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Best Employers judges impressed by genuine effort to improve HR relations

After spending a day sifting through the data from the Aon Hewitt Best Employers Study, the five judges for today's awards were left impressed by the work that is being done by local organisations.

"There was a general sense of genuineness about these companies," says Ryan Mai, vice-president for Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau at United Technologies. "Their submissions were thorough, with a good amount of data and detail. The common thread was leadership commitment - commitment to customer service excellence and employee engagement. A few companies had very strong diversity programmes which were quite excellent."

Professor Elizabeth George, director of the Centre of Business Education at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology Business School, was struck by three qualities shared by the winners.

"First, they were willing to collect masses of data to help them understand how their employees feel about the organisation and its various initiatives. Second, there was consistency in the responses across segments of the organisation - the CEO, the HR group and the rank and file.

"Finally, the companies didn't have a cookie-cutter approach to managing their people. Rather they have designed pretty unique and interesting initiatives that match the particular needs of their employees."

David Thomas, senior vice-president of human resources, Asia for Manulife Financial Asia, was also particularly taken by certain aspects of the top-performing organisations.

"I was impressed with the way in which good people practices were becoming part of their DNA," he says. "Also, I was impressed with their passion for high employee engagement and their recognition that with this their businesses will better deliver their strategies."

Jodi Koon, senior director of operations at the Employers' Federation of Hong Kong, was careful to stress that she and her fellow judges were not presiding over the competition.

"Of course, some companies did better than the others," Koon admits. "But the key objective of the awards is not to pick the organisations that do the most or the best, but to appreciate the initiatives companies have adopted in advocating for good employment practices.

"As such, the judging panel had to derive some key assessment principles when scrutinising the data collected and making the related judgment."

Mai is confident that, ultimately, the judges made the right choices. "There were companies that generally stood out as having excellent practices and results. Since we did not know the names of these companies, we [did not have] any preconceived biases and judged them on their merits."

Thomas explains that the panel understood what made a company stand out. "The judges were well aligned on what great people practices looked like," he says. "We had senior executives, HR people, academics and journalists involved, but essentially we were all looking for similar things."

Meanwhile, George took heart from the team spirit on display at the Best Employers that she discovered. "One broad point that continues to surprise me, in a good way, is that in companies that were awarded, people across levels share values and see practices in this same way."