AS THE economy emerges from the recession, employees are reconsidering their career options in the face of more opportunities.

Organisations now face the challenge of engaging and retaining their employees, particularly the high performers.

What best employers do

In engaging employees and building a sustainable culture, organisations can learn from companies that have earned “Best Employer” status.

Hewitt’s Best Employers in Singapore 2009 Study shows that best employers focus on three key areas:

1. Building a culture that focuses on achievement and accountability

In the Best Employers’ current and desired culture, “achievement” and “accountability” are key elements.

They drive performance in employees through the following practices:  

  • Setting stretch goals and rewards for meetings these goals;
  • Holding managers accountable for driving high performance; and
  • Consistently benchmarking for improvement.

The Ritz-Carlton, Millenia Singapore (Best Employer 2009) drives achievement and accountability through its impact planning sessions. Work units decide on impact areas to focus on, plans are monitored on an online platform and managers are held accountable for the execution and results of these plans.

2. Creating organisation alignment and reducing entropy

Best employers define their culture and ensure that all elements of the organisation are aligned to it. Alignment is created through:

  • Involving employees in the creation and definition of the organisation’s culture and values;
  • Having leaders behave in line with the organisation’s core values;
  • Sharing success stories of how employees have benefited from the organisation’s delivery of its promises;
  • Equipping middle managers with skills to communicate and align employees to the organisation’s values;
  • Aligning people practices to the articulated culture; and
  • Assessing employees’ perception of organisation culture to ensure alignment.

The Singapore Prison Service (Best Employer 2009) wanted to move from being solely a custodian of inmates to helping them integrate back into society. This transformation required immense effort to shift several mindsets — employees were involved in the creation of the new vision and re-trained to play dual roles, leaders were developed in line with the core values, and rewards were given to reinforce the right behaviours.

3. Developing leaders that lead the way

Leaders in Best Employer organisations recognise that they need to lead the way in transforming organisational culture.

As Mr Gordon Cairns, chief executive officer (1997-2003) of Lion Nathan, aptly said: “For things to change in Lion Nathan, first I have to change.”

Best Employers CEOs focus on three key areas:

  • Providing a vision,
  • Employee engagement, and
  • Organisational values.

To lead the culture change in Lion Nathan (Best Employer ANZ), Mr Cairns first transformed himself from a perceived aggressive and low-affection leader to one who was seen as constructive and people-focused. He then worked closely with others to put change pillars in place for the organisation.

Creating a winning culture

There is no right or wrong culture. Understanding your current culture is the first step towards creating a winning one. Here are steps to help you kick-start the process:

  • Get ready — Understand your starting point. Understand the existing perceptions of the organisational culture and employees’ needs.
  • Get set — Focus on “sweet spots”. Understand the unique needs of your employee groups, focus on one to two areas, and execute them well.
  • Go — Garner stakeholder commitment. Encourage senior management to champion engagement and culture initiatives. Equip people managers with skills to execute effectively these initiatives, and build human resource capabilities to facilitate and drive positive changes.
Current versus desired organisation culture

During an engagement and culture seminar held by Hewitt Associates in April, a quick poll among 60 senior human resource executives and business leaders indicated a high level of entropy (that is, breakdown in structure) among Singapore organisations.

The most cited current value in Singapore corporate culture was “long hours”.

However, the Singapore corporate culture also valued excellence and accountability, which were common qualities embraced by best employers.

Vision was one value cited by participants that was critical for high performance.

Organisations may have acted with a short-term focus to overcome challenges during the earlier economic crisis.

Now is the time for them to re-energise their employees with compelling visions and strategies as they anticipate a brighter future.