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Business Advice

Getting staff to work as one in a global business

Enhance the structures already in place in your company and ensure their sustainability to get employees to work together to achieve common goals
The Straits Times - June 13, 2011
By: Joanne Lee
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Getting staff to work as one in a global business

MANAGING your company's human resources can be extremely frustrating and the bigger the company, the more the variation in opinions.

Ms Marlene McGrath is a global HR manager of the multi-national conglomerate 3M, which has 80,000 employees in more than 65 countries.

She has her work cut out for her, even though there was a well established structure in place when she assumed the role.

'The challenge I faced was two-fold. Firstly, how do we strengthen what was already in place and transition many of the activities into long-term sustainable strategies,' she said.

'And secondly, how do we all face the explosive business growth in the Asia Pacific and correspondingly, the increasing war for talent in the Asia Pacific marketplace,' said Ms McGrath.

In Singapore, Ms McGrath said 3M has been through a raft of changes in practices to enhance its attractiveness as an employer. These include changes in compensation plans and vacation policies, to employee engagement practices and human capital planning.

'We are in an extreme growth period in 3M and it is imperative for us to create new markets,' Ms McGrath said.

The new challenge is to maintain global consistency and flexibility so that the company's innovative spirit can continue to blossom.

So it would seem that the trick to remaining a high performance company requires the management's confidence to let their middle managers take over specific roles.

Ms McGrath agrees and cites former 3M chief executive William McKnight.

She said: 'His principles can best be defined by the following 1948 quote: 'As our businesses grows, it becomes increasingly necessary to delegate responsibility and to encourage men and women to exercise their initiative. This requires considerable tolerance. Those men and women are going to want to do their jobs in their own way'.'

'Mistakes will be made. But if a person is essentially right, the mistakes he or she makes are not as serious in the long run as the mistakes management will make if it undertakes to tell those in authority exactly how they must do their jobs. Management that is destructively critical when mistakes are made kills our initiative. And it is essential that we have many people with initiative if we are to continue to grow.'

The American leather goods fashion company Coach agrees with delegating and listening to retail staff to glean ideas that will keep its brand alive.

Mr Andre Cohen, its chief executive for the Asia Pacific, sings the same tune when it comes to empowering employees no matter how big the organisation.

'The big part of being a Coach employee is to be part of our unique culture. It's a learning culture so we are always testing concepts. It's a retailer's culture. We easily spend US$5 million a year on research,' says Mr Cohen. US$5 million is about S$6 million.

'In fact, with Coach, their senior management make frequent trips down to the retails shops to experience what an ordinary customer does.

'And we are always quizzing our retail staff about the customers they have served. Who are they? Why should we go after them? What other brands were they carrying?'

And it's not just a one-way process in dealing with global customers, either.

The Coach executives were once in Japan and one retail staff member mentioned that they had had a few inquiries about a men's line of leather goods.

When this request from across Asia was fed back to the big boys, they looked into this unfulfilled market segment to see how they could address it.

Like 3M, Coach believes in one corporate philosophy for the 14,600 staff across the globe.

Mr Cohen says: 'We believe in training in a big way. We give all our employees corporate training to develop the same culture.' He said that employees have to go through situational training and customer service training for example to create the Coach culture.

So it would seem that no matter how big the company, managing human resources should encompass one message across the various national borders with the emphasis in listening and streamlining the company culture all over.




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