Emotional factors are far more important than rational ones in building employee commitment THE NOBLE GROUP, a global supply chain manager of agricultural, industrial and energy products based in Hong Kong, recognises that its most important asset is its people. This attitude has shone through to its employees worldwide, with Noble winning Hewitt Associates' prestigious Best Employers in Asia award twice since 2001, an accolade voted on by the company's loyal staff. With an employee turnover rate of just 6.4 per cent per annum worldwide, Noble appears to have found a corporate formula that works for people. So what is its secret to motivating long serving staff and inspiring new recruits? According to Lelia Konyn, vice-president of global human resources at Noble Group and speaker at this year's 'Human Capital in Greater China - Managing the Next Wave' conference organised by the South China Morning Post and the Hong Kong Institute of Human Resources Management, the answer is corporate culture. 'Employee engagement is a frequently discussed term in management, but essentially it is the extent to which employees commit to something or someone in the company,' Ms Konyn said. She said the drivers of employee engagement were both rational and emotional. Based on surveys, the emotional commitment of employees to their company and job counts for four times as much as their rational commitment. Rational elements such as salaries and benefits encourage people to stay longer in their jobs, while emotional factors such as respect for managers and pride in the company inspire employees to stretch themselves and perform at a higher level. If corporate culture drives engagement, a company's values create the framework in which employees at every level function. According to Ms Konyn, Noble's corporate values determine the daily behaviour of its employees, bind together groups of people in 42 countries, affect employee performance and underpin the success of the company strategy. Role models, she said, were essential to cultivate corporate culture. 'Managers at Noble will never ask others to do what they are not prepared to do themselves,' Ms Konyn said. When gaps occur between the values and practices of a company, employees become cynical and detached. To illustrate how reality and theory can become strangers, Ms Konyn presented a list of corporate values proclaimed by one famous American company: respect, integrity, communication and excellence. The company claiming those values was energy giant Enron, which famously collapsed in 2002. Apparently, corporate values must be lived, not just touted. Ms Konyn said managers must earn the respect of their employees through professionalism that is based on skills, experience and knowledge, and by being role models through their behaviour and personality. Various programmes at Noble reflect its values and create an entrepreneurial culture. Two of the new initiatives are Lunch and Learn and the Executive Director's Open House. Lunch and Learn is held on the last Friday of each month and is open to all employees. For example, a division head from the coal or steel division could make a presentation while employees listen and lunch on pizza and soft drinks. At the Executive Director's Open House, which is held each quarter, the chief executive officer and the vice-chairman sit on bar stools and invite questions from employees. 'To get to CEOs in most companies, you have to go through three secretaries and make 20 appointments,' Ms Konyn said. At Noble, any employee can pick up the phone and contact the CEO, and they do. Shareholders, too, no matter how big or small, can pose a question and get a response in 24 hours. The result, according to Hewitt Associates' surveys, is that employees view senior management as visible, approachable and trustworthy. The Noble Ambassadors, a programme launched by the company last year, is designed to recognise talent at an advanced professional level. Proven performers in the company are brought to Hong Kong from across the globe to meet each other, the CEO and the vice-chairman. During their visit, they have a chance to get the big corporate picture, gain new energy and develop corporate pride that is later shared with their home office. SHAPING THE COMPANY CULTURE Corporate culture and values determine employee engagement. Emotional commitment to a company is four times stronger than rational commitment. Role models are essential to create corporate culture. Gaps in corporate values and practices create employee cynicism and detachment. To gain respect, loyalty and trust,managers must provide opportunities for staff to shine.