Case Study: DiGi, Malaysia
Author: Susan Tam
Malaysia’s fast-growing telecoms firm is making better connectivity a priority
When most companies discuss exemplary behaviour, they are thinking about stirring speeches or lucrative business wins. But for Haroon Bhatti, chief human resources officer of Malaysia’s DiGi Telecommunications, it’s a more altruistically focused action that springs to mind.
Last year’s devastating floods on the country’s east coast motivated one DiGi employee to collect contributions for thousands of families who lost their homes in the disaster. What started as an individual charitable act quickly snowballed into a company-wide initiative, galvanising resources to help those displaced by the terrible events.
For Bhatti, the effect has been revelatory. “Through interviews we discovered that our employer value proposition has to be about giving our employees the freedom to inspire others,” he says. “That freedom can come in different forms: it can be in challenging the norm, connecting with others without barriers, secretaries and doors; or it can be about expressing yourself without fear of repercussions. I’ll be telling employees: ‘If you want to solve world hunger or do crazy things, we will give you the freedom to do that.’”
DiGi is Malaysia’s third largest mobile operator, with 11 million subscribers, and more than 2,000 staff, known as ‘DiGizens’. Bhatti says he expects them to be customer-centric and make an impact in a rapidly changing business climate. They should be leaders, creating value for customers, partners, stakeholders and fellow Malaysians: “For these kinds of leaders, having an agile mindset is vital. They are explorers, they want to do new things. Not just exploring, but executing – because it’s through execution that they bring value to customers.”
Malaysia’s high smartphone penetration rate makes it logical for HR to drive strong mobile use at the workplace. By the end of 2014, nearly 20 million Malaysians – out of a population of around 30 million – had internet access, with more than 80 per cent using smartphones to get online. DiGi is making mobile connectivity the central plank of its learning efforts as it rolls out ‘DAcademy’, making more than 1,500 online courses available to staff. Instead of a top-down approach, Bhatti says content will be tailored to meet individual needs by integrating feedback mechanisms and encouraging dialogue with users.
“We created the learning hour,” he says. “For front-liners like call centre staff and field and sales teams, we allow an hour where we work with them to access the system and craft their individual learning paths.”
Being 49 per cent owned by Norway’s 160-year-old Telenor Group also offers DiGi a different way of doing things. Its diverse workforce consists of 14 nationalities and Bhatti argues that, while there are advantages in standardising some processes across the group, and of DiGi leveraging the strengths of its sister companies, “Telenor has no ambition to drive a level of centrality where you lose all the richness that you can absorb from the local market. To not be Malaysian would not be DiGi.”
When Albern Murty became Digi’s new CEO earlier this year, it was a highly symbolic move – he was not just the first Malaysian, but the first Asian to hold the top job. Bhatti says it has boosted front line morale, and demonstrates the depth of Malaysia’s talent pool. Close to a quarter of the country’s 13 million-strong workforce has at least a tertiary education, though many of the country’s brightest minds have long decamped abroad.
“I’m not concerned about whether Malaysians are talented or not,” says Bhatti. “My concern is that corporate Malaysia, the government, the civil society organisations, everyone needs to be doing more to create the right opportunities at home.”
DiGi is doing its bit to retain talent, he argues: “Understanding them and pushing them in the direction of freedom and responsible, meaningful work will create a glue that keeps them here. We want to take the best Malaysian talent, all the way from their youth, and groom them to be the best at a national level, and be able to export them to the Telenor family.”
But more established DiGizens aren’t being left out – Bhatti says the company is helping them utilise new technology to their advantage, and understanding why some constituencies don’t yet engage with a new generation of HR apps and e-learning: “Every DiGizen has to understand that to be a digital company, our culture has to change. Not in a scary way, but in a way that helps me be a leader in my field.” HR, he says, is the tool that will drive that change – and if it can help save the world too, all the better.