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Invest in people, promote innovation

Published on Friday, 06 May 2011
David Ko
Executive vice-president - Asia-Pacific, Waggener Edstrom

In what ways can staff development be implemented effectively?

At Waggener Edstrom, we've always believed certain things to be true - invest in people, build a culture of innovation and focus on clients' needs.

We run the company around our people and understand that they are our only asset. It is crucial to allocate a significant portion of profits to cultivating talent. It is a long-term view and the right thing to do but not always the easiest. 


In the intense, dynamic environment of the public relations (PR) industry, it is easy for many agencies to under-invest in people, resulting in higher staff turnover and poor quality of work. It is a simple equation that eventually impacts the business on a larger scale. Lesser profits means less investment in people, and the vicious cycle repeats.

Right now, the PR industry is reaching a crisis point with our talent challenges. If we don't come together as an industry and actively invest in the development of our people, this problem will get worse. 


Investing in people needs to start on day one and be sustained. Clients and staff will be more loyal and long-term profits will rise. Waggener Edstrom copes with this challenge in several ways. Firstly, we offer all employees who start, regardless of level, 20 days' personal leave per year, and this increases with length of tenure.

We also offer work-at-home days. In fact, our agency goal this year is to ensure a minimum of five work-from-home days for every employee. We have implemented this because we believe that our people can be more effective if they have flexibility and are empowered to plan their time and work priorities.

Because Waggener's philosophy is to let our people create the culture, we see employees in different offices adding their own local flavour to their workplace. We encourage this diversity as it creates an environment that enables everyone to contribute to their full potential.

Even though we now have offices all over the globe, we work hard to make sure that everyone still feels connected to each other. Technology plays a crucial role, offering a myriad ways to encourage interaction, from desktop video-conferencing to instant messaging and, of course, e-mail. We also give employees the experience of working in other offices through overseas assignments.

Training and development is one area where this heightened interaction yields incredible dividends. Our global learning and development team delivers courses ranging from leadership development to social media 101, oftentimes across continents.

We also have leadership development tools that we use across all countries in our agencies. Psychometric personality profiling is mandated for mid- to senior levels, and go-forward career planning for all employees twice a year.

Finally, we have an annual global exchange programme open to all employees in the agency. They tell us which overseas office they'd like to work in for two weeks and we choose the best entries. We've found it to be a great motivation, enabling them to get a global view of the business.

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