Source of talent

by Anna Tong

John Fowler, managing director
Global Source and Design Limited
Photo: Edde Ngan

Churn among company's probationary staff a concern but not a major worry

Rather than lament the current strong competition for merchandising professionals, some companies welcome the situation since they believe the extra time and energy spent to track down elite talents will benefit them in the long run.

One example of this viewpoint is Global Source and Design Limited, whose managing director John Fowler says, "It's a good thing since it forces us to look at everything we do in terms of the way we recruit and train our people."

This open-minded attitude seems to be effective since the company has a very low turnover rate of five to seven per cent among the long-term staff, although churn is greater among new recruits likely to be tempted by rivals offering bigger pay packets. "Our biggest turnover is among very new staff still serving three months' probation," he says. As a result, the company's management is reassessing its recruiting and training processes to see what additional inducements may be considered to avoid this ongoing drain.

Meanwhile, the company's formula for retaining its older staff lies in its open environment both across the company's premises and between employee and management levels. "Our environment bespeaks our culture, where there are no doors, no office politics and hopefully no secrets," says Mr Fowler. This open management style means that employees can approach any senior staff member without an appointment.

Open communication

Mr Fowler also emphasises the importance of open communication among members in a team. "It is vital that our teams are cross-functional so that key members are seated opposite each other and can offer objective views from their points of view," he emphasises. An additional benefit springing from this company culture is that the views of every individual involved in a project are valued and respected.

It is also Global Source and Design's belief that the company has an obligation to help enhance each employee's individual skills and so stimulate long-term career developments. "We are all human and we all have particular things that we are good at, so we help staff to be strong where they are strong and learn in areas where they can learn, " says Mr Fowler.

The result of this open culture is reflected in the talented staff the company employs. "The only part of differentiation here is our people; their talent and commitment are what make us successful," Mr Fowler points out.

Global Source and Design's policy is to promote from within the ranks so talented individuals are moved up to the next level rather than a newcomer being recruited for the position. Some members of the management team were promoted internally from the role of senior merchandisers.

The company specialises in outsourced design work, and employs six expatriate designers who help in training the staff. "When our staff understand our company culture, they understand our customers too," adds Mr Fowler.

Client feedback

Striving to stay innovative and competitive means that the company employs various tools to evaluate staff performance, even using feedback from clients. "Every six months clients fill in a report card that provides a review from their perspective," says Mr Fowler. "This can help enhance team performance."

Internal staff reviews are also held every few months when Mr Fowler and other senior management have a face-to-face meeting with each employee to measure their progress as related to business as well as personal goals — not a simple task since there are 78 staff members. "The most important thing we do is to manage talent," says Mr Fowler. "Once we understand the needs and desires of each individual, we can link these back to the requirements of the business."

Meanwhile, the company is re-examining the effectiveness of its staff retention policy as related to probationers. The company will look at such factors as why some new staff are not quickly settling in and adjusting smoothly, and whether the resources presently provided for them are not fully effective. Another possible factor is whether they may not be happy with the company's environment.

Global Source and Design is also considering offering formalised training in merchandising for new recruits once they pass the probationary period.

People policy

  • Emphasis on "no doors, no office politics, no secrets"
  • Views of all valued and respected
  • Regular face-to-face meetings
  • Promotion from within the ranks

Taken from Career Times 20 April 2007
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