By Pichaya Changsorn
Published on March 3, 2010
"Take risks with yourself; the company has to take risks with you as well," the chief executive of Standard Chartered Bank (Thai), Mark Devadason, told human-resources professionals when discussing talent management at a Bangkok conference last week. While individuals are able to develop their individual strengths, Devadason said it was also important for people to accept challenges outside their comfort zones.
Taking his own case, StanChart's chief executive said he began as a management trainee at the British bank 25 years ago and was working in business functions when one day he criticised the way the bank was training its staff. The manager for global wholesale banking was there, listening to Devadason's complaints.
"He told me: 'you become the head of training on Monday morning'," Devadason said, recalling his first assignment in human resources.
He was speaking at a forum for chief executives on the topic "Talent: CEO & HR agendas". It was part of the Asia-Pacific HR Congress 2010 in Bangkok.
Devadason said that for a large organisation like StanChart, talent development had to assume more dimensions than simply developing a selected pool of talent. Efforts had to be made to "multiply the leaders" across the entire organisation. The British bank is now operating in 70 countries and employs 75,000 people. Its staff numbers have tripled over the past seven or eight years, he said.
Staff training in the past had been very much about fixing gaps in competencies. Now, efforts had shifted from tackling the weaknesses to developing the strengths of each person. StanChart works with the management consultancy wing of the Gallup organisation to help its banking staff "play to their full strength", as well as conducting regular surveys to track its progress on core business issues such as staff development and customer services, he said.
Devadason said one thing he had found from experience gained while working in Asia for many years was that the hierarchies in organisations were too extensive, and regardless of whether they involved seniority, age or gender issues, these things completely affected productivity.
"Leadership commitment" plays a crucial role at StanChart, where every manager is committed to communicating one-on-one with each member of his staff at least once a month, and the approach has been cascaded to lower-level executives.
On skill-based training, StanChart has developed an "e-learning culture", which allows staff members to learn any subject of their choice, free of charge. This helps to free the HR department of unnecessary workloads, he said.
According to a Gallup survey, StanChart's Thai unit is now ranked in the global group's top-three, in terms of engagement and being a "great place to work". Achieving a 72-per-cent score, it has improved three-fold in the course of just one year, Devadason said.
PTT Chemical's president and chief executive Veerasak Kosipaisal told the seminar that the company had been strengthening its talent-management efforts to ensure the company was prepared for future challenges. These included a diversified workforce pool with a succession gap, the cyclical and dynamic nature of petrochemical businesses and the fact that PTT Chemical had to diversify quickly, to grow in areas where it had little previous experience.
"We call the mission: 'go to the moon'," he said.
A talented member of staff at PTT Chemical has to meet both high potential and high performance criteria. While high-performance scores are evaluated according to performance, results and functional competencies, among other things, the high potential criterion is judged according to more subjective qualities like leadership style and ability to handle greater responsibility.
At PTT Chemical, the talent process begins when a selection committee submits a list of talent to top management. Then the firm's expectations are spelled out to the chosen group.
"Don't be shy about telling them they've been spotlighted," Veerasak said.
When asked whether the firm was afraid of a "crown-prince syndrome" developing when it selected its talent, Veerasak admitted that the issue was a very sensitive one. PTT Chemical "privately informed" each talented staff member without telling the rest of the staff who had been selected.
An individual-development plan is laid down for each talented staff member. After this, an assessment is made by both sides [the firm and the talent] on his or her performance and leadership competencies. The final process of the one-year "talent life cycle" is rewarding the talent, Veerasak said.
"Of course, salary treatment is different [for talented staff], because they're the company's future. They can move fast, but they have to work very hard," he said, adding that sometimes in a fast-track programme talented staff were given assignments in areas they didn't like.
Because of its tough criteria, PTT Chemical identifies only 5 to 10 per cent of its workforce as talented staff, although it would like to see the number rise to between 10 and 15 per cent, Veerasak said.
According to a development module PTT Chemical has created with Thammasat University, talented staff members undergo workshop training in which they cover subjects such as strategic engagement, strategic thinking, criteria for good leaders, how to manage people's performances and qualifications of global managers, such as ability to understand different cultures and work in different locations.