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back to index backGLOBALtalk February,  2005

Leadership and talent in Asia


 "Your company's most valuable assets will walk out the door at the end of today. What makes them want to come back tomorrow feeling passionate about contributing to the success of your business?"
  Mick Bennett and Andrew Bell
" Leadership & Talent In Asia"


What are you doing in your organization to ensure that your employees have the passion and desire to dominate your industry? This is just one of the questions posed by the authors of a new book called Leadership & Talent in Asia, which looks at how the best employers deliver extraordinary performance.

Published by John Wiley & Sons, the book was co-authored by Hewitts' Manager for Asia Pacific, Mick Bennett, and Senior Consultant, Andrew Bell, and is a comprehensive guide to creating superior business results and high performance. The authors explain why the book is important and what sets it apart by saying, "Firstly, on the foundation of the extensive research base we will describe throughout the book, it is very clear that it is possible to give compelling guidance to companies and their leaders who want to turn the common 'people are our most valuable asset' rhetoric into reality. What we hope readers will find refreshing about this book is the good news that driving high performance in organizations is based on nothing more than common sense."

The book used the results of Hewitt's first two best employers studies as its research base, and consolidates them with similar studies undertaken in Australia and India. It presents empirical findings from these studies, combining data drawn from hundreds of successful organizations and hundreds of thousands of employees. Companies profiled in the book include US multinationals operating across Asia, Asian companies competing in the global marketplace, and local Asian businesses.

"Our research," explain the authors, "consistently tells us the same thing - there is no simple solution and no quick fix to being a best employer. It is clear that yoga classes, free beer, and interactive 'fun at work' training programs can never compensate for poor leadership, boring work, and no career development. But then, this shouldn't surprise us - we've known this for a hundred years, since people first started studying organizations."

The authors continue, "The second reason why this book is different is because this study is a big deal."

The Big Deal

So, why are the best employers studies heralded as such a big deal? The simple answer to this question lies in the participants and also the methodology that these studies employed. The authors point out that conventional motivation theories are built on experiments that use mainly white, middle-class, American college students as their subjects. The findings of such studies are unrepresentative of the millions of working people across the globe.

There is a weighty validity to this point. It is difficult to equate the forces that motivate a middle-class white American college student with the motivating forces of a bus driver in Singapore, or a retailer in Thailand. This critique of established motivational studies includes issues relating to variations in comparing age, ethnicity, language, religion, gender, length of service, seniority, education levels, and the divergence of types and sizes of the industries in which people are employed.

Through a total of 10 chapters divided into three sections - Leadership and Talent, Engagement and Execution, and A Framework for Sustainability - this groundbreaking book demonstrates what the best employers studies have discovered. Across a wide range of organizational processes, some organizations "get it right", while the majority simply does not.

The central theme of Leadership & Talent In Asia asserts that most organizations don't realize their full potential, which results from a failure by organizations to create a captivating and compelling experience for their employees. The authors state that many more organizations get it wrong than right; and pose some simple but searching questions such as, "Why is it that when we already know what to do we spend so much time doing something else? Is it really so hard to build passion, pride, and commitment in your organization?"

Best Employers

In the year 2000, the authors and several of their colleagues joined together to attempt to identify a number of excellent organizations and establish what elevated them above the average employer. The study also served to highlight the correlation between these best employers and better business results. Since then, the best employers studies have grown into one of, if not the biggest and most comprehensive studies concerning the topic of man management.

Best employers study findings are significant because the winners are identified by panels using a "blind" process that examines both quantitative data and qualitative information. Companies are divided into the best and the rest by the panel of independent judges.

Mick Bennett and Andrew Bell state clearly that the purpose of isolating the practices of the best is not so that other companies can merely copy them. "Fundamentally, best employers share common points of focus and belief, not identical practices," they remark.

Characteristics Of The Best

Throughout each of the studies, six characteristics emerged that distinguished the best from the rest. Best employers maintain a sharp clarity of focus together with an inexorable passion to develop the best talent. In this way distractions can be avoided and the most important matters addressed in a focused manner. The best create and nurture a "humanistic performance environment", and they relentlessly pursue their passion for outstanding achievement. Best employers demonstrate respect for the people in their organization by acknowledging achievement and holding people accountable for their results.

Best employers place great importance on effective leadership, and the book makes the point that leaders can influence many of the other drivers such as resources, policies, recognition or opportunities. This is because leaders are such strong influences of organizational culture. There is no place in the best employers lists for command and control leaders. Study results show that this form of leadership erodes employee engagement and reduces autonomy and initiative, with the effect of reducing commitment.

Effective leaders see employee commitment and feedback as integral to their overall approach. Their passion as leaders is reflected in their eagerness to fuel a similar passion in their employees. By involving their people in decision making and problem solving employees are encouraged to meet and exceed targets. This requires engaging them heart and mind, intellectually and emotionally.

The following excerpts are taken from the concluding chapter of Leadership & Talent In Asia and explain how best employers really do place great value on their employees, investing the time, effort, and resources necessary to make the success of the business meaningful for employees at an individual level.

"Becoming a best employer isn't easy. We have seen that conceptually it is simple; there is nothing we have described in this book that requires complex strategy or convoluted people practices. These organizations put employees at the core of their strategy and deliver on their promise to their people. Sure, they spend time thinking about their talent strategies, but it is 10 percent strategy and 90 percent desire and execution. Their HR programs are strongly aligned to their business goals. A core, differentiating characteristic of these best employers, as we have described, is that they turn their rhetoric about employees into reality."

"Of course, leaders of best employers listen with intent. They value the views and opinions of their people. Scratch the surface in the way we see many leaders listening to their employees and you soon understand that they don't care; they are actually not interested. Instead, they are just going through the motions, which ultimately is probably worse than not spending the time with employees in the first place. Leaders at the best listen, because they intend to take action as a result.

There are no easy answers, no quick fixes. You don't become a best employer if your lead practice is smooth slogans on your website or in your recruitment advertisements. You don't get there by introducing gimmicky perks alone to your employees. The journey to being a best employer requires focus, determination, and constant effort.

Think for a moment about a botanical garden. Great gardens take years of care and attention to build - planting, nurturing, pruning, fertilizing. You can't build a botanical garden in a weekend makeover of frenzied activity. So it is with the best employers. Their achievements are based on years of effort. There are no short cuts. You have to make a long-term investment in the development of your organization, while balancing the short-term needs of your shareholders.

In the same way as we can see a garden devastated in just one hard season from lack of attention and care, we have seen some organizations come and go off the best employer lists, usually because they have taken their eye off the ball. Tough economic conditions test the sustainability of your people practices and the commitment of your senior leaders to your employees. Best employers maintain the focus on their commitment to their people when times are bad as well as when they are good."

Despite the impact of the Asian crisis and the exogenous shocks that the Asian economy has suffered in recent times, business people in Asia recognize "people issues" within their organizations as critical drivers in their business success. Best employers differentiate themselves from the rest by doing everyday things every day. They consistently create an organizational environment based on the importance of values, leadership and transparency, in place of rules and power. This book demonstrates how becoming a best employer is not only a goal that can be accomplished, it is also one which will add value and benefit to a business.

Source: Hewitt Quarterly Asia Pacific - GAI

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