AIA Vietnam, confirmed as a “Great Place To Work” by the global executive advisory and culture consulting services Great Place to Work® Institutefor three consecutive years now, knows firsthand the crucial role of HRs in building and developing an organization, and in putting the right people in the right positions.
According to Tran Ai Lien, Chief Human Resources of AIA Vietnam, an ideal working environment is one where you want to go to work every morning, where you are embraced for who you are, and where humanity and compassion are encouraged.
When Lien joined AIA Vietnam in 2017, AIA Vietnam had about 500 employees. “This number has now more than doubled, so as the great ambitions of an organization in its transforming phase,” shares Lien.
Now that she heads the department, we ask her how she recognizes talents and what AIA Vietnam is doing to retain the best talents and create a meaningful employee experience.
What is the most special thing about the Human Resources department?
After graduating with an English teaching degree, I was a complete stranger to HR in the first five years of my career. At times, I found it very unappealing, particularly when it had to do with coping with payments, taxes, and so on.
It wasn't until I went on some business trips abroad and was introduced to more "mature" working markets that I started to understand how important the HR department is, especially when its capacity is maximized. The nature of Human Resources is all about human and organization’s competence, about connecting people with companies, and utilizing human assets as a means to materialize an organization's goals and missions.
For that reason, I decided to stay in this department.
How many areas have you been working as an HR professional? And at this point, why life insurance?
I’ve had 15 years of experience in consumer goods and in the petrochemical industry before. After spending years in the Philippines, I felt like I wanted to be closer to my family. At times, there were some questions circling in my mind, like “What’s next?” “Shall I give finance a try?”. But I soon reckoned that it was destiny that brought me to insurance.
After my first child was born, without any recommendation at all, I signed up for an education insurance plan for him. Later on, as I got to leave Vietnam for work again, it got to the point where I felt insecure as I couldn’t be around my family most of the time. So I made up my mind and purchased another insurance policy.
So basically, I have been a loyal customer to insurance companies for over 20 years now. And when I was offered this job at AIA Vietnam, I agreed without hesitation. To me, it’s meant to be this way. It’s destiny.
As a client, I fully understand the importance of life insurance. And as a person who works in and represents this industry, I now see the much more important role it plays: protecting a country's citizens. Surprisingly, only 10% of Vietnamese population was protected by life insurance as of the end of 2020. That’s why AIA Vietnam and I have been working around the clock to ensure that the remaining 90% receives the protection they deserve.
What can you contribute to materialize that mission?
I wouldn't be able to articulate it by marketing campaigns like a marketer, nor would I be able to reach out to millions of clients like a Life Advisor. But as the head of the Human Resources department, I believe it is my responsibility to make sure AIA Vietnam’s values, purpose and mission are widely acknowledged by the more than 1,100 employees here.
I am sure that when people see value in their jobs, when they see that their organization's purpose aligns with their personal values, and when they see a working community to which they belong, they will no longer see it as just work to make a living. As a result, they will stay around and develop alongside their organization.
How is AIA Vietnam's innovation process going, and how does this impact its recruiting demand?
AIA Vietnam is undergoing a transformation journey, focusing on TDA (Technology, Digital & Analytics). That is, from the 21st year onwards, our organization will leverage technology, digital, and analytics to accelerate our customers’ experience and provide them with a selection of products on digital platforms. TDA also contributes tremendously in the mission of making sure that 90% of Vietnamese population gets protected as mentioned.
This transformation means that the workforce demands will also shift. We don't need a candidate to be an "IT guy" who is able to write codes. What we’re looking for is a “digital” mindset and behaviors. That means you'll be expected to know how to use digital tools, and to push yourself to find more meaningful and efficient ways to get things done. The ultimate goal is to shorten decision-making time, and have more time to approach and serve our customers in the best ways possible.
With over 1,100 employees and more coming up in the next months, how is AIA Vietnam’s recruitment and evaluation apparatus set up?
Recruitment speaking, I personally don’t either see the HR department as an apparatus or want it to become one. I would like my department to fulfill its initial responsibility: to deliver the right mission to the right person. Expertises and knowledge are not the only thing we’re looking for from our candidates to enrich our human assets. More importantly, we welcome those who have pride in the humane values of the insurance industry, and find it as a part of their life’s purpose as well.
As for the evaluation aspect, each employee is encouraged to set their own targets in order to contribute to the company's growth. Managers will meet with staff every month and quarter to assess their progress against goals. Their results will be saved on the system, accumulated over time, then exported into a report to assess whether one is ready for the next step in their career.
Although this strategy is common among multinational corporations, what distinguishes AIA Vietnam is that we are and will continue to build a genuinely meaningful working environment. This is where each individual can be the best version of themselves while freely finding joy and taking pride with their achievements at work.
In the past 2 to 3 years, the whole end-to-end HR process (from screening, on-boarding, to exiting), except for the physical labor contract required by the Labor Law, has been completely digitized. No more troublesome and complicated paperwork.
How do you guarantee that everybody benefits from promotion?
AIA Vietnam has recently undergone a massive transformation, "smashing" the former cumbersome corporate system and lowering managing roles. Most notably, this new process helps increase the ranks of specialists (a productive functional contributor), who directly create value for the organization, allowing it to become what we refer to as the "Organization of the Future."
At AIA Vietnam, one manager often takes charge of 8-10 specialists. This not only reduces pressure and bottlenecks in management, but also enhances the status of professionals. Assuming you are an IT employee, you can either hone your skills and enrich your specialized knowledge to become a consultant (an experienced expert), then principal (an advanced functional expert), or become a manager.
The problem is that everybody wishes to be a manager, but only a handful of people are capable of leading a team. To be effective in this role, you must not only figure out how to guide your team in the right direction, but also instruct and empower each member. In fact, you don't necessarily have to become a manager to see yourself that up the ranks. As a specialist, there are still 5-6 steps for you to reach the highest position (in the internal ranking) in your career at AIA Vietnam.
What are the challenges an HR specialist has to face during the transformation?
That is being responsible for the growth of an organization, particularly one as ambitious as AIA Vietnam. We at the HR department have the responsibility of looking for the people who are resilient, hard-working, compassionate, and compatible with our culture. Simply because when you keep recruiting ineffective personnels who aren’t likely to stay around for long, your organization will never be able to thrive.
Another challenge is change management, including employee’s emotional and mindset shifts during the transformation. Everyone understands changes need to be made, but are they mentally prepared for that? Are they capable of changing with their organization? How will we assist them in improving their abilities? Those are just a few questions that I need to find the answers to in order to take good care of the 1,100 personnels here. To be honest I don’t want to lose any one of them. Ultimately, I want everybody to stick together through thick and thin as long as possible.
I hope everyone understands that transformation is but a mindset game.
Where does AIA Vietnam find the drive to become "Organization of the Future"?
2020 definitely left us asking ourselves “How to survive in a world of rising uncertainties?”. As a group that has existed for over a hundred years like AIA, we reckoned that we need to make a change, and AIA Vietnam has been selected to be the pilot market for it.
I once came to my boss asking why Vietnam was picked among other AIA’s 18 markets around the world. The answer I got was, “Vietnam’s market still ranks 5th place when it comes to size. However, AIA Vietnam’s developing speed has always been 30% faster than the ideal standard, which speaks volumes! Not to mention that the labor market in Vietnam these years has been booming significantly.”
It's been 8 months since we launched this initiative, and I believe it's also due to the tenacity of AIA Vietnam's management board that keeps us going. We fall down 7 times, we get up 8.
What is 2021 like for AIA Vietnam? What goals have you set for the HR department yet?
The term “Organization of the Future'' may sound short and simple, yet it carries lots of weight. There are millions of tasks that must be achieved and all departments need to get all hands on deck in order to accomplish our goals in the next 2-3 years. I do hope that my colleagues from the HR department, whom I'd like to refer to as Warriors, remain strong and continue to be a pioneering force battling alongside our management team.
The year 2021 will pave the groundwork for AIA Vietnam's future. From now until the end of the year, we will work tirelessly to achieve three objectives: Simplifying organization, Testing and implementing more agile workflows, Strengthening employees’ TDA capacity and ability.
Do you have any words for the next generation of AIA Vietnam’s employees?
The uniqueness of the Millennial and Gen Z generations is their willingness to take on new challenges in order to develop and grow. They possess progressive thinking and curiosity to learn, explore new territory, and utilize technology to optimize work. They also respond very quickly to change. That means, they already have a lot of advantages to join a transforming organization like AIA Vietnam.
However, AIA Vietnam is not a place to "sit back and relax". Everyone here works extremely hard to fulfill the humanistic mission of life insurance. So, if you are a hard worker who is interested in technology and researching, if you love to challenge yourself, welcome changes, and enjoy an open working environment, AIA Vietnam is the right place for you to grow with us.
This article is adapted by L A M