Communication key to retaining staff at 3M

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 06 October, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 06 October, 2007, 12:00am

Turnover can be costly for employers, so mastering the art of retaining top talent is crucial for a company's overall well-being. Not only is it beneficial for the company to retain strong candidates for leadership, but it is also rewarding for employees and boosts morale.

With more than 200 permanent staff, 3M's 45 years of business success in Hong Kong shows that it is doing something right. Management prides itself on the fact that the company puts great emphasis on keeping strong communication lines.

Thomas Chow Chor-yiu, senior manager of human resources and office administration, said: 'Good communication is important. Our business status and challenges we face must be well communicated to our colleagues.'

Succession planning is a hot topic in the modern business world and, while it is important that the most suitable candidates take on leadership roles, much of what 3M does in this area contributes to, but is not limited to, succession planning.

Mr Chow said he saw succession planning as an effective way to retain top talent.

'More than 95 per cent of our leadership roles are from within. Our company concept of 'promotion from within' is great because it [shows] colleagues that if they perform well, they will have opportunities to grow and be promoted,' said Mr Chow.

While 3M has no structured management trainee programme to prepare candidates for promotion to managerial roles, it has a mentoring programme where potential candidates are selected for coaching by supervisors or managers. These mentors help candidates work on their weaknesses before they assume a position of higher responsibility.

The programme focuses on building character and honing the employee's attitude. It does not involve job rotations where the employee obtains hands-on experience in various departments. However, 3M has an internal transfer policy where colleagues can apply for a transfer to other departments when vacancies occur.

Annually, 3M reviews previously set goals to see whether they have been accomplished at both individual and company levels. Everything is documented in detail. This way, whenever there is a need for another leader, it is easier to spot candidates with potential.

Each employee has an individual development plan where their supervisors work with them to reinforce their strengths and overcome their weaknesses over six to 12 months. The company's headquarters also hosts a global development plan to further cultivate the growth of selected employees over two to three weeks.

Supervisors have informal mid-term performance reviews with their subordinates.

'We try to ensure that higher levels of supervisory roles and managers have strong leadership skills to create mutual understanding and agreement through good communication,' said Mr Chow.

An effective leader is one who can communicate in an up-front manner and does not internalise any grievances.

To qualify for promotion, candidates must exhibit a strong capability to 'change the landscape' (a key phrase used at 3M, meaning to overcome difficult challenges well), and willingness to go the extra mile.

Being a global company, opportunities are not limited to within Hong Kong. Local candidates may qualify for leadership positions in Asia-Pacific branches or even at international locations. When an international vacancy appears, each location considers its candidates internally and then nominates them.

The company goes to great lengths to keep employees happy, encourage open communication and keep professional relationships healthy.

Employees are recognised for good performance both during their informal reviews and publicly at general meetings. The company also encourages staff to see their job as part of career development rather than just something that pays the bills.

'We'd like to encourage colleagues to do their best but, to enable this, we have to give them balance in life,' said Mr Chow.

To this end, the 3M Club was established as a recreational internal organisation that arranges activities for all employees to enjoy.

Positive steps

Succession planning is just one part of retaining top talent at 3M

Each employee has a development plan to reinforce strengths and improve on weaknesses

More than 95 per cent of leadership roles are from within the company

Key points to talent retention are communication, and the company is willing to invest resources to enhance employees' capabilities

Stressed? 3M Club comes to the rescue with recreational events to bring work-life balance

Staff who perform well receive public acknowledgement


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