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Secrets of success are in new way of thinking

Published on Friday, 07 Jan 2011
Francis Mok
NiQ Lai

The speed of change in every business sector means companies must focus more than ever on the need to nurture new skills and different ways of thinking. To compete effectively over the medium and long-term it is essential for organisations to give staff the tools and mindset to operate at the top of their game.

The "Talent Development Forum 2011: Growing Business Through Talent Development" on January 27 is sure to provide many valuable insights.

Jointly organised by Classified Post and Kornerstone, the event will offer business leaders and human resources professionals an array of alternative perspectives, case studies and possible models to help prepare their teams for challenges ahead.

Among the keynote speakers is NiQ Lai, chief financial officer and head of talent engagement at City Telecom (HK).

The Nasdaq-listed company has more than 3,000 full-time staff split between Hong Kong and Guangzhou and, over the past three years, was the only carrier to see its share of the local broadband market grow consistently, while also achieving good financial returns, Lai says.

"Others may think of us as a high-tech company, but our largest single expense is not fibre [optics] or marketing, but people," he adds. "We believe that talent is our greatest asset and our competitive advantage. Everything else you can copy, but our people allow us to compete in an industry dominated by large conglomerates and to overcome any balance-sheet limitations."

He explains that this success is built on approaching HR issues logically. The company is split into five regions, each run by a "mini CEO", who has full responsibility for everything from customer relationships to installation and even service termination in the designated zone.

The idea is to provide better service at every step, looking first at how the customer interacts with the company and then adapting accordingly in order to improve each internal process.

"Most companies are built horizontally and you find customers are handed from one department to another," Lai says. "The direction we are heading is to empower our people. But once you do that, they obviously need more skills and training."

Therefore, further education is seen as a priority and a long-term investment in the business. At present, more than 70 per cent of senior managers at City Telecom are studying for a higher qualification.

About 80 employees, who joined without a degree, are getting support to complete university courses.

Last year, a group of 70-plus managers went to Germany to get exposure to a different culture and new experiences.

They stayed in five-star hotels and campsites in the Black Forest, visited the Porsche factory, tasted wine in local vineyards and, in some cases, learned to ride bicycles.

"Perhaps the most insightful thing was visiting a 500-year-old farm where the owner was cutting down trees planted by his grandfather. His next task was to plant [saplings] which his grandson could harvest," Lai says. "It reminded us that you need a long-term view and a certain kind of mindset."

Emphasising that, the company's graduate development programme requires trainees to complete a half-marathon and read at least a book a month. The aim is to give broader experiential learning and the determination to get through good and bad times.

"A lot of things we do may not make sense in the short term," Lai says. "But our 10-year plan is to be the largest broadband provider in Hong Kong and, for that, you have to invest in people and be ready to let them shine."

Francis Mok, president of the Hong Kong Institute of Human Resource Management, echoes that sentiment. At the forum, he will lead a panel discussion on the profitability and sustainability of talent development and is keen for organisations to see that investment in training is one of the best guarantees of future growth.

"Capital and cash flow is important, but at the end of the day, no company is going to survive without the right people in the right place," he says.

"Not investing in talent management is like killing the goose that lays the golden eggs."

He adds that, with demographics and technology set to have an increasing impact on the supply and demand for talent, employers must be ready to rethink their organisational structures.


Date January 27

Time 2pm-5.30pm (registration starts 1.30pm)

Venue 15/F Hong Kong Club Building, Central

Language English

Fee Early bird HK$980 (by January 10), standard HK$1,380

Format 15-to-20-minute presentations by each speaker, to be followed by panel discussion


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