'Memorable managers’ and AI-powered solutions can future-proof Singapore’s public sector – Workday's HR roundtable

By Workday

Managers need to shift away from being a beneficiary of HR efforts to an accelerator, and AI-powered solutions can help facilitate that by personalising talent engagement and development strategies, says Tom Haythorn from Workday.

AI-powered solutions can help personalise talent engagement and development strategies, says Haythorn from Workday at the 27 Mar public sector HR roundtable co-organised by GovInsider and Workday. Image: GovInsider. 

“There is an age-old saying that people join the company for the role and for the business, but they leave because of the manager.  

Tom Haythorn from Workday at the roundtable event. Image: GovInsider.

“[HR] programmes are great at driving 80% aggregate [of employee retention and engagement], but the real personalisation happens at the manager level,” said Tom Haythorn, Head of Solution Consulting, Human Capital Management, ASEAN, Workday. 


Haythorn emphasised the important role played by managers, rather than just HR programmes, in driving employee retention and engagement. 


“Memorable managers are one of the key linchpins of accelerating and amplifying the work of HR across our workforce.  


“Once we have that, we can focus on engaging our talent and driving progress by scaling this up through AI,” he added. 


He was speaking at a roundtable discussion event on “Futureproofing the public sector through AI-driven insights” on 27 March in Singapore.


The event was attended by public sector HR managers across healthcare, defense, home affairs and shared services, including DN Prasad, Senior Director of the People and Organisation Division, GovTech Singapore, who was the keynote speaker at the event. 


Beyond the role of managers, participants discussed three ways in which AI can accelerate HR efforts today.  

Personalised experiences for a multigenerational workforce 


As employees remain longer in the workforce, managing a multigenerational workforce is a reality that HR managers need to start thinking about. This is particularly true in Singapore, which has an aging population who are working longer years. 

Continuous development and compensation are some key priority factors among employees, says DN Prasad from GovTech Singapore. Image: GovInsider.

Continuous development opportunities, alongside compensation, are some key factors that employees prioritise, said Prasad during his fireside chat at the event.  


AI can make it easier for managers to understand the desires and inspirations of multigenerational workforce in their respective organisations.  


Other participants also shared that AI could help respond to the diverse needs of employees. For example, HR managers could use AI to customise the messaging for individual employees based on their age groups.  

However, some pointed to the importance of accurate and inclusive AI, especially for the public sector, which is accountable to citizens. 


Some participants also raised concerns around countering the narrative of AI displacing jobs, and that it is important for HR managers to reframe internal conversations around the use of AI and ML in the workplace.  


For example, AI can alleviate the workload of nurses and doctors by performing repetitive tasks such as filling out discharge summaries, enabling them to provide better care.  

Empowering HR managers with actionable insights 


Despite typically being run once a year, employee survey fatigue remains a real concern, according to a commentary published in the Financial Times, titled “The real reason employees don’t fill out surveys” by Janina Conboye and Sophia Smith. 


“Employees aren’t seeing the reason for – or the outcome of – the surveys they’re being asked to take,” explained the commentary. This perspective was shared by Haythorn, who proposed tapping on AI for intelligent listening. 


According to Workday, intelligent listening refers to automating feedback real-time and at scale, gaining predictive insights through AI, and deriving actionable insights to empower managers and employees. 


In other words, it’s not collecting data for the sake of it.  

​​​​​Roundtable participants discussed the unique public sector HR challenges, opportunities and challenges in using AI in HR. ​​Image: GovInsider.

During the discussion, some participants similarly highlighted the challenge of deriving actionable insights from fragmented data points across different systems.  


AI and ML provide managers the ability to analyse, broadly categorise, and classify employee sentiments across thousands of datapoints, explained Haythorn. 


“Employees go from a once-a-year survey number to a rich breakdown of insights based on their demographics, and then you [as a HR manager] can drive impactful change,” he added. 

AI enabling a skills-based organisation  


A skills-based organisation moves its focus from jobs and tasks to the skills present in their workforce. Amidst the talent shortage in Singapore, GovInsider earlier covered a story around Singapore’s transition from a degree-first to skills-based hiring approach


While a skills-based approach could drive overall efficiency and productivity by matching supply and demand of skills in an organisation, Haythorn underlined the main challenge faced by organisations in this transition. 


“The ability to distill the skills of an individual employee is already a highly complex task. Now if we try to propagate that across the entire organisation, can you imagine the [amount of] data points?” he said.  


The numerous data points would span multiple skillsets that all employees in the organisation have, as well as new skills gained during their time in the organisation. 

AI might just be the solution to this problem.  

AI can do three things in employee skills development: Conduct a comprehensive skills gap analysis, find a path to close gaps, and understand future needs and trends. Image: GovInsider.

Workday representatives highlighted in the discussion three things that AI can do in employee skills development: Conduct a comprehensive skills gap analysis, find a path to close the gaps, and understand future skill needs and trends.  


Workday Skills Cloud, an AI-powered HR platform, can standardise and organise skills gathered from multiple sources. 


Aside from consolidating and analysing skillsets, AI is also currently being used to develop customised training and employee onboarding paths, which are also known as microlearning content, said Prasad.