Property / Construction

All under the same roof

by Wattie Lo

Christine Cheung
senior vice president, corporate services, Asia
AECOM Technology Corporation
Photo: Edde Ngan

Design and professional services multinational steps up employee communication to build one integrated team

A healthy company culture often comprises a set of values that define how things are done and what are important to the company, its staff and stakeholders. The secret to successfully upholding such values lies in a high level of consistency in employee communications, which is particularly essential to managing a culturally diverse workforce in a time of change.

AECOM Technology Corporation, an international provider of professional technical and management solutions in such areas as architecture, building engineering, urban and environmental planning, economic consulting, energy management, and a multitude of engineering services, used to operate under different brands with business units peppered across the globe.

"It makes sense to consolidate all these separate operating companies under one brand," says Christine Cheung, senior vice president, corporate services, Asia, AECOM Technology Corporation.

The company kicked off a series of global restructuring and rebranding campaigns two years ago. One key challenge was to get its staff to anticipate and subsequently drive changes. "Our 45,000 employees hail from varied cultural and educational backgrounds," notes Ms Cheung, who currently oversees the overall well-being of some 4,300 employees across Asia. "To maintain an integrated workforce, we must keep all our employees in the loop of our activities but first thing first, we need to communicate the company's identity to all our staff in a clear and concise manner so as to steer clear of any ambiguities and to achieve optimal staff alignment and engagement."

Delicate matters

Employee communication can make or break a relation and any such endeavours could be tantalising in times of change so Ms Cheung emphasises that a company must tip the balance by observing utmost care, taking into consideration the individuals' job nature and levels of seniority and, more important now than ever, their access to information.

"The right choice of communication channels allows us to tap our employees' true sentiments over a myriad of key issues," she remarks.

The company's approach is to "divide and conquer"—setting up different channels and assigning a dedicated team of change agents that comprises senior business leaders tasked with collecting and cascading key corporate messages.

The range of communication channels and tools encompasses the company's long-running Town Hall meetings, staff newsletters and traditional internal circulars. These are complemented by a series of staff survey, as well as an online forum "CEO Corner" on which staff are encouraged to raise any questions or concerns.

Ongoing dialogues

AECOM's corporate structure overhaul last year has resulted in a strong "One AECOM" identity but that does not mean that the company can rest on its laurels. The company soldiers on, stepping up measures in an effort to further engage its employees in "deep dialogue".

"Continuous communication has become more important in every aspect that contributes to the AECOM corporate culture," Ms Cheung stresses.

A global communications team has been formed and members of the team get together every fortnight to examine the company's operation and identify best practice and areas of improvement.

"Certain employees may shy away from interaction with their supervisors or member of the senior management, let alone voicing their opinions, so we make a point to explore possibilities of engaging them in direct dialogue." She adds: "For the recent organisational development, we went so far as to visit each of the individual country offices to answer employees' questions on the spot."

The company also spearheaded innovative staff initiatives such as leadership development conferences and workshops that admit only junior-level staff, in a bid to gather "on the floor" feedback for the formulation of long-term communication strategies.

Employee engagement survey is another tool that AECOM makes use of on a global scale. Ms Cheung concedes that this helps in benchmarking staff sentiments as well as best practice in human resources management.

"Asian employees may sometimes feel reluctant to speak their minds in a team environment than their counterparts in North America where I used to work," she says, noting specifically that it is part of AECOM's core value "to respect and encourage employees' ideas, diversity and cultures".

"There is no one-size-fits-all solution to staff communication since every organisation has different dynamics and its unique corporate culture. With a view of becoming an employer of choice, AECOM will continue to ride on creative and innovative channels to interact with employees," Ms Cheung concludes.

Engaging endeavours

  • Continuous communication key to inculcating a corporate culture
  • Change agents smoothed out corporate restructuring process
  • Deep dialogue encourages staff on all level to speak up
  • Global communications teams formed to collect staff feedback

Taken from Career Times 5 March 2010, B2

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