Priya Sunil explores how HR leaders across industries are incorporating targeted approaches such as mentoring, coaching and cross-collaboration projects to develop the leadership capabilities of their future leaders.

To read each individual case-study featured here, click: Tenaga Nasional Berhad, Selangor Dredging Berhad, T-Systems MalaysiaConspec Builders, Shopee, and Ingram Micro Asia.

This page will be updated once all case-studies are published.

If you’re a kid at heart, you would be familiar with the Kung Fu Panda movie series. Po, the beloved protagonist, is your average panda with big dreams.

He is faced with the opportunity of a lifetime when he is chosen to fulfil an ancient prophecy and defend the Valley of Peace from Tai Lung (the villainous snow leopard).

He is taken under the wings of Master Shifu, who patiently trains and mentors him to transform him from a self-doubting, clumsy individual to a confident and sure-footed kung fu master who leads his team of pandas to victory.

There is a lot about leadership development in the workplace that can be derived from this – just like it took Po years of practice and on-the- job learning to become Master Po, it can take years of professional development, experience and commitment to develop individuals into successful leaders.

What’s key is that Po never gave up despite countless setbacks, and neither did Master Shifu. Similarly, when the HR team constantly provides support to the growth of the leadership pipeline through structured programmes and consistent encouragement, through all hiccups, its efforts come to fruition when these leaders become well-groomed enough to take on new challenges and take the team to greater heights.

In this feature, we explore the avenues Tenaga Nasional Berhad, T-Systems Malaysia, Selangor Dredging Berhad, and Conspec Builders (M) adopt in developing the leadership capabilities of their future leaders.

Reimagining the next generation of leaders



At electricity utility company Tenaga Nasional Berhad (TNB), the leadership development team’s main strategy involves building its leadership capabilities to achieve the organisation’s 10-year strategic plan, Reimagining TNB. This plan was introduced in 2015 and is anchored by measures that aim to place the organisation among the top 10 global utility companies by 2025.

There are three levels of implementation in these strategies. First, there is the Leadership Development Centre (LDC), which designs new experiential programmes to coach and mentor employees at all levels. According to Mohd Najib Mohammad, General Manager at the LDC, the key design principle of these programmes is based on the organisation’s leadership competencies of “future”, “engage” and "deliver".

The Thrust Leadership Programme participants (managing directors and delta leaders) play a major role in TNB which reached more than RM50 billion in revenue in 2018.
One of the key signature programmes carried out is coaching and mentoring, which covers functional coaching, executive coaching, leadership coaching and life coaching. These are carried out either in specific teams or in the form of individual coaching programmes for managing directors, delta leaders, top talent and senior leaders.

Other key signature programmes are also available for these leaders, newly appointed general managers, newly appointed senior managers and all employees.

Second, TNB has the Centre of Expertise People Development (COE PD) which focuses on soft and leadership skills for all staff.

Last, its Generation Academy develops functional and leadership skills for specific business operations. So far, 2,486 leadership training hours were recorded in the financial year of 2018, involving 6,026 employees on the executive level. A total of 37 participants successfully completed as cohort one, Najib adds.

TNB has seen a number of leaders grow to contribute effectively through these implementations. For instance, Najib says: "The Thrust Leadership Programme participants (managing directors and delta leaders) play a major role in TNB which reached more than RM50 billion in revenue in 2018. Further, four of our MBA alumni have been entrusted to be managing directors of subsidiaries and three of them have been selected to be delta leaders."

Additionally, the Generation Academy has, to date, produced 215 subject matter experts, who play a major role in TNB’s division transformation programme which has accumulated savings of RM1.82 billion since FY 2014.

Making mini-leaders of every employee



Over at digital service provider T-Systems Malaysia, the HR team takes a holistic and comprehensive approach to leadership development. To this effect, it works hand-in-hand with its subsidiaries in other countries, says T-Systems’ Vaclav Koranda, Vice President of Human Resources, in order to add an international dimension, leverage ideas and resources, and foster a global leadership culture in the organisation.

After being equipped with such resources, the other part of it is to address the business need for leadership development, that is, the increasing level of digitisation and automation which creates pressure on the overall maturity of the organisation, especially leadership.

To achieve this mission, T-Systems is about to embark on a revamped programme, wherein it will leverage its internal resources from different locations and countries.

Keeping the in-house resources in focus, the team expects to keep the engagement of external providers at a minimum. Thus, with the initial investment being quite small, great gains and ROI are expected.

Koranda and his team truly believe in the power of leadership. "I firmly believe that the most important success factor is quality of leadership at the lowest level of the organisation – and even on the employee level," he explains.

If it's only the top leaders that pull the company ahead, it will be like a single horse pulling a heavy truck. It will be very hard to succeed.
"However, if all employees behave like mini-leaders in their respective areas, imagine the power that will drive the company forward!"

Championing a performance-driven culture



A performance-driven culture, an equal opportunity policy, a constant learning environment and an active wellbeing programme inclusive of flexible work hours – these four elements are foundational for providing clarity and support to employees at property developer Selangor Dredging Berhad (SDB).

With these in place, talent management at SDB includes the following three-step process: identifying staff with high potential; identifying candidates for positions to support the succession plan; and planning and monitoring them in their yearly development goals.

"We are committed to investing in our people’s success, for their benefit and our business," says Francesca Mah, Head of Human Resources at SDB. This commitment shines through a series of programmes developed in the past few years, which includes a focus on coaching, design-thinking, cross-collaboration projects, and more.

Under the umbrella of coaching, external experts are brought in for individual coaching for heads of departments (HODs), while in-house training and coaching are undertaken for managing performance using measurable results. These are supplemented by developing the coaching skills of participants through on-the-job coaching, which in turn, helps to grow their own potential talent.

On the experience of working with an external coach, Mah cites that each coach would meet their appointed HOD individually on a monthly basis while providing off-site support as and when required.

She shares:

We find that individual coaching helps during the initial months and develops them towards being able to think through issues on their own to solve them.
"Eventually, the coach was phased off after about a year."

In addition to the coaching programme, SDB also encourages the participation of selected talent in design thinking projects; as well as exposing participants to cross-collaboration projects to broaden their knowledge.

So how well have these been working? "Of course, some programmes work better than others. However, in general, there was improvement noted for every programme we ran," she reveals. Since the talent management programme started in 2016, a total of 34% of the talent who were promoted, and 80% of the team manager and above positions, have been filled by the pipeline talent emerging from the succession planning initiative.

Approaching transformation from the top



Conspec Builders (M) sees leadership development as an imperative step for growing businesses to achieve more. With this in mind, the landscape contractor has adopted a transformational leadership approach to developing its leaders. According to its Human Resources Manager, Charlene Teo, this is the most appropriate approach, as she believes "leadership is 'caught', as well as taught".

The approach starts from the top, where directors are expected to keep learning and growing through mentoring sessions. To supplement this, feedback channels are available for these top-level leaders (directors, managers, assistant managers) to mentor employees and build close ties with leaders of the other levels.

Each leader on these levels is mentored fortnightly – consultants mentor the directors, and the directors then mentor the managers and assistant managers. More importantly, "a big part of each director’s and manager’s key performance indicators (KPIs) would be on 'mentee' development", explains Teo.

Apart from that, leadership training workshops are also organised once a month for these leaders, and senior executives are given a set of challenges in order to be promoted to the assistant manager levels. In addition, new leaders are recruited annually and trained on an ongoing basis, integrating both soft skills and hands-on-the-job training in daily situations.

A big part of each director's and manager's key performance indicators (KPIs) would be on 'mentee' development.
The core of leadership development at Conspec Builders spreads across five processes.

Potential leaders are selected through twice-annual KPI appraisals and weighed against a soft-skill appraisal that identifies culture fit. Once these leaders are identified, leadership values are instilled in them through monthly workshop-based learning conducted in-house.

Further, fortnightly mentoring sessions focus on three crucial “Fs” – family, fitness and finance – to reiterate the importance of these factors towards personal stability and growth.

Each potential leader and manager needs to work with their mentor to co-create their own KPIs and targets each year, including activities that are measurable and deliverable within a set time frame of less than one year.

The organisation also hosts a compulsory leadership retreat for all managers annually, as a platform for managers to brainstorm goals and create a timeline to achieve these goals.

When it comes to executive education, leaders are given opportunities to participate in networking and technical trainings in software and construction technologies, conducted by home-grown leaders. However, the team has got some complaints that training outside may not be as relevant as in-house designed syllabuses. Thus, directors and managers are advised to arm themselves with the latest market trends, curate and apply with relevance.

"Don’t get me wrong – we are always open to people going out to learn new things, but effectiveness happens when we make concepts applicable to our people. An added bonus would be the home-grown trainer (from among us) will be extremely familiar with the material, and know the teaching material inside-out," Teo says.

All of these interventions have proven fruitful to the team. "In 2015, we hired a business consultant to transform the business, and the first action we took was to do identify potential managers and implement proper HR policies with the aim to recruit, retain and grow the right people."

Since then, the organisation has promoted six managers, one assistant manager, and currently has nine senior executives in leadership training – all of whom were promoted based on both high performance and a good culture fit.

The company’s revenue has increased 30% year-on-year, with a profit increase of 8% and a staff retention rate of 95%. "This is exciting, since we only have 40 employees. We have won a few industry-recognised awards and HR awards that attest to our success."

Aptly summing up our conversation on the leadership development journey, she says: "Overall, it’s quite an uphill task! Of course, I know people may one day leave us, but our philosophy is that we must let them leave as better people than when they first came. Building this 'leadership infrastructure' is expensive, but necessary – or we may stagnate as we fail to grow and innovate."

Looking ahead, what's on their agenda? Browse the gallery below:

[gallery link="file" ids="122774,122775,122772,122773"]

This feature appeared in the Q2 edition of Human Resources magazine (Malaysia) and June-July edition of Human Resources magaine (Singapore). Read it in the special Learning & Development editions out now!

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Photos / provided