Singapore needs a “national HR conversation”, says Low Peck Kem

Author: PM editorial | Date: 11 Nov 2015

Government’s chief HR officer calls for a more professionalised function at CIPD annual conference

Low Peck KemThe Singapore government’s HR function has the opportunity to become a model of professionalism by investing in its capabilities and putting an end to didactic management practices, Low Peck Kem told the CIPD Annual Conference and Exhibition.
The chief HR officer of the city-state’s Public Service Division, who has been lauded as one of the most forward-thinking Asian HR leaders, told an audience in the UK that she wanted to initiate a “national HR conversation” led by a more professionalised government HR function.
“We want to move from a very efficient to a very effective public service,” said Peck Kem. “And that means we want to professionalise HR in public service.”
She outlined a series of measures she was initiating, including a strategic workforce plan covering 143,000 Singaporean public officers, internal HR networks, learning opportunities and a focus on upskilling HR professionals, aided by a recently announced collaboration with the CIPD encompassing qualifications and training.
Underpinning the moves is a shift away from central control, which needs to be replicated right across government. “We tend to communicate a lot of policies and processes but we don’t always explain the context of why we’re doing it,” said Peck Kem. “That’s off-putting for people on the receiving end.
“We need to reach out to the wisdom of the crowd, to co-create solutions. When you do that, the sort of engagement you get far exceeds that of when you just give people an instruction manual.”
Peck Kem said she had kick-started her change programme by getting a group of senior government HR leaders together to “vent their problems” before asking them to suggest ambitious reforms and vote on those that would be most impactful and achievable – an example, she said, of co-creation in action.
But not every aspect of HR practice could change at once, Peck Kem added. The government’s performance evaluation process is hugely time-consuming, she said, but had so far proved immune to reform: “Everyone hates it, but they still do it. We have all kinds of processes, and all kinds of angst about whether people are a B or a B+. We spend hours fighting with our colleagues to resolve a reward differentiation of £10 per month. It will take time to change that.”