The Greater China Talent Management Summit 2018

Reshaping Culture to Attract, Manage and Retain Millennials

By 2020, millennials will form half of the global workforce. As they enter companies and organisations in ever greater numbers, their presence will inevitably sculpt the workplace for years to come, according to a recent PwC Global report. Growing up in the digital era, millennials are competitive by nature and employers should prepare to reshape their company culture to embrace millennials' needs, growth and development as a talent management strategy.

The Greater China Talent Management Summit 2018, organised annually in July by, has been highly regarded by senior human resources professionals across the greater China region for more than a decade as a valuable platform for sharing insights as well as best practices, and is considered a highly effective event for talent management.

Under the topic - 'Attracting, Managing and Retaining the Millennial', the organiser invited ten top-tier HR and management experts across different business sectors to share and discuss how they and others are using different approaches to effectively embrace the younger generation.

Recruiting Millennials Based on Their Potential

The first speaker at the Summit, Dr. Aidan Goddard, council member of the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA), emphasised in his speech on ‘HR Leadership – Challenges and Opportunities’ that leaders should possess four key qualities. He said - “Leaders should have strong values which help build trust and guide team members to follow them. Moreover, they should be able to generate new ideas, which come from imagination and learning, to solve different kinds of problems. As the navigators of teams, they are also energetic and always maintain strong physical and mental fitness, plus the possession of courage to make decisions that involve different levels of risk when recruiting, choosing or assessing people.”

Dr. Goddard added that HR shouldn’t only eye on the track records or historical experiences during the recruitment of millennial generation. Instead they should be able to take risk to choose people based on their potential and commitment. He still remembers a young woman who had a bachelor’s degree from a mainland university and completed her master’s degree in Hong Kong, then applied for a post at his previous company. Though some of his colleagues preferred other candidates with a few years of work experience, he gave this young woman a job opportunity. He explained - “I liked her potential and energy. She seemed very honest, trustworthy and committed. I thought I could trust this person and she would be a company asset. Eventually she didn’t disappoint me and has become a key project manager in the company.

Design a Balanced Diet

There are many delicious fruits like strawberries, pineapples, kiwi, longans and others, but we need more than one variety to maintain a balanced diet. “Millennials have been labelled 'strawberry generation' because they’re sweet and tasty but easily bruised and over-protected by their parents,” said Eliza Ng, director of Human Resources at Fuji Xerox (Hong Kong) Limited. “By the same token, since many companies currently comprise more than one generation of employees, HR should know how to engage and leverage the strengths and potentials across different generations to create a win-win situation.”

Ng pointed out that, on top of rewards and career prospects, millennials prefer a challenging and interesting work culture. “At Fuji Xerox, different project-based task forces have been formed to develop a host of new business solutions to help unleash their creativity and passion.” She cited the example about an assignment of how some young staff members had planned a show and performed it at the opening ceremony of this year’s corporate annual dinner, under the guidance of a professional external performer. “It was a breakthrough moment because for years the ceremony had been hosted by top management personnel. This symbolises the passing of the baton and how the Group treasures this new generation of workers.”

Implementing Financial Wellness Programmes to Improve Productivity

“It’s an issue that more than 50% of people aged 18 to 29 feel quite stressful about money matters, according to our tracking reports from 2015 to 2018,”said David Kneebone, general manager of the Investor Education Centre (IEC). “The problem is not going away but rather increasing."

Kneebone pointed out that employees under financial pressure were likely to be distracted, sick or absent from work. One in four Hong Kong working adults reported that financial stress affected their work in terms of reduced ability to concentrate, making more mistakes, lower productivity and absenteeism. “For these reasons, employers should help their staff by providing financial wellness programmes at the workplace. It not only improves employees’ productivity, but also enhances organisational commitment and staff loyalty while also improving a corporate employer’s image.

He mentions that IEC has developed the Manage My Finance Programme in different formats for various company types in order to assist new workforce entrants on how to manage their finances better. “According to our evaluation, 29% of the employees who had participated in the Programme thought that their financial knowledge were enhanced, while those seeing the importance of proactively managing their MPF accounts increased from 47% to 75%. These figures prove the effectiveness of this financial wellness programme.”

Hiring Giggers to Bridge Talent Gaps

Portia Tang, director and head of Professional Resources Solutions at BDO Financial Services Limited, shared her insight about how millennials embrace gig economy. “The market demand for non-permanent, high quality, professional talents to satisfy short and medium term resource needs has been increasing." In view of the continuing growth of this employment trend, Tang has set up a new service line – Professional Resources Solutions (PRS), to help clients satisfy their professional resourcing and recruitment needs by bridging talent gaps during projects.

She added that employers can benefit from the gig economy by forming a more diversified workforce with different project experiences, backgrounds and perspectives to increase the dynamism of employees and promote innovation. Moreover, it can increase a company's agility and flexibility in terms of employment on demand. “Hiring giggers is a cost-saving approach as companies are not required to pay orientation and benefits costs,” said she. “It also helps employers lower their fixed costs such as office rental, while allowing companies to be more resilient during turbulent economic and business periods. The overall cost efficiency of hiring giggers will increase on a ‘value-for-money’ basis. They are able to pay workers based on the current market price, and not be subjected to expectations of consistent salary increments from permanent and long-service employees.”

Accommodate Millennials' Sense of Purpose and their Need to Grow

Many millennial employees work not only for money, but also want to find meaningful purposes in their work. “That’s why Octopus aims to engage them by designing a simple and direct vision and mission - to make Hong Kong a cashless society and make people’ lives easier by means of innovative payment technology,” noted Ivy Leung, head of human resources and administration of Octopus Holdings Limited.

Communications is one of the most important factors to attract young talents. “This year we have revamped the entire performance appraisal system to cope with ever changing business environment,” added Leung. “Moreover, we have adopted a communication matrix to minimise gaps while also emphasising the importance of providing honest feedback to our colleagues.”

At Octopus there are many learning and growth opportunities for staff. Leung said that all colleagues are encouraged to share their new ideas with senior management via the ‘Impactful Innovation’ awards. She cited one winning proposal by a staff member that focused on the use of an Octopus card to give donations at the Wong Tai Sin temple.

“Millennials are self-centred, so are we.” said Leung. “We have unveiled the ‘My Say’ survey and focus group sessions to listen to their voices.” Based on findings of the focus groups, Octopus has initiated casual wear days throughout the week. “Some people think that having casual dress is all about comfort and being more relaxed. In fact, uniforms or costumes represent the hierarchy. So, breaking down the hierarchy can help engage millennials and nurture workplace harmony.”

Building a Thriving Workforce is the Key

“Building a thriving workforce will help ensure that employees are committed to their work and are motivated by career aspirations and personal wellbeing to function to their full potential,” said Robert Li, career business leader of Mercer (Hong Kong). “To attract millennials who want to thrive, HR should focus more on employee wellbeing, flexibility and carefully matching skill supply with the work demand.”

Li explained that total rewards nowadays should be more interactive, comprehensive and meaningful. “What concerns millennials is not just salary, the incentive bonus or benefits. It’s all about how to create an employee experience so that staff are motivated to stay and provide their best performance.” Moreover, HR should build an emotional links among young colleagues and tie them to corporate missions and purposes.

He also said that young employees expect more flexible arrangements, including work hours, workplace environment and other factors. In addition, the emergence of artificial intelligence (AI) and automation will eliminate some job positions but also re-deploying and re-designing other work roles at a much faster pace. “HR should embrace the big change, address new skill set requirements and tie them to future business development.” With this in mind, he encouraged organisations to leverage employee engagement surveys such as 'Thrive 45', designed by Mercer, to diagnose and increase visibility about workforce strengths and weaknesses as well as to understand the current needs and motivators of staff.

Close the Gap Between Millennials and Non-millennials

“Happy employees bring happy customers,” said Amy Chai, executive director - Customer Experience Lead at Ipsos. “Insights from our studies suggest employee satisfaction, engagement and experience in the workplace have a direct impact on how they serve customers.”

However, people-management problems may arise due to a disconnect between millennials and other generations who often stereotype young workers as less stable and committed, more emotional and lacking any long-term career goals. On the other hand, millennials believe that loyalty is not a one-way street, instead employers have to earn their loyalty. In addition, many corporate management personnel feel proud to provide opportunities and a future for their staff. However, this future may not be irrelevant in today’s context of upward social mobility among millennials.

Based on an Ipsos study done in 2018, the difference between the leadership styles that millennials want and the approaches currently used is significant. Millennials prefer their leaders to be 'affiliative’, 'democratic’ and 'coaching’, but definitely not 'commanding’ and 'pacesetting’. On the other hand, 'commanding’ and 'coaching’ are the commonly adopted leadership styles today. “Closing the leadership styles gap can help better adapt a company to the needs of millennials,” concluded Chai. “They need to be engaged via the heart not the mind.”

Increase Work Flexibility and People Skills to Accommodate New Trends

In the interactive session - ‘Forum on Millennials: The Changing Landscape of Talent Management’ with Angela Lee, founder and director of AL Consulting serving as moderator, Wilson Lam, head of human resources and external affairs at Breakthrough, and Carol Wong, corporate director – HR for the Café de Coral Group spoke as panelists to share their experiences about embracing new employment trends.

While many young people prefer flexible part-time work instead of full time jobs in the fast food industry, Wong admitted that this brings about difficulties for HR to manage a big group of part-time staff. “It’s necessary to segment the job roles shared among different colleagues, and make even the part-time jobs less routine and repetitive. We need to create an interesting and more enjoyable work experience for the new generation."

Breakthrough, a well-known NGO, is different from other business enterprises as it comprises more than a hundred staff plus thousands of volunteers. “I believe our organisation shares the same vision and purposes that connect with the people who work with us,” said Lam. “Many young people enjoy being worked as ‘slash’ or ‘freelancer’. Therefore, we at Breakthrough have designed the role of ‘associate fellow’, which is ‘service provider’ in legal terms, for some of jobs we do. These associate fellows are allowed to work wherever and whenever they want. This builds a flexible workforce to help unleash their energy and imagination.”

Talking about the must-have qualities that the younger generation should possess, Lam emphasised the importance of people skills. “As millennials used to acquire information and knowledge via Facebook, Youtube and other social media platforms instead of human interactions, they should learn and know how to negotiate, collaborate, provide people-oriented service, or do things with a team work spirit.”

Wong believed that today's young workforce should be able to serve as a window, connecting the organisation with the ever-changing outside world. “We treasure those colleagues who can generate new ideas to accommodate the latest trends, and be patient in making changes.”

Lee summed up the people qualities needed to embrace future demand and challenges from a holistic standpoint – ACE, which stands for agility and adaptation; communication and collaboration; emotional intelligence and entrepreneurship. All of these qualities apply not only to millennials but also other generations.

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