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As barrier goes higher, competition gets tougher

Published on Tuesday, 21 Jun 2011
Aon Hewitt’s Jeremy Andrulis (right) and judging head Professor Steven DeKrey.

Jeremy Andrulis, head of Aon Hewitt’s human capital and retirement business in Hong Kong and Taiwan, says the value of winning the Best Employers award is as important to employees as it is to the winning companies.

“From the employees’ perspective, I think it shows that they work for a company that has a strong focus on viewing people as a critical asset. Things are not done just for short-term results,” he says.

“The criteria for Best Employers were designed to show continued, long-term investment – and a long-term focus. It was evident in this year’s survey [that] the Best Employer companies were able to sustain that investment, and find different ways to keep employees engaged. That sense of engagement leads to higher productivity and improvements in other business measures as well.”

Companies were tested on five areas, based on Aon Hewitt’s research into best practices and its anticipation of market changes.

The study was designed to assess whether these concepts were merely theoretical aspirations, or if they were being implemented, explains Andrulis.

“Take pervasive accountability and trust,” he says. “It’s important for a Best Employer to do that, but a company does not ‘do’ pervasive accountability and trust – it’s important that leaders, managers, employees, high potentials and human resources all consistently drive it through their specific actions and behaviours. So, you have to design programmes and incentivise the behaviours ... to make sure that the leaders are always driving pervasive accountability and trust.”

Two things are the key differentiators for Best Employers versus the rest, he adds. The first is pervasive accountability and trust, which involves making sure that everyone in the organisation takes ownership of decisions, and that there are good, trusted relationships, particularly between managers and employees. The second involves programmes and investments, especially those that help managers improve their effectiveness in setting goals for employees and that help them give useful feedback and coaching.

“Can a manager really address poor performance? It’s a hard thing to do. If you have a poor performer on your team, your team members know about that person and they expect the manager to address the issue. And the Best Employers are able to do that much more effectively.”

Andrulis says the idea behind the study is to provide a high level of detail based on copious amounts of data so that companies – both winners and finalists – can actually do something with the results, such as identifying the root cause of a shortcoming. Across the board, companies are getting better, he adds.

“Many of our core questions over the years have stayed the same, yet we’re seeing the scores significantly increase. This year, the average engagement level was 84 per cent for a Best Employer; for the rest it was 59 per cent.

“Those were the two highest scores we’ve seen, respectively, since we did the first study in 2001. It shows that the barrier to entry to becoming a Best Employer is getting higher, and we have many more well-run companies that are investing in people.

“And it does show that if you continue to invest, and don’t stop-and-start investment, it does have longer term benefits,” Andrulis adds.

Good, green and a lot more

Participation in the Best Employer study was open to companies that had been operating in Hong Kong for at least two years and that employ a minimum of 100 full-time equivalent employees in the city. Only the top winners are publicly identified.

“One of the reasons we limited the winning number to four is to maintain the strength across the five criteria,” explains Professor Steven DeKrey, head of the judging panel. “All scoring was done anonymously so judges had only the data and discussion to rely on.

“After a preliminary review of the entries and a discussion of the current employer climate in Hong Kong, we established five important criteria,” DeKrey adds.

Each criterion was then assigned to a judge and assessed with equal weighting: overall ratings on the objective criteria, leadership effectiveness or compelling vision, people focus, Generation Y and people development, and consistency of results.

The study also identified changing trends among companies and employees.

“We see improved training among the leading companies, more flexibility in work expectations and a positive view of diversity,” says DeKrey. “We also see more attention to community needs and company responsibility. Employees more and more value companies that care about their communities, so this focus is showing up more in many ways. We also see the ‘green’ influence.”

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