanced the trust and camaraderie among team members as they are working remotely without direct physical supervision, everybody is focused towards their objectives without minimal supervision. This is a very key transition point for any organization towards success i.e. trust and dependency, autonomy and empowerment.
Precisely, the benefits of digitalization are in many folds (financial and non-financial), digitalization requires initial investment but pays dividends for a long time towards a healthy bottom line.
What are some of the HR trends that arose due to the pandemic? What are some of the policy changes that have taken place over the course of the pandemic?
Research is going on around the world in the HR domain and micro environment, on the rise and impact of new trends in HR. Out of hundreds, I think, these are the key trends that will continue for a long time as post pandemic HR trends:
- A Paradigm Shift in HR Operating Model
- Technology and innovation will accelerate exponentially: Artificial Intelligence (AI)
- Redefine HR’s Role in the Digital Workplace: A Time for Reinvention.
- Working Remotely & Remote Team Management
- Investment in HR Technology for long term benefits, financial and non-financial
- CHROs Need to Move from influencing to being actively engaged in the Business
- The business world will increasingly convert from an “old boys’ network” to a true meritocracy.
Lastly, what word of advice can you give to new entrants hoping to make it in the field of HR?
Be passionate about HR and then take it as a profession, obtain functional expertise first and then continually move to the upward knowledge ladder of business acumen and human psychology. Develop an organizational culture where people, profit and planet are established as virtues.