How to develop a talent recognition system for 5,000 staff in Hong Kong and China

Author: Liana Cafolla | Date: 9 Nov 2016

Classified Post HR Conference 2016: How Hang Lung Properties tackled a huge talent challenge

Developing effective talent recognition and training systems for any organisation can be a challenge. But imagine doing so for one that has expanded from 2,000 staff to 5,000 since 2011 and operates throughout Hong Kong and China.
This is exactly what Bella Chhoa, assistant director for corporate affairs at commercial property developer Hang Lung Properties, has achieved – and at the Classified Post HR Conference, she explained how she did it.
Chhoa oversees the organisation’s HR, legal and secretarial matters. And that means she is well-versed in how to translate initiatives that began life in the Hong Kong head office to the far larger and more diverse micro-cultures that exist in Chinese cities.
Chhoa says the organisation tries to push whatever programmes and strategies it is using in Hong Kong into China as soon as possible, but the process is not simple. Transposing the benefits packages used in Hong Kong and expecting them to appeal across the water, for example, was not a feasible option. Instead, Chhoa focused first on carrying out in-depth reviews of HR trends and developments in each of the cities where the company operates, then making alignments and adjustments that took into consideration the actual situation in each part of the country.
The difference in language made communication – a key means of assessing the concerns in different cities – very difficult. Chhoa met the challenge through teamwork. “The dialects and accents are challenging,” she said. “You need to build a strong team and delegate.”
Another challenge was the lack of transparency in company culture between Hong Kong and China. In China’s tier two and tier three cities, she explained, managers frequently claim that they have been approached by competitors offering pay rises of 50 per cent and asking HR to match the offer. “They’ll return to say that every year,” she said.
Building trust with employees is essential in a culture where rumours and gossip are rife. The answer is to build fairness, openness and transparency into your system, she said.
“People can say one thing to you, and something else behind your back. We do receive a lot of anonymous letters. Everybody is talking about transparency. If you build a system of transparency, then they will think twice before they gossip.” A strong whistleblowing system is also essential, she adds.
One difference that made her task easier is that employees in China are amenable to moving to different cities to work. “It’s like the US in this respect,” she said.
It was clear there was a need for a strong learning and development strategy. Many Chinese employees are very smart, said Chhoa, but they need a lot of training. She put in place a revamped programme that meets the needs of employees at all levels, and that aims to build a culture of continuous improvement and learning, which employees greatly appreciate. The company’s training hours reached more than 86,000 in 2015 and she expects them to top 100,000 this year.