'Winning with people' touted as the key to sound HR development

Economy May 02, 2014 00:00

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Nardrerdee Arj-Harnwongse, vice president for human resources at Unilever Thai Holdings, talked about her firm's talent and organisation readiness (T&O) programme that helped the consumer-goods giant become the first Thai company to win the Asian Human C

What are the objectives and key elements of your talent and organisation readiness programme?
The programme was introduced when I joined Unilever in 2010. 
Then, the company set a goal to double its sales within 10 years. T&O came in at exactly the right time. 
We used it to recheck our organisation’s health, beginning with a fact-finding survey to gather information, quantitatively and qualitatively, to find what our problems were and create action plans from that. Completed in only three months, the survey included one-on-one interviews with our 30 executives. 
The T&O programme focuses on four key areas. First, finding and retaining the right talent. Second, developing and equipping them with the proper skill sets. 
Third, designing the company’s systems and structure that will allow us to become a customer-centric and lean organisation. 
And fourth, building a performance culture that enables everyone to work and collaborate together and be part of the “unbeatable”  team who wins the competition.
What led it to win the Asian Human Capital Awards last November?
I was surprised. There were as many as 80 companies nominated. 
We are the first Thai company to be honoured with this award that is sponsored by the Singapore Ministry of Manpower. 
The judges flew in to interview our executives and staff. The main criterion is to recognise the HR practices that make a big impact on business. We initiated the T&O in 2010 and received the award in 2013. 
The judges chose us as the winner of the award based on many achievements including our transition from no recognition to become the No 1 employer of choice, the reduction of our attrition rate, our rising engagement scores, and our accelerated leadership development programme. We have also been able to move smoothly into a new organisational blueprint that reduces complexity, without having to lay off staff.  
We have continued to invest in our brands and people. We have improved productivity, while continuing to return maximum benefits to our staff. We don’t cut staff remuneration to improve productivity.
Isn’t organisational restructuring or redesign now going out of fashion?
It may not sound so sexy, but it’s extremely important, because it is the backbone of how you work … such as how many management layers you have. No one else knows what is the right structure for you. No consultant can help.
Now we’re moving into T&O 2.0, where there will be a change in “the way of working” of our sales staff. The objective is to enhance customer service and enabling us to manage our sales channels better.
Isn’t it a challenge to build a performance culture in Thai organisations? What are your strategies and tactics to make that happen?
Most people have said it is a challenge in Thai culture. First, you have to design systems to enable a performance culture. 
The most important thing is to equip line managers with the right skills and competency to coach and supervise their staff, allowing them to be “the best they can be”. In designing the systems, you should try to be objective, eliminating emotions and bias. 
To make everyone meet expectations and become the best performer is not easy. Line managers and supervisors must be able to tailor their approaches to each of their subordinates, taking into account his or her unique potential. We have provided training courses to equip our managers and supervisors with necessary skills such as on how to deliver positive feedback, how to handle difficult conversations, etc. 
We have also initiated a “People Manager’s Day” as a platform to remind our managers that they are not only managing their businesses and the task of managing their subordinates belongs to them, not only the HR division.
What are the practical techniques you employ to drive staff engagement?
Engaged staff are happy people at work. This is something you can feel. Take your engagement survey to see what matters to them. What is making them unhappy? This includes their work/life balance. Each generation has difference requirements. We help them on the parts that fit to their life cycles. In relation to this, we organise “People Weeks” with different activities at our various sites, tailoring the programmes to the different audiences.
What are your current HR priorities?
In our business, we will be winning through our brands and breakthrough innovations. We will also be winning with our people. 
The challenge is how to attract, retain and develop our talent, allowing them to grow with or even ahead of the growth of the company. 
We have followed the 70/20/10 learning and  development model, with 70 per cent of learning time allocated to on-the-job training, 20 per cent to coaching and mentoring, and the rest to physical and virtual classroom training.