Employees are people. This sounds simplistic, but companies often lose sight of the fundamentals as an organisation grows bigger. People matter over all else, and we need to constantly draw back to the basics of truly understanding employees’ motivations and value systems.

Particularly in developing markets where there is a substantial lack of skilled and experienced local talents, employees from multinational companies are courted by competitors with promotions and higher pay packages. Job-hopping is prevalent and a serious concern in Asia.

We can retain talent if we are tapped into the needs and desires of employees.

Asian employee insights

So, what do employees in Asia want? Key employee insights we have gained in Asia through external research and internal employee focus groups reveal:

* Meeting the needs of Gen Y is only one part of the solution. Gen Y-ers make the pipeline of future leaders, but Gen X-ers are still the leaders of today. Companies’ HR programmes in Asia need to straddle the generational divide and meet the motivations of both.

* Meaningful work, pride in the company and confidence in the company’s leadership are key drivers of retention. However, fair compensation still has an indirect impact on retention.

* Work-life effectiveness is important. Companies need to recognise that the demands of competition and globalisation means work-life balance in Asia can be elusive, and should instead help employees be effective in their work and personal lives.

* Employees don’t leave the company – they leave their bosses. Employees may cite a better package as a reason for leaving, but it is almost never the trigger for departure.

However, even if companies are able to translate these insights effectively into good talent programmes, these alone do not determine success. At P&G, these insights have been incorporated into what is called the Employee Value Proposition (EVP).

A matter of giving and getting

Firstly, companies now have to adopt a "get and give" approach to employees, to balance between what an employee receives (get) from the company in return for performance on the job (give).

Many companies set clear expectations on what they expect from employees on the job, but few articulate clearly what they provide to employees beyond salary packages. In the current Asia context, pegging the "give" to remuneration is a losing battle as some other company will always bid higher than you. But if companies give employees reasons to stay, half the battle is won.

We set out specific promises to employees on the work environment and culture that will be created for them, based on drivers of employee satisfaction identified through research. This holistic programme addresses multiple touch-points in an employee’s working life, including pride in the company, meaningful work and career, healthy relationships with managers, competitive and fair packages, work-life effectiveness and learning and development

Execution as a strategy

Secondly, execution is a strategy. Robust tools and programmes must be put in place to ensure that the organisation does not make empty promises.

For example, to ensure employees foster healthy relationships with their managers, companies should consider leveraging top management staff as mentors to best talents to help them grow in the company.

Work review and goal-setting plans are a must to give employees a forum where they are openly encouraged to discuss feedback and their career goals and aspirations with their managers. These also set expectations on how employees’ work performance will be evaluated in the coming year. In the area of Work-Life Effectiveness, companies in Asia can help employees achieve this through flexible work arrangements for employees, such as designated "Work from Home" days, reduced work schedules and job sharing or giving employees budget to set up home offices.

On the individual level, there are programmes available to help employees to improve effectiveness in both work and personal lives. For example, our employees undergo a Corporate Athlete programme where they learn how to manage their energy levels holistically through the use and knowledge of performance psychology, exercise physiology and nutrition.

For Asia and global organisations, a blend of global, regional and local tools need to be used. Particularly with global organisations, care must be taken to build towards a global employee culture and language, as it helps employees to adapt when sent for overseas assignments.

Measurement tools

Thirdly, measurement metrics are essential to ensure that the company meets its promises.

Annual employee surveys are key measurement tools. We seek employee feedback on an Asia level on all aspects of the EVP to evaluate how better to improve our programme for the next year. This includes asking employees to rate their relationships with their manager, if they have a mentor in the company, and if they have energy for the things they enjoy after they leave work for the day.

Individual markets also create scorecards and targets to set and measure progress.

Top-down approach

Lastly, active involvement and endorsement from the organisation’s leadership is critical. In many companies, talent development and planning is relegated to the HR department with occasional reporting to senior management.

Leaders need to take active ownership of talent development in collaboration with their HR departments, from driving the strategic planning process, to regular reviews, and demonstrating to employees the importance of people to the leadership team.

Does this approach really work? Among 20,000 employees in Asia, the attrition rate in P&G has dropped by more than 20 per cent in the past three years.

Go on, make a promise. With the right follow-through, you will find that your employees will reciprocate with outstanding job performance and loyalty.

Leaders need to take active ownership of talent development in collaboration with their HR departments, from driving the strategic planning process, to regular reviews, and demonstrating to employees the importance of people to the leadership team.