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In-house mini MBA programme

For any successful business, it is essential to keep every aspect of talent management and organisational design under close review, particularly at a time when disruptive new forces are reordering priorities and reshaping expectations in the workplace.

To compete effectively, companies have been obliged to rethink their approach to engagement, training and development. And they have come to appreciate the value of creating a corporate culture which puts the emphasis on openness, opportunity and ideas.

“The leadership style is now quite different compared with five or 10 years ago,” says Almond Wong, the group chief people and culture officer for Convoy Financial Group. “For instance, you must do more to connect with young people and build a platform where everyone can perform. To that end, you have to provide programmes to help them grow faster in terms of their professionalism, knowledge and skill sets. It is important that staff and managers at different levels can adopt new methods and thinking if they want to build a long-term career with the group.”

With that in mind, Wong introduced a groundbreaking “discover your colour” programme two years ago. The specific aim was to help employees understand their personality and individual style of communication as a means to improving collaboration and strengthening the corporate culture.

It proved a hit and, this year, after attending a two-month executive course at Harvard, which was a real eye-opener in terms of what’s happening across the broader business spectrum, she has taken the next steps.

“I studied more than 100 cases and realised the world is changing very quickly; there are new kinds of knowledge our staff need to learn,” she says. “So, on my return I started to work on a customised mini MBA for senior Convoy executives and consultants. They need to understand what is happening in the market and what is changing in the world, how to cope with the change, and how to manage people accordingly.”

The four-month, nine-module programme, a first of its kind, is run in collaboration with CUHK Business School’s Asia-Pacific Institute of Business, which handles all the teaching. It covers everything from developments in the fintech industry and emerging technology to design thinking, corporate governance, high-performance leadership, and managing strategic investment decisions. Classes are taught in full-day classes every other Saturday.

“The mini MBA is tailor-made and quite comprehensive,” Wong says. “I asked the CUHK professors to focus more on case studies, so our people understand how to handle different situations and learn about key success factors and reasons for failure.”

With about 30 in a class, the first group included department and team heads plus sales leaders, who were nominated by the C-suite. Besides an interview, the selection criteria required them to write a personal statement explaining their career goals, interest in learning, and commitment to improvement.

The next group will start in August, with a changed method of enrolment meaning employees can now nominate themselves. An in-built flexibility makes it possible to add modules where necessary or cut others which are no longer suitable. And Convoy takes care of all related costs.

“The feedback has been extremely good,” Wong says. “For instance, executives have said they now understand why the company should continue to invest in the fintech industry and, after the CRM module, why they may need to change their approach to contacting customers. There has been a positive impact on their thinking and work behaviour. After 15 to 20 years, some managers only have one way of interacting, but ours now see why leaders have to change some of their methods, and they understand how to support the group’s development as a whole.”

Other initiatives running in parallel are similarly focused on enhancing personal development and changing the corporate mindset. With a relatively young workforce, Convoy is particularly keen to move beyond the traditional approach based on a broad-brush “mission and vision” and to look more at issues like the impact of social media on communications, customers and patterns of business.

This has seen the setting up of an internal communications department, which provides bi-weekly updates, and briefing sessions where clients are invited to speak about new market trends such as blockchain, design thinking and meaningful work.

“All this is to help change the culture,” Wong says. “We want to involve young people more and help them find their career path and purpose. We believe if they understand, they will have a passion to support change and take ownership of different areas.”

To back that up, other training programmes teach essentials like leadership skills, problem solving, time management and people management. Each pays due attention to core values like professionalism, integrity and positive energy, with everyone encouraged to think about the respective needs of company, customers and colleagues.

“If they do that, then we’re doing the right thing,” Wong says. “We are also creating opportunities for young people to perform in their roles and translate their ideas into results for the business.”

She adds that as the group looks to expand over the next three years and become an all-round money management platform, there are plans to double Hong Kong headcount from the present 300-odd — not including consultants — and to focus on other priorities.

For instance, one talent development objective is for future leaders to be 100 per cent home-grown. Another is to ensure people can perform two or three different functional roles during their career, thereby promoting change and internal mobility. And a third is to give all staff, whatever their grade, the chance to plan, lead and complete projects successfully.

“We are also looking closely at the idea of job sharing for some operations and customer service roles,” Wong says. “It is becoming popular in other countries for working mums and young people who want to try different types of work. We would like to be pioneers in Hong Kong.”