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Creating ‘home-made’ talent



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“If necessity is the mother of invention, perhaps ownership is the father,” says Caroline Lim, global head of HR and corporate affairs at PSA International, who explains the motivation behind their own L&D programmes. 

I have long believed learning and development is the key to talent management. This is rooted in the fact that learning organisations can better harness their people potential.

Moreover, by helping others to learn, we ourselves learn and perpetuate a cycle of learning.

At PSA, we have tried to ensure the group HR function is fully involved in designing, developing and facilitating signature in-house programmes for organisation and leadership effectiveness.

If necessity is the mother of invention, perhaps ownership is the father. The motivation for producing our own learning programmes was sparked by our culture-change mission.

When I joined PSA in 2003, there was a strategic need to build on a strong corporate culture of discipline and dedication stemming from a statutory board legacy; to raise trust and empowerment and increase engagement, especially among younger staff, as the company transformed into a global MNC.

The change process needed to be gently and gradually introduced in the early years. Any culture-change programmes had to be tailored specifically to meet our needs. So I thought, what’s stopping us from doing it ourselves?

For best acceptance and to be fit-for-purpose, the solution was to develop and run in-house programmes. Additional advantages included avoiding the major expense from hiring external consultants and we also wanted to ensure it would be something we could sustain internally.

Fortunately, I had used a very simple, but effective initiative based on “Fish!”, which was a philosophy from my previous company which was used for leadership culture building.

Based on that experience, I could point my group HR team at PSA in the right direction to select ready made training content from the market. However, the bulk of the programme content was “homemade”.

To put our own “Fish!” programmes together, we incorporated PSA stories, experiential learning activities and participant takeaways (prizes, flashcards, certificates). I told the

first “Fish!” story to a pilot group of 100 corporate headquarters employees myself.

Success was sweet. The corporate employee opinion poll showed a 30% increase in employee satisfaction a year after launching this programme at the corporate centre. My team was greatly encouraged.

With a clear mandate, the “Fish!” introductory programme was repeated at several PSA locations in different countries over the years, cascading the desired workplace philosophy. I always emphasised new behaviour had to result after the programme; what mattered was sustaining the change from day to day.

Little did we expect how demand would grow. It became necessary to develop a “Fish!” train-the-trainer programme which we ran with our local HR teams and change agents.

The baton was passed so they could accelerate the cultural cascade to their employees.

In 2009, we produced our own “LeaderFish! programme” for PSA senior leaders. It led to a tipping point in our culture change efforts which gathered momentum and became a global movement within the organisation.

Over the past 12 months, we have further leveraged our experience to produce coaching programmes and a global recruitment best-practices workshop in response to key organisational priorities. Feedback has been highly positive. Over time and with concerted efforts, the company has gained a signature suite of in-house learning programmes with depth, sophistication and a recognised brand.

Not only is the approach of “doing it ourselves” of maximum organisational value and cost-effective in implementation, the process of facilitating the learning programmes in each PSA location has enabled HR to build trust with the local management teams and yielded strategic benefits.

Now, looking back on the trials, tribulations and triumphs we faced, and the growth and learning of the team along the way, I can attest the journey was indeed the reward.

Here are some tips for HR practitioners who aspire to develop their own learning programmes:

• Attend train-the-trainer programmes from external trainers to jump-start the process.

• Incubate your trial programmes with your own HR team and listen to the feedback for areas to improve.

• Soft-launch the programmes with a handpicked pilot group outside of HR, who are positive and open-minded learners willing to provide an honest evaluation. Fine-tune your programmes with their help and formally launch the programmes thereafter.

• Keep experimenting with new ideas, multimedia, content, tools and activities. You never know where your next gem may come from.

• Have templates, checklists and replicable models so your programmes are easy to cascade.

• In a global cascade for your organisation, focus on train-the-trainer modules (also produced in-house) so you can pass the baton to the HR teams of each business unit. The objective is to “teach them to fish” for sustainability.

• Know who your in-house subject matter experts are and tap into their knowledge and presence. In the case of PSA, I had accumulated years of HR and cultural transformation experience from previous experience, so I was able to steer the design and development of the learning programmes and facilitate senior leader participants worldwide.

• For the best traction, run your programmes commencing from the senior leadership team and cascading down the line. The pace of learning and change is accelerated in the organisation when leaders buy in.

• Rope in your top leadership to lend weight.

In the case of PSA, we have been fortunate to have a very supportive group chairman, Fock Siew Wah, and group CEO, Tan Chong Meng. They have attended our learning programmes to share personal leadership insights of great value and their presence has signalled commitment and sponsorship and provided a feel-good factor to participants.

I quote Claudio Fernández-Aráoz, author of Great People Decisions, senior adviser to Egon Zehnder and a member of its global executive committee: “It’s useful to involve company leaders as teachers in both formal programmes and informal conversations and as networking resources. High potentials need visibility with senior executives, as well as role models of leadership. When the CEO spends time, it shows how important he thinks it is.”



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