StanChart banks on staff engagement to succeed

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 10 October, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 10 October, 2009, 12:00am

Employee engagement is a powerful means of driving consistent business performance and meeting the changing needs of bank customers, according to Nita Law, regional head of human resources, Northeast Asia, Standard Chartered Bank (Hong Kong).

'Banking is not just a numbers business - it's also a people business. It's about providing services to customers,' Law said.

'We believe that if the linkage between our people and the customer is strong it will drive customer loyalty. And, with customer loyalty, we will get repeat business that will be sustainable business. This, in turn, will have a positive impact on the bank's profit and its share price, which is what our shareholders are looking for.'

The bank introduced The Gallup Organisation's Q12 Employee Engagement tool in 2000 to measure its staff engagement annually. The tool comprises 12 core elements that link to key business outcomes and best predict employee and workgroup performance. According to Gallup's latest analysis, beyond the significant differences that engaged staff show in productivity, profitability, safety incidents and absenteeism, engaged organisations have 2.6 times the earnings per share growth rate compared with organisations with lower engagement in the same industry.

The bank's score in 2007, following several years of cumulative effort towards improving employee engagement, rose from the median on the Gallup measurement scale into the upper quartile where it has since remained. That year also saw record operating profit and income of US$4 billion and US$11 billion, respectively, with Hong Kong, the bank's largest market, experiencing an increase in profit before tax of 34 per cent.

The engagement score rose slightly last year, while the bank in Hong Kong saw operating income rise 10 per cent to US$2.3 billion though operating profits fell 15 per cent due to increased loan impairments in the deteriorating economic environment.

'Last year was a challenging one but our engagement score moved up to the 76th percentile despite the turmoil,' Law said. 'We carried out the engagement survey during the Lehman minibonds fallout and we gave a lot of support and assistance to staff at this time. Engagement matters more during difficult times and that was reflected in the results of the engagement survey.'

As a result of its improving performance, Standard Chartered Bank (Hong Kong) has twice been named by The Gallup Organisation as a winner of the Gallup Great Workplace Award, which recognises companies for their extraordinary ability to create an engaged workplace culture in which staff have an emotional connection to the company's mission and growth.

'Day in, day out, when we want to drive performance we're trying to find out how we can make staff feel good so that they feel excited about their job, they feel recognised, rewarded and learn more,' Law said. 'That's the kind of engagement we're talking about. The whole principle is that if we have an engaged workforce ultimately it will drive business performance.'

The key factor in engaging the workforce is the relationship between managers and the individuals under their supervision. Since introducing the Q12 tool, the bank's managers have measurably improved in terms of better explaining individual job expectations, ensuring that their staff have the tools and equipment to do their job, the opportunity to receive regular feedback and recognition, and the opportunity to learn and develop.

The catalyst behind these improvements is a series of holistic learning and development programmes that are underpinned by three 'pillars' - technical, professional and leadership training - and respective learning road maps for the various roles.

While technical training encompasses the skills necessary to do the job and is typically more product driven, the professional aspect comprises management training and leadership training and is about teaching an individual to lead a business unit or function. What makes the Standard Chartered Bank learning and development training different is what Law calls its 70-20-10 approach.

'The most critical aspect that people need to learn is on-the-job experience. That's our 70 per cent and it is how people learn from experience, in a real job. The 20 per cent is learning from others. This is always an untapped resource. Staff can learn from many people including their manager, product experts, mentor and peers.

'Such people are very valuable resources because they have experience, they work with staff and share knowledge that is not necessarily in a book. Lastly, people go through formal classroom training. This is our 10 per cent, and often relates to technical training or something specific and classroom-based that helps guide staff in their respective roles.'

As part of the formal training, the bank also has an online platform - Learning @ SCB - that provides an easily accessible knowledge library for staff seeking particular information or learning.

All learning and development programmes are refreshed on a regular basis to make sure that they remain current from the customer and product perspectives, are compliant with any regulatory updates and communicated to staff. 'To us, getting the right people is important. To drive Standard Chartered as a high performing organisation, what will differentiate us is our engaged workforce and our approach to be a strength-based organisation,' Law said.