Keystone to success is staff development

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 10 September, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 10 September, 2005, 12:00am

Construction professionals believe everything starts with strong employee morale and work attitude

IN ALL ITS glossy corporate literature, global construction professional Hilti is keen to leave the reader in no doubt about the company's commitment to people development. This, however, is not mere PR talk. It is one of the company's core principles, and is clearly visible in almost everything it does.

In particular, this approach has enabled the Liechtenstein-based supplier of high-quality tools and fastening systems for the construction and maintenance industry to achieve high levels of staff retention and motivation. In Hong Kong, that has translated into employee turnover rates of only 5 per cent in 2003 and 8 per cent last year, with a significant proportion of staff qualifying for long-service awards.

Perhaps even more significant is the fact that the majority of employees in the Hong Kong office are in sales and marketing, a sector notorious for job-hopping and career choices being based on the size of a person's last bonus.

The company's focus on maintaining a stable and satisfied team is based on the understanding that no business can continue to succeed without a motivated and dedicated workforce.

'Everything starts with morale, because this affects work attitudes,' said Josef Aschbacher, general manager of Hilti (Hong Kong). 'Keeping employees motivated is the key to creating enthusiastic customers, so you can sustain profitability in the long term.'

A vital part of this is having a culture that encourages communication and open dialogue on all issues.

The company organises individual performance reviews twice a year plus an annual employee survey that allows staff to comment anonymously. The intention is to create a channel to highlight both the good and the bad points of management policy.

The survey forms are analysed by an external consulting firm, which makes recommendations or suggests action points that are communicated to staff. Teams are nominated to ensure these are implemented.

The prospects for corporate expansion and career development also have an impact on retention. In fact, Hilti prides itself on encouraging staff to keep learning and achieving personal growth.

Around 80 per cent of the present management team were promoted from within, and most of those in senior sales positions have been with the company for more than 10 years.

This has created a strong team spirit and an environment in which supervisors take a genuine interest in the welfare and expectations of their subordinates.

Careful attention is given to planning career paths, and managers are expected to be actively involved in helping staff to move up to the next level.

'We believe that by developing your team, you increase your own prospects of promotion. We want managers who believe passionately in developing people so that their subordinates continue to better themselves and bring growth to the company,' Mr Aschbacher said.

The company's human resources principles are based on the belief that development should go beyond immediate job requirements; that growth comes from continuous learning and creating opportunities; employees are responsible for their own development; and that all staff, whatever their level, need coaching to maximise their potential.

The firm puts these principles into practice in various ways. It provides education subsidies for degree programmes and job-related courses. Internal events help build a stronger corporate culture, and there is a special training programme for outstanding individuals.

This programme can last from one to three years and allows selected staff to gain fast-track experience with a range of assignments offering wide business exposure. It is a way of grooming future leaders by giving them new responsibilities and the chance to develop additional skills.

In retaining staff, remuneration is clearly a factor for every employer. Each year, Hilti carries out a benchmarking exercise to ensure compensation packages are in line with the market. Good sales performance is recognised with commission payments, while bonuses are basically for team and not individual achievements.

When recruiting, the company's first priority is to identify like-minded people it believes will fit in well. It also looks for candidates who demonstrate flexibility and a positive attitude towards learning.

Human resources manager Caroline Chung said: 'We try to understand the personality of candidates and assess their behaviour to see if it matches our corporate values of integrity, courage, teamwork and commitment. We look for people who are willing to learn and are ambitious.'

Company puts people first

People development is marked out as a key company priority.

Corporate culture encourages open communication and staff feedback.

All employees expected to work continuously on personal and professional development.

Over 80 per cent of current management team were promoted from within.

Attitude to learning and personality takes precedence over experience when evaluating candidates.