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Accounting

Company culture puts staff first

by Norman Yam

Peter Ng, tax partner, PricewaterhouseCoopers Hong Kong
Photo: Courtesy of PwC

Ongoing training ensures professional mastery in careers for life

Developing people in the workplace is not a simple matter about honing their technical knowledge and ability. Companies must not only bring out the professional best in their employees but also equip them with the skills to collaborate, innovate and manage changes in today's complex business world.

Realising this, big-four firm PricewaterhouseCoopers Hong Kong (PwC) has formulated a broad approach to career management which incorporates programmes in professional education, on-the-job training, overseas secondments and leadership development. Regardless of seniority and job functions, all PwC staff will benefit from these initiatives and exposure throughout their careers. "We offer our people a career rather than a job", says Peter Ng, a partner of the tax services group at PwC.

"The idea is to help our people become well-rounded professionals. Our extensive client base will definitely help our staff to fully develop their talent. We also encourage them to develop themselves personally outside the arena of work, given our emphasis on work-life balance, " says Mr Ng.

With new recruits, the priority is to help them establish themselves professionally. First, PwC helps prepare them for the professional examinations required by the Hong Kong Institute of Certified Public Accountants. "Opportunities are also available for graduates from various backgrounds. As part of our examination assistance, we offer a conversion programme for non-accountancy graduates, mock-up examinations, revision seminars and tutorial sessions to monitor the progress of participants. We also give study and examination leave," Mr Ng explains.

On-the-job training also forms a vital part of training for new employees. PwC employs a coaching culture, providing all kinds of advices a new team member may need. Its year-long induction programme incorporates a buddy system in which graduate recruits are paired with senior colleagues who provide mentorship and work guidance. The objective is to help reduce the sense of anxiety common in graduates transiting from the campus to the workplace. "It's far more than someone who guides you at the workplace. It is in fact the beginning of a lifelong friendship. I stay very close with those friends I made when I started my career," Mr Ng says.

Incoming graduates start as associates, usually for about two years and then they will be promoted as senior associates, depending on individual performance. After another two to three years, those who make the grade will move on to become managers, then are elevated to senior managers before ultimately being appointed as partners. On average, it takes 11 to 12 years to reach that point.

Global mobility

International exposure awaits PwC staff. "We have one of the largest-scale global mobility programmes in our profession," says Mr Ng. "Each year we send a number of our brightest talents overseas to gain experience early in their careers." Through such exposure, participants gain an international perspective through being immersed in a new culture and another business environment. These secondments range from three months to two years, with working stints in PwC offices in Australia, Canada, US, UK and other European countries.

Another example of global exposure for PwC partners like Mr Ng himself is the Ulysses programme. Under this programme, participants are thrust into unfamiliar situations, often in developing countries, to learn ways of dealing with contingencies. In 2005 he and two other PwC partners spent about 10 weeks in the Spanish-speaking South American republic of Paraguay to help a vocational school there become financially self-sufficient. "Against the odds of linguistic and cultural barriers, we learned that teamwork is the key to success. The experience taught us to be resourceful in dealing with the contingencies in an unfamiliar environment, a skill I am certain that will be useful in the ever-changing business climate." Mr Ng recalls. "We are grateful and appreciate for what we possess. We were more than delighted that we could be of help to the others and the society."

Work-life balance

Mr Ng believes that a professional accountant will only be able to deliver optimum performance given a balanced life. To demonstrate PwC's "We Care" philosophy, regular recreational and sports events, such as the annual PwC China Cup, are organised from different offices in China. It's one of the ways to make PwC an even better place to work. These get-togethers have proved effective in breaking down interpersonal barriers, while creating the excitement of collaboration and synergy. "We also want our staff have time to relax and have fun," Mr Ng says.

As PwC considers its people its most valuable asset, it has gone to great lengths to promote an "appreciative culture" in which employees are encouraged to extend gestures of recognition and gratitude, such as verbal praise and thank-you letters, to colleagues who have helped them. Another step in this direction is a staff appreciation programme to promote employee morale and benefits at a company-wide level. "This ensures that the positive attitude of our staff members towards work, clients and their colleagues is acknowledged and communicated throughout the organisation," Mr Ng concludes.

Career kick-start

  • Career management incorporates programmes in professional education, on-the-job training, overseas secondments and leadership development
  • Conversion programmes, mock-up examinations, revision seminars and tutorial sessions prepare non-accountancy graduates
  • Year-long induction programme incorporates a buddy system that offers mentorship and work guidance
  • Global mobility programmes allow talents to gain overseas experience early in their careers



Taken from Career Times 09 March 2007

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