The roles of HR professionals in today’s Hong Kong and China

Our Associate Director, Vicky Tung, talks about the roles of HR professionals in today’s Hong Kong and China.

Today our business environment is much more competitive and volatile than ever before. The rise of the information era has brought fast changes in consumer behaviour and demands. In order to succeed, companies are required to have regular reviews of business strategies, organizational structure and talent strategies. As a result, agile HR professionals have become imperative to the success of a company. No longer solely the administrator or processor of personnel files, HR is expected to have strong business knowledge and understanding, while having the vision to shape and deploy talents to advance business, sometimes domestically, but more often, internationally. HR professionals are the bridge between the employees and the business, their swift reaction to changes in the business and talent markets is vital to organizations’ future.

In an ideal world the above would be correct. However, what do we see in reality? As our expectations change, are our HR professionals in Hong Kong and China able to accommodate? Are HR professionals gaining the position and recognition in the management board? Or, are the HR professionals still being trapped in the cost control and personnel files department?

As specialist HR recruiters we face certain challenges when recruiting in the region. In studies shown in “Professional Practices of Human Resource Management in Hong Kong: Linking HRM to Organizational Success” between 1994 and 2004, HR professionals were only hopeful about taking on more strategic partnership responsibilities, which include manpower planning, talent management, organizational planning and restructuring. Fast forward 10 years, we have gone through the financial crisis in 2007/2008, the recovery period in 2009/2010, in most economies across the globe, companies were dissolved, taken over, merged, restructured, and internationalized. Consequentially, many HR professionals gained in-depth involvement in M&A, organizational restructuring, talent management and development, and change management. Many HR leaders have gained seats in management board, and their opinions are valued more than before but nonetheless, the ability to holistically measure the commercial and ….. impact of the HR function remains elusive.

Rather than completely break free of its administrative shackles, the HR function has not only had to control is own costs by reducing headcount but achieve operational efficiencies wherever possible. Subsequently, in the Hong Kong market, we see a higher demand for HR roles, at all levels, that not only require the ability and flexibility to business partner with and coach the management team, communicate with line managers and translate their needs into talent plans but also provide hands-on HR administration and operational support.

For the last 30 years, the China economy has been steadily growing at an unimaginable speed. Even the financial crisis did little to slow it down. Companies have gone through an organic growth phase, hiring local graduates and training talents internally. Foreign enterprise continues to grow in China, which has helped training and building the China HR professionals in the ways of the western management structure and style, and promoted standardization of HR policies and practices.

Waves of overseas educated and experienced Chinese have been returning to the China labour force. Further bolstered by an increasing number of expatriates, together with the maturing of skills and experience of local talents, China now has a pool of talent with the necessary HR technical knowledge and experience. Nonetheless, the size of talent pool is unable to keep up with the speed of business growth. The demand for strong talent is still high in China, resulting in rising labour cost. One of the greatest challenges that China faces is the retention and continuous development of HR professionals.

The other challenge is offering global perspectives. With the strengthening of the economic status and prospects in China there is an increased incidence in international companies merging, acquiring or forming joint ventures with Chinese companies. It is also true that Chinese privately owned and state owned enterprises are also investing in other countries or acquiring foreign companies globally.

The globalization of business activities requires HR professionals in China to have more than merely strong business acumen, global knowledge and providing holistic viewpoints on business strategies, HR policies and issues are also essential. China HR professionals can no longer stay on a domestic or regional level - the ability to take on a global perspective and bridge local HR plans and strategies with global teams is important. This requires strong communication skills and understanding of the differences in cultures.

Be that Hong Kong or China, business leaders increasingly value the contribution and the importance of HR professionals. HR professionals have to equip themselves with business knowledge and set priorities in the HR support they provide. Investing in HRIS and centralizing services functions to raise efficiency in operations, more time and effort can then be used to understand and cooperate with business, to strategize talent plans. With the right talent strategies, HR professionals are instrumental to the continuous growth and success of companies.

Professional Practices of Human Resource Management in Hong Kong: Linking HRM to Organizational Success, Edited by Anna P. Y. Tsui and K. T. Lai, ISBN 9789622090606