Tapping into people power

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 03 December, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 03 December, 2008, 12:00am

No challenge is tougher than getting high-quality, experienced staff. This is particularly so in fast-developing countries such as mainland China, where management-level professionals are in an acute short supply.

While China's universities produce a large number of graduates every year, professionals with four or more years of experience are hard to come by. 'This is where we and other institutions in China face a challenge,' said Margaret Cheng, head of human resources at HSBC Bank (China).

Ms Cheng will be speaking at a senior HR forum on 'Unleashing People Potential, Growing Business - The HR Challenge' at the 2008 Hong Kong Institute of Human Resource Management conference. 'In the financial industry, our key resources are financial capital and human capital. What we look at, as HR professionals, is human capital,' Ms Cheng said.

'It is important that we ensure that we have quality employees and managers who share the vision of the organisation and move in the same direction to achieve the same goals and targets.'

Jim Lygopoulos, vice-president of HR for Asia-Pacific at the Walt Disney Company, will also be speaking at the forum.

'It is about having a clear vision - this is the key,' he said. 'Although we are highly diversified in Disney - with businesses across consumer products, TV, internet and gaming - we have our people focused front and centre on the consumer.'

Communication plays a critical part for HR professionals. HSBC uses regular employee surveys and focus group meetings to ensure that there is two-way communication between management and employees.

'With these tools we gather open and honest feedback from as many staff as possible so that we can build an accurate picture of what engages employees about working at HSBC,' said Ms Cheng.

'We use these results to make improvements for the benefit of employees.'

'Regular communication is the key,' said Mr Lygopoulos, adding that Disney holds regular 'town hall' meetings for all staff every quarter. 'We discuss future plans and products, celebrate a client or have a Q&A session. We might play the latest Disney movie at the end of the event.'

It is important that employees are kept abreast of organisational plans as this leads to higher levels of engagement. 'When people are engaged, they produce better results,' Mr Lygopoulos said.

Both Disney and HSBC have the advantage of having strong brand names which helps to attract the best talent.

'Employees join not just any company, but Disney. We have a history of innovation and creativity. It is the heart and soul of what we do. We have a strong process of getting people to identify with the brand,' Mr Lygopoulos said.

Ms Cheng said HSBC's strong brand and reputation in China meant the bank was seen as a best-in-class employer. 'So we have a relatively advantageous position when it comes to attracting talent. Nevertheless, it is a very competitive environment.'

In order to retain staff, companies are finding it necessary to provide not only an engaging work environment but also opportunities for advancement within the country and internationally.

'This requires significant investment,' said Ms Cheng. She added that for the past 15 years the bank's intensive PRC Banker Development Programme had helped provide local talent with international experience, grooming them into banking experts and enabling them to fill management level roles within the organisation.

Disney also has a talent-management strategy that allows it to identify and develop high-potential employees and future leaders by providing them with learning opportunities, stretch assignments and overseas exposure.

'Identifying potential is a priority at Disney,' said Mr Lygopoulos, adding that there was a strong focus on identifying top talent. 'It is not just among senior staff - we drive this through the whole organisation. We want to make sure that people understand there are myriad opportunities across the company.'

Mr Lygopoulos is a beneficiary of Disney's career policy - he recently transferred to Disney's Hong Kong office from Melbourne.

Being an HR professional today calls not just for core HR expertise but also strong business acumen and strategic thinking - skills that are best picked up on the job.

'You need to be a business person. You need to understand the challenges of business, to get close to business day to day,' said Mr Lygopoulos. 'Business executives look to HR professionals to have an understanding of the business. HR should have a seat at the table in day-to-day management. They should contribute to key business decisions very early in the process.'