Unifying Independent "States"
The following is an excerpt from The 50: HR Leaders Reimagining the Filipino Organization. Authored by Ros Manawis, this chapter is titled, “Unifying Independent 'States'” In it, JP Orbeta, the Managing Director, CHRO & Group Head of Corporate Resources of Ayala Corporation, is interviewed about how the organization executes its strategy in creating a more united organization.
Coming into Ayala Corporation, JP Orbeta was quickly made aware of what his role would be. As Chief Human Resource Officer for the conglomerate, Orbeta not only had to look out for the company’s people, but he had to bond together the different companies in its portfolio.
Ayala Corporation is a well-known conglomerate with its presence known in multiple industries across the nation, including banking, real estate, telco, water, power, industrial technologies, infrastructure, and healthcare industries, among others. However, while it isn’t a bad thing to have multiple companies under one conglomerate, Orbeta pointed out that there was no sense of unity or belongingness among the employees other than at the business unit they were employed.
In Orbeta’s words, Ayala Corporation functioned like a “federation of states,” each company being its own state, given the different shareholders and independent governance structures. “I think the first thing we, as HR, really needed to do is drive home the fact that we are part of a broader community of companies, and we’re not just in our little state, so to speak,” he said.
When he was first approached by the owners of Ayala Corporation, he was committed to creating new frameworks and roadmaps for a more unified HR within the conglomerate. “At first, my agenda was only how to build that broader HR community really as a group,” Orbeta said. “Then, I moved from thinking not just about HR, but the whole Ayala.” From there, his scope of work was increased.
Orbeta elevated his roadmap to the CEOs and HR leaders of Ayala’s different companies, working with them to create systems that would be uniform and consistent across the board. Once plans were finalized, Orbeta and the CHROs of Ayala’s companies came together and formed the HR Council. The main purpose of the council was to oversee the plans for unification the different leaders agreed on.
The main challenge here was figuring out which things to keep uniform for all, and which things would remain different. As much as Orbeta would like things to remain the same throughout, the different industries of each company had different standards; to make sure their companies succeeded in their respective industries, they had to keep some things unique, such as compensation and benefits. He said, “Everybody else is actually driven by their own market practice, market forces.”
One of the first major projects Orbeta came up with along with the HR Council was the HR Shared Services Center. New to the company, Orbeta learned of how there were different payroll platforms for each industry Ayala was involved in.
“I thought, why can't we build one common payroll platform HR and then create a shared service for the group?” Orbeta shared.
Even though each company had different industries, he still pushed for them to share a common framework with at least their payrolls. “The payroll rules in each company are different, like manufacturing is different from banking, telco, and us in corporate,” he said. “But that doesn't preclude us from having a common platform and a common technology to deliver those services to everyone.”
The HR Council has also formulated plans and processes for leadership training, succession planning, and talent acquisition. “We've now created a leadership development framework that covers the whole group,” Orbeta explained. Their framework consists of the HR leaders and CEOs, and other business leaders sitting down together and discussing talent development and succession plans every year. “Training and development is done at the individual business unit level, like developing bankers is different from developing telecoms people, but once you get the certified general management leadership skills, then that becomes a group effort.”
On the other hand, for talent acquisition, Orbeta and the HR Council came out with a common recruitment platform as well. The need for a common recruitment platform crossed their minds when they realized the companies of the conglomerate were competing with each other for recruits. Now, when Ayala visits schools for campus recruitment, they present a united front that shows them as a collection of companies, rather than rival companies.
Aside from their united framework attracting talents, Orbeta also found that finding ways to unify the different companies under Ayala has also strengthened the conglomerate’s presence; each of Ayala’s companies has had meaningful contributions to the country, and it has helped the conglomerate to have these companies rallied together under the Ayala banner. Orbeta’s plan has now made Ayala’s HR Council a strategic partner.
“During campus recruitments, students also keep on asking us what we do for the country and for the broader community,” he said. “Then, they’re happy to learn we address the needs of different sectors through our companies like our Ayala Healthcare and AC Energy. They see we’re doing something to make our country a little better.”
Having the company united also benefits the employees’ perception of Ayala, which translates into a better work ethic for many. “I think driving that common understanding and common ability that we are, what we're calling ourselves, ‘Ayala citizens,’ is I think one of the important things.” Orbeta also believed employees feel a certain pride in being part of a group that does the right thing.
“All our businesses have something in their respective industry as a clear contribution to the country,” he shared. “I think at the end of the day, it helps employees know that they are part of a conglomerate that takes care of its people, and helps the country.”
To get more insights from other HR leaders like JB Orbeta, please check out the full book, available for purchase here.
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