Four simple policies could help HK firms hang on to top employees while keeping manpower costs down IN THE STRONG economy, many Hong Kong employees would not think twice about jumping ship - even for a relatively small rise in salary. Consequently, the issue of staff retention has become a constant headache for companies as they try to retain their best talent while keeping manpower budgets under control. American Power Conversion Hong Kong (APC), a provider of solutions for physical IT infrastructure, has largely avoided this problem and can boast an average retention rate of 90 per cent for its offices in Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea. 'The company is very fortunate to have such a high retention rate. We have a strategic view that involves four simple policies which can be applied in any organisation,' regional director Robert Griffith said. These centre on the belief that successful retention begins with recruitment and that the onus is on management and recruitment personnel to hire the right candidates. 'To retain people you need to hire A players, people who are highly motivated, self-starters, blend with the team and really want to work for you,' Mr Griffith said.The next step is to provide new hires with an appealing work environment. 'The right environment is one in which they can grow personally and professionally, and are able to thrive. If they are happy with their jobs, retention is easy,' Mr Griffith said. What constitutes the right environment differs from industry to industry. The basics, though, should include clear policies and procedures, a sense of ownership of the job, the encouragement of open communication, mentoring and training which support career development, and advancement and recognition for a job well done. The third key aspect is innovation, and it helps if the company is regularly introducing new products or services. 'APC provides real ground-breaking solutions for clients and since our employees feel that what they do here makes a difference, they want to stay,' Mr Griffith said. Finally, it is important to provide staff with challenges to expand their experience and skills. These should be tough, but attainable and measurable. 'This particularly applies to sales employees,' Mr Griffith said. 'Setting unattainable targets will do little for overall morale.' He said the firm's annual plan targeted specific goals for the year. Progress could be monitored easily and, as objectives were achieved, staff would get a sense of job satisfaction. Offering decent and fair pay packages is another factor crucial to any retention policy. 'Of course, people should be paid a competitive salary and be given incentives for excellent performance, but it's not just about the money. At the end of the day people need to enjoy their work.' There should also be continual follow-up with staff to anticipate and avert discontent. Ideally, this can be done during annual appraisals, but problems are generally dealt with more easily if employers create an environment which fosters open communication and invites feedback. 'I constantly talk to staff to gauge if they are happy with various policies and practices, and we share responsibility for resolving any issues. It is essential to take a proactive approach towards communication in the workplace,' Mr Griffith said. APC promotes its own version of this ideal environment by maintaining a 'making mistakes' policy. The company informs all employees that getting things wrong occasionally is fundamental to learning. Staff are encouraged to experiment, take calculated risks in the context of the business, and consider alternative perspectives.The company also promotes individual empowerment through concepts such as 'implied consent'. For example, when working on a project, it can often happen that people do not provide the requested information on time. Instead of endless chasing, APC has imposed a policy which says that if there is no reply by a deadline then consent is implied, or can be assumed, and the project can proceed on that basis. 'It gives everyone the feeling of ownership,' Mr Griffith said. These practical steps, together with regular social activities, have contributed to a strong feeling of bonding and being part of a winning team at APC. To ensure this continues, employees receive comprehensive in-house training and can attend an extensive range of external courses designed to help them realise their full potential. APC views the costs involved as a wise investment for the company's future. 'Ongoing training programmes are necessary as they give employees the means to evolve. Our own staff are given the opportunity to take intensive courses in Hong Kong, as well as in Singapore and the US,' Mr Griffith said. Tips for Retention Retention policies should kick in during the recruitment process. Staff should be given challenging and attainable goals. Regular training is vital for career development. Remuneration packages should be competitive. Employees should be encouraged to communicate openly with management. Management needs to be proactive in creating a work environment which meets the need for job satisfaction.