As a global firm providing audit, tax, and advisory services across a multitude of industries and geographies, KPMG prides itself on fostering strong and dynamic relationships with its army of clients.
However, robust people ties are also emphasised internally: the organisation has long been fostering a people-first culture within its ranks.
That emphasis has been brought into sharper focus in light of today’s disruptive working world.
Ang Fung Fung, Audit Partner and Head of People, Performance, and Culture at KPMG Singapore, says these complexities make it all the more pertinent for the organisation to comprehensively review and restructure its people practices.
These include areas such as recruitment, onboarding, career progression for all 3,000 local staff, and even employee exits.
“This is the whole ecosystem we are trying to work on in terms of an employee lifecycle,” says Ang.
“A lot of these technology disruptions are cutting across different functions and they are blurring the lines.”
Two key issues continue to gnaw at Ang and her team: ensuring staff can ride on the disruptive digital wave, and grooming the next generation of Singaporean leaders.
While a lot of workers around the world are rushing to build their technical skill sets, Ang urges the staff on her watch to also develop their soft skills. These are also highly valued in today’s client-facing and digital-first world.
“I’m pushing very hard for this mindset,” she says. “In Singapore, we’re very good technically but once we stand in front of an audience we don’t seem to do as well as our counterparts elsewhere.”
Ang describes the Singapore economy as in a “digital-disruption transition”. “The work that we’re doing is going to be very different with things like robotics and artificial intelligence now part of the picture,” she says.
Local regulations also dictate people practices within KPMG.
With Singapore’s Manpower Ministry actively pushing for a stronger “core” of local staff across organisations, KPMG has embraced the Human Capital Partnership Programme.
Under this programme, managed by the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices, companies are recognised for enhancing skills transfer from foreigners to local employees.
Ang says possessing a strong local core is central to KPMG’s succession-planning efforts.
“As a whole, KPMG is a partnership,” she explains.
“The partnership mantra is that we all leave the partnership better as compared to when we receive it. As Head of People, the idea is to make sure that when the partners retire, the firm doesn’t disintegrate. So there’s a real need to have a strong succession-planning pipeline.”
Winning and managing talents
All soft skills aside, there is no running away from the fact that hard and technical financial skillsets form the lifeblood of KPMG.
The organisation fights for both talent and customers with the other “Big Four” auditing firms, and Ang concedes there is stiff competition for capable staff in particular.
KPMG’s chief local recruitment channel is through a combined recruitment fair targeting graduates of National University of Singapore, Nanyang Technological University, and Singapore Management University, though Ang says the Singapore recruitment team also considers a substantial number of applications from final year students in overseas universities.
The organisation’s internship programme is a further source of high-potential, enthusiastic, and invested talent. KPMG ensures students who have performed well during the short-term assignments are given priority access to full-time jobs after the completion of their studies.
“In Singapore, we’re very good technically but once we stand in front of an audience we don’t seem to do as well as our counterparts elsewhere.” – Ang Fung Fung, Audit Partner and Head of People, Performance, and Culture at KPMG Singapore
“This personal connection that has been built during internships really helps us in finding the right talent for the firm,” Ang shares.
The challenge for the People and Culture team though, does not end as soon as the necessary roles become occupied.
With the majority of new hires coming straight from universities, Ang says the organisation must calibrate the workload of newbies to ensure they do not quickly burn out.
“The profession itself is quite challenging, and professional work is very client-centric,” she says.
“On the other hand, we have graduates who have just left university. Many are new to the world of work and there is often a steep learning curve when they first take on their new roles.”
Ang says new hires have a tendency to overcompensate when they discover that working life is very different from their time at university – and they end up spending long hours in the office.
To combat this over the past few years, KPMG has planned its HR interventions ahead of schedule.
“We train them during the less busy periods of the year,” Ang says. “For example, auditors have a very heavy workload from December to February. So we try to flatten it by shifting work at different times.”
Audit professionals form close to 40% of KPMG’s Singapore workforce, with these backbone staff managed into four pools.
“When you have a larger base, you have a better way of allocating resources. That’s one way of managing the volume of work,” Ang explains.
Most major accounting firms would traditionally consist of structured departments, but today’s complex business environment has many in this profession rethinking the status quo.
While the audit and tax functions of KPMG do retain a degree of structure – including minimum training requirements, continuing professional education, and structured training programmes – the organisation’s advisory department operates in a more fluid manner. Ang says opportunities are available for certain industry specialisations within each unit.
For example, employees in the Audit team are able to move to a due-diligence team within Advisory.
Ang highlights another opportunity now afforded in today’s fluid world of work.
“In the past, we only had our IT audit support sitting in the advisory department helping us do that part of the audit,” she says.
“But we are now realising that a lot of our auditors need to be upskilled in terms of IT knowledge and data analytics. Our IT people in advisory now can’t spend as much time supporting us, so we need to depend on ourselves.”
Instead, the IT support employees are moving to other areas, such as digital consulting, and understanding how companies embrace digital disruption. They are then applying these skills in their own operations.
In order to thrive in today’s tech-enabled working world, Ang says the organisation is driving the concept of equipping every employee with what she calls “T-shaped skills”.
The vertical bar on the letter ‘T’ epitomises the depth of related skills and expertise in a single field, while the horizontal bar represents the ability to collaborate across disciplines.
“We aim to ensure our employees have broad perspectives while also being able to go deep into one specialised area,” says Ang.
This philosophy shapes the entire learning and development blueprint of KPMG.
Running parallel to it is the organisation’s equally-resolute determination to cultivate its workforce’s soft skills, particularly in today’s digital-first world.
With KPMG a client-facing organisation, the ability to confidently communicate and collaborate with clients is a cornerstone of the company’s success.
According to Ang, the nature of today’s work has also meant that geography has been consigned to the backburner.
“I could be sitting here (in Singapore) but working in the US. I need to be able to present myself online over Skype or Facetime to compete for an assignment,” she explains.
“This is an important soft skill which we’re trying to develop for all staff.”
One training programme is the organisation’s “Lunch and Learn” sessions, held every month for the senior management group.
This involves an external speaker conducting lessons on a wide range of soft-skill topical areas, such as networking.
“Lunch and Learn is very focused on senior management because its aim is to get the senior employees together for a short period of time,” says Ang.
“This has been very popular and I’ve attended them myself.”
The organisation has crafted a full suite of learning offerings, covering everything from business development, to presentation skills, to coaching.
“We have moved into an e-learning platform and bite-sized, self-directed learning. We have all these learning resources available and it’s up to the staff to register for whatever lessons they want to undertake,” says Ang.
While traditional platforms, such as classroom and face-to-face sessions, are still part of the overall learning and development framework, KPMG zooms in on problem-solving and critical thinking in particular.
“It is a challenge to avoid doing things robotically, and to move to become nimbler and more agile,” shares Ang.
“Our employees know they need to catch up and thus, they are open to changes in their work scope and trying out new things.”