Talent development tops the menu

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 23 May, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 23 May, 2009, 12:00am

While most businesses in Hong Kong are freezing or reducing headcount to weather the financial turmoil, forward-thinking companies are making talent development their top priority to ensure long-term growth.

'We understand the importance of nurturing talent to sustain our development,' said Molly Lam, division manager of Maxim's Cakes at Maxim's Group, a catering chain boasting 544 outlets across the city under its 70 brands, including bakeries, fast-food outlets, sushi bars, Chinese and western-style restaurants, and coffee shops. The chain employs more than 14,000 full-time staff.

Maxim's has tailored a management trainee programme to cultivate a new generation of catering professionals. 'We have always developed training to groom our staff, but this time we aim at a higher level of talent development to ensure an adequate supply of management staff for our continued growth,' said Ms Lam, who is also the programme leader.

The programme, which lasts for 12 months, goes beyond general management knowledge. 'The trainees will get live experiences in our business operations through working in our stores. They will learn how to operate and manage a retail store so they will know what a frontline employee does and what will be expected of them as an executive on the management front,' she said.

The programme comprises areas entailing business assimilation, business management and supervisory skills.

Attachment to the company's different business units is a core focus. 'The trainees are assigned to our nine different business units, ranging from a sushi restaurant to a bakery, and are offered the opportunity to understand the models on which the different catering sectors operate.

'They progress according to the set learning objectives and their performance is regularly reviewed by the line manager of each business unit,' said Ms Lam, who has managed the operations of three catering brands - Starbucks Coffee and Genki Sushi are the others - in Hong Kong over the past 10 years. One feature of the programme is its mentorship system where senior executives will act as mentors who can use their knowledge of the company's culture and corporate values to help orient the trainees towards successful careers while monitoring their progress and providing feedback.

Career prospects are excellent for the trainees. On completing the programme, they can take on the role of an assistant manager in charge of a shop's operation.

According to Ms Lam, the trainees can work towards a senior position to supervise a number of shops in a district.

Previous academic training and work experience in the food and beverage industry is not essential. 'We are looking for candidates who can demonstrate a genuine interest in interacting with people, which is very important in the catering business,' she said. The company also does a review every year to identify employees with greater potential to help fast-track their careers.

Assessment is a vital part of the programme to ensure that the trainees meet the expected standards.

Each trainee is regularly assessed by the business unit manager and undergoes performance appraisals like other full-time staff. With the programme at its selection and interview stage, the company is looking to admit 10 to 12 candidates to start in July. 'We don't set a ceiling on the number of trainees we will recruit, it depends whether they can meet our criteria and expectations,' Ms Lam said.

Career ladder

Operation manager

Nine to 10 years

Senior district manager

Six to eight years

District manager

Fourn to five years

Shop manager

Two to three years

Assistant manager

Graduated from MT programme

Management trainee

Source: Maxim's Group'