Rapid technological advancement and globalisation have reshaped the merchandising industry landscape. In order to meet ever-changing market requirements, merchandisers today must be highly competent with excellent product knowledge. Companies in this industry are therefore actively investing in staff development.
Prominent industry practitioner Li & Fung (Trading) Ltd is embracing change by promoting staff training and development to enhance loyalty and competitiveness. Merchandising is a dynamic industry with a generally high staff turnover rate, says Joanne Ho, senior vice president, human resources, Li & Fung. She believes that, while most companies understand the importance of good remuneration and staff benefits such as medical insurance, training and developing are also crucial for staff retention.
Clear job profiles
Li & Fung is the local industry leader when it comes to promoting staff development, says Ms Ho. To address the growing demand for training and in order to promote a learning culture, the company has substantially increased the number of training staff at its Hong Kong headquarters and has also appointed training specialists at its other international locations. The company has implemented a structured competency-based approach to staff development, focusing on job profile, accountability and training programmes to enhance work skills.
Ms Ho explains that the company has developed a clear and comprehensive job profile for job functions such as merchandising, quality assurance, product development, vendor compliance and logistics. The profile details the employee's role and responsibilities, as well as accountability, in the company. A customised curriculum ensures that staff members receive the best training to help them develop in their jobs. Soft skills training on interpersonal skills, time management, presentation skills, communication skills and problem solving is also provided.
"We also aim to build our staff's functional competency," Ms Ho remarks. "Technical knowledge about raw materials, sample development, production processes, product safety, trade terms, logistics and shipping documents are essential elements covered in our training. We also sponsor additional programmes for staff when relevant to their jobs," she says.
Li & Fung has also initiated an innovative Merchandising Development Programme to support its vision of enhancing merchandising professionalism and to promote its corporate "one family" culture. Developed in 2006, the programme is a collaborative effort between the Li & Fung Group and the Hong Kong Polytechnic University's School of Professional Education and Executive Development (SPEED) and caters exclusively for Li & Fung's new recruits and in-house staff with high potential. The two-year programme comprises four stages, which are a combination of lectures and on-the-job training to develop merchandising trainees' competency and career paths at the company.
Feedback regarding the programme has been very positive, both from management and trainees, Ms Ho says. "The programme culminates in a recognised qualification. Our goal is to further develop the programme to highlight merchandising as a professional occupation and to make it clear that people working in the profession should continuously upgrade their knowledge and skill sets," she emphasises.
Another newly launched initiative for staff retention at Li & Fung is the company's career-development "succession plan", which aims to help managers proactively identify their potential successors and compile tailor-made development plans for them within the company. While the plan has so far only been implemented at managerial level, the company aims to expand it to cover staff at all levels.
Ms Ho believes that the company and management staff should share the responsibility when it comes to retaining staff. In order to promote the concept that their people are an asset, managers undergo corporate people management training and participate in regular communication sessions.
"We also regularly review the staff turnover rate, look at key issues and give recommendations to managers," Ms Ho points out, adding that the company's retention policies have proven effective. Compared with figures from a year ago, staff retention has improved by at least 10 per cent in Hong Kong and employees are aware that the company is serious about providing a nurturing and caring work environment. This is also reflected by the high participation rate in training programmes.
In addition to promoting a learning and development culture, building positive relationships through recognition programmes for staff is also effective for staff retention, Ms Ho says. Initiatives at Li & Fung include the setting up of an internal staff communication unit and the launch of a "one family" website to improve in-house communication. Every department will take part in annual team building activities and corporate projects such as the Standard Chartered Marathon, community projects and voluntary services to cultivate a sense of belonging within the company.
"Loyalty is two-way. We don't only promote staff loyalty to the company; we also emphasise company loyalty to staff. Therefore, we provide employees with a range of corporate projects to foster a 'one-family' culture," Ms Ho concludes.