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Finding a formula

Is there a perfect HR formula for multinationals operating in China? It's a daunting question that Rachel Regan-Paterson, HR vice-president for Greater China and India at dairy-products manufacturing giant Fonterra, tried to tackle at the LINK conference. She did very well in presenting her organisation's creative, nimble and responsive HR policies. Alas, reality is a notorious gatecrasher.

Her talk predated the tainted-product controversy that had engulfed the company and related sectors since early August. What she had to say, though, pointed to an organisation that has been striving to recruit and retain the best talent on the mainland and beyond.

Regan-Paterson acknowledged that working in China had been "a very real revelation" and had changed her mindset on talent practice. "Many [mainland] locals now don't always prefer multinational companies," she said. "Many now want to work for local firms."

Given increasing difficulty in recruiting, Fonterra's HR team has realised that talent referral and networks are important in finding the right candidates. They also take extra care in handling all job applicants. "Every interviewee is an ambassador for your organisation," she said. "That job applicant may not be suitable right now, but he or she may be ideal for your HR needs six months later."

Fonterra adheres to what Regan-Paterson called "creative recruitment", especially in terms of a coherent, attractive employee value proposition. "The positioning of the organisation is very important," she said. "There should be a strong link between HR and external affairs such as CSR [corporate social responsibility] and community activities.

"Selection is both science and craft," she added. "You can de-risk it via measurements or screening mechanisms, but agility is needed by HR. You may not always get it right, but it can work."