In S P Setia, we always believe in championing a sustainable career for our employees

Starting as a construction company in 1974, S P Setia Berhad is now operating as one of the largest property development companies in Malaysia with a business portfolio comprising the development of townships, eco homes, luxury homes, high-rise residences, retail & commercial, and integrated development projects. According to Nadiah Tan Abdullah, Chief Human Resources Officer of S P Setia, the company gives high priority to people management, and people have been the key to its success. A seasoned professional, she has over three decades of experience in the field of human resources management working at various Malaysian and global organizations. In a conversation with the HRM, she talked about S P Setia’s approach to managing people and leadership, challenges, and how new technology is changing the landscape of people management, among other topics. Excerpts: 

Q. What role people management has played in the success of S P Setia Berhad?
A. The people’s agenda is central to our business as we believe everything else that works through the organization is powered by people. Even if you have the best strategy and best solutions, if you do not have the right people, then nothing works.

In S P Setia, people management and leadership are key elements in driving our business. We want to ensure that first, we attract the best talent, select the right profile, nurture, and develop talent as they grow in the company, and ensure they are fully wired to our culture.

Every leader and people manager has a key role in ensuring that we create the best work environment for our talent to flourish and have their best potential developed.

Q. How has been the evolution of people management practices in S P Setia Berhad over the years?
A. We have come a long way from a fully entrepreneurial company to a more structured and institutionalized organization, keeping the balance of having great results with great teams that strive to be their best in an environment that encourages critical thinking, yet works within a collaborative and winning pace.

We have matured through our business and grown a good bench of leaders who have been trained within the signature leadership program across the group. This ensures that all leaders fully understand the expectations of the role of a leader and apply them to their daily operational day, inspiring great results through people. We have evolved and matured through our people’s practices in all angles, people engagement, people development including succession planning.

This is an ongoing process and we will continue to enhance and improve our people’s agenda as we compete positively in the market. The workforce demography is getting younger and younger, and this means that we need to accelerate the development of our young talent and push the leadership bench to be even stronger to respond to a much more dynamic demand for talent retention.

The market dynamics have also changed tremendously post-pandemic, and our people practices must be relevant to the new market norms. Being relevant is no longer a ‘sexy’ thing, but a necessity.

Q. What challenges were there in establishing the people management practices? How were the challenges overcome?
A. In all change management, there will always be fear and anxiety, hence we need to approach the changes very carefully and inspire a forward-looking perspective at every level. One of the challenges has always been the challenge of shifting from a “comfortable, safe way of doing the same thing” to doing or changing the operating model to something fit for purpose for the future.

Overcoming this means that a considered approach towards change management is key and that a healthy level of buy-in and understanding of the “why” to change is carefully curated so that it makes sense to shift to the future state and not be seen as threatening to the individuals. A proper socializing approach and open and transparent communication are key to ensuring that the concerns of all stakeholders are being addressed.

The right quality of talent must be in place to drive these changes and the right level of deep understanding of the specific impact on our people arising from any changes are to be in place. Identify the fears and anxiety, show care and empathy to what everyone may go through, and provide a transition solution for people to feel comfortable enough to believe that the “new and future” state can be positive for them.

Leaders at every level must be on board with the new change and they must first be in the loop. A clear communication plan must be drawn up at every level and this must be rolled out with sincerity to the intent of the proposed change.

Q. What is the key focus of S P Setia Berhad in people management at present? 
A. Like any other organization, we all face the pressure of delivering returns on investment and that can only be achieved through effective cost and resource management. As the market gets much more demanding on the business side due to high interest rates that affect our gearing and the conversion of loans by our purchasers, we need to drive efficiency internally.

This leads to the need to drive higher productivity and better cost management. No leakages or wastages at every point of our business workflow. There is a need to revisit our processes and a proper review will lead us to being more accurate in driving what is missing and what should go from our systems and processes.
Secondly, the key focus is on growing a strong talent pipeline where we need to ensure that the organization is set up to be agile and fast enough to respond to any talent disruption arising from competition in the war on talent and the need to accelerate the development of our talent to scale up as the organizational structure becomes leaner and sharper.

Thirdly, succession planning becomes the key pillar to prepare the organization in terms of viability and sustainability. The right level of focus on discussing talent must come from the top as it sets the tone on the significance of having a robust succession management process.

Lastly, the drive to have a more versatile talent base to feed the talent needs of the business. Our business is growing amidst challenging and brutal competition but with the right talent pool, we will be able to rise above this and very quickly place the right people in the right role.

Ring-fencing and retaining our key talent is a significant element and should be top of mind for our leaders at every level.

Q. What principles in people management does S P Setia Berhad adhere to? 
A. In S P Setia, we always believe in championing a sustainable career for our employees in that they can grow and move up the ladder or even laterally to a diverse range of portfolios as they grow along with the company.

Our Employee Value Proposition has always been to hire the best talent who can be nurtured within a creative, fun, and inspiring workplace for them to be at their best in delivering results.

People leadership is a core element in all managers’ key areas of responsibility, and we must be inclusive in our styles to allow different perspectives to influence the outcome.

Employees must feel safe enough to speak up and give feedback and continuously be critical of what can be improved so that we can continuously work towards being the leading organization.

We respect the diversity of the team and encourage our teams to challenge the norm and think ahead of the competition and this must be managed by observing our company corporate values of S.C.R.I.P.T.

Q. As artificial intelligence (AI) has emerged as the next big thing to change the dynamics of business, what do you think the future holds for people management practices?
A. AI is disrupting the way we do our business, and it is reflected in many areas of our workflow. Whilst this will accelerate learning and mobilize a different level of intellectual capacity, the people management practices must still be guided by the basic fact of “human touch” or else we will be derailed to become cold and dry.
AI should be smartly positioned to improve efficiency and productivity but the ethics and governance of embedding it in our business must be carefully considered. The future of people management will change with AI; however, the application and its impact can be very different for different industries and teams.

Q. How is S P Setia Berhad responding to the changes in people management brought by AI and automation?
A. We have started using some of the AI and automation in our business processes and this is mainly on those that are associated with routine and repeated patterns of work. This can increase efficiency as we cut through the manual processes.

This also extends to both internal and external interfaces as we have AI influences in the way we attend to and manage our customers.
We are open to technology but at the same time, we will ensure that it does not take away the human element out of the process.

Q. How should organizations prepare themselves to face the challenges in people management?
A. Organizations must now be more holistic in their approach to people management, recognizing the need to identify the priorities and low-hanging fruits to understand the difference between what the elements are of “must change” or “can change” as both will require different levels of planning, energy, and actions.
The workforce must be educated and reskilled to run the race and always ready to be agile. As learning has become very personalized these days, organizations ought to look at a diverse platform for learning and provide the opportunity for the employees to share their aspirations and align them with the needs of the business.

A proper benchmark against the market to be done to know the “current positioning” of the company against the market and model the future based on the expectations of key stakeholders and a review of the current organizational capacity to lead the understanding of how the preparation for the future can be curated.

Scroll to Top