Minds at Work #5 – The HR scene in Hong Kong

To listen on iTunes, click here

Host: Olivia Maitre
Guest: Andy Johnson


For our 5th episode of Minds at Work, we welcomed Andy Johnson, director at OCA consultancy.  In this episode, Andy sheds light on the HR scene specifically in Hong Kong. A very eye-opening conversation on quite an undervalued sector.

1.Do companies give the right amount of resources and attention to HR in HK? (1.13)

“The value of people is essential to any company’s success or failure. HR is not the owner of the people in an organization – which traditionally has been seen to be the case. The responsibility for managing people lies with line ‘Manager’. ”

HR provides advice for behavioural psychology, or communications, etc – to move the organization towards its goals. Andy agrees that HR is a support function, but argues that it isn’t the owner of the people in one’s organization.

He continues by explaining that working in HR is a huge opportunity today – but there are different requirements, especially with the increasing presence of AI.

2.Top 3 challenges in HK (5.50)

According to Andy, the sector of human resources goes through 4 different stages of maturity:

Level 1, being the “transactional” stage – to level 4 being the “business implementation” stage. He continues to explain that in Hong Kong, the problem is that a lot of HR functions remain at level 1 or 2.

For Andy, there are top 3 people’s processes, which are not necessarily only specific to Hong Kong:
2.Performance management
3. Selection for succession and development

“There are pockets of real expertise in Hong Kong, in the HR space. There are some real-world class practices going on. I’d venture to say that the majority are still struggling at the level 1, the transactional level.”

To wrap up the topic, he affirmed that in Hong Kong, there’s practically 20% expertise level HRs and 80% lower level HRs.

3.Hiring strategies in Hong Kong (7.29)

Hong Kong is not so much of a unique place. Whatever strategies HRs apply here are probably global.

The most crucial problem when shedding light on hiring strategies is that job descriptions are still the typical, traditional chunk of descriptions – Andy argues that instead of just describing the inputs – we should start describing the outputs. Inputs don’t describe the deliverables for a specific job. In other words, Andy believes that in a job description, there should be a better representation of what success will look like in that role.

“Any traditional job offers are, in some respect, worse than useless. They give the impression that you’re following a competent process when you’re probably not.”

In addition to misrepresenting the true deliverables of a job, Andy declares that it’s easy for people to lie on their CVs. They’re not necessarily close to the truth – they tailor their CVs to the specific requirements.

Look at the behaviours you want to instil to bring onboard.”

4.Cultural Fit is crucial

“People tend to hire for competence but they tend to fire for a poor personality.”

When candidates get hired, they are chosen for their competences but rarely for their personality. However, one’s personality is as or even more important than one’s technical skills.

“You can train people for technical skills, but you can’t train people for their personality.”

Andy continues by explaining that recruiters have got to choose individuals who suit their organisation’s culture, values, and behaviours.

5.Performance management (11.08)

Performance management or performance appraisal system, whatever you call it, is not the efficient way to go. Today, many businesses have understood that and their good practice is moving away from the so-called “appraisal system”.  Performance management can get very confusing for managers and consequently, for employees. The ones behind the performance management implementation are confused as to what they’re trying to achieve.

“Employees psychologically hear the bad bits: ‘I expected a level 4 and got a level 3.’ But the rest, they ignore.”

Andy continues by explaining that the key here is to shift to an ongoing performance management which consists of offering coaching, performance improvement, one-on-one meetings, etc. Without neglecting that performance management varies depending on the company’s culture.  He gives the example of Unilever.

“There’s not one solution or one solution fits all because all organizations are different.”


6.Globally, the most fundamental deep issues underlying HR’s challenges (15.46)

Andy believes that the prime challenge for HR today is Artificial Intelligence and the use of data. Where will that take us as organizations?

“HR has an input to that. What are the implications for people management, privacy and jobs going forward?”

Furthermore, he expresses that AI should be empowering decision-making not necessarily just replacing people. There are many aspects to consider when thinking about AI.

7. Is AI frowned upon by HR? (18.05)

As for any ‘unknown’, we as humans are always cautious. It’s not necessarily frowned upon by HR. But Andy explains that there is a real challenge for the world of HR: to embrace AI and use it for the benefit of the organization and the employees. As HR sits between both, it is a real challenge for them.

8. How Hong Kong evolved in the last 10 years (19.28)

To conclude, Andy remembers the great financial crisis of 2008, and how this traumatic time importantly slowed up all HR processes. When going back to the “maturity levels”, Andy affirms that HR was typically at level 1 back in these days.

“Ten years ago, training budgets were slashed; it was a difficult period. HR was just seen as a low value add.”


Since then, HR has moved up that maturity level. It’s only starting to be seen as a department that is adding ‘a bit’ more value.

And that journey needs to continue – this is where lies the ultimate challenge for the HR community.

“It should be a no brainer for companies to provide resources. It’s a critical part to any business. It’s essential, not just somewhere to dump problems.”

Stay tuned for the 6th Episode!


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