#edGY: A GLC adapts to new hiring realities

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THE tables are slowly turning on employers — they have to woo talent rather than expect an orderly queue of potential employees forming outside their doors. With that in mind, Sime Darby Bhd has developed a strategy to compete for the best in the workforce.

“What we’re doing is a marketing effort [for the company]; it’s no longer an interview effort,” says executive vice-president of group human resource Zulkifli Zainal Abidin.  

He feels social media has made it easy for potential employees to prepare for an interview because there is no element of surprise anymore in the process. Social media sharing through the likes of Facebook and Twitter has allowed millennials to anticipate tricky questions.  

Zulkifli notes a case where a series of questions was shared across social media by an interview candidate and it turned into a topic of discussion on a forum.

At Sime Darby, the interview process still happens but only at the early résumé assessment stage. Once a face-to-face interview happens, Zulkifli says it is about convincing the individual that the organisation is the right fit for him or her.

Focus on training  

With Malaysia’s talent shortage, Sime Darby realised it needed to develop an “employment value proposition” — in other words, what it could offer potential employees. The answer it arrived at was “recognition, sustainability and growth”.

“We have to promise something that we can deliver. We’re not going to promise a candidate this and that, and not deliver,” says Zulkifli.

Recognition of an employee’s contribution, effort, service and dedication is very important but so is sustainability and growth.

“Sustainability not just in the aspect of [continuing] employment but sustainability in terms of your work and your contribution to society,” Zulkifli says.

The individual grows as he contributes to the organisation, and progresses in his career as the organisation grows. Sime Darby has a dedicated learning training centre for its employees.

New hires have to sit through its management trainee programme. This allows them to experience all of Sime Darby’s six divisions in rotation. A discussion about job and career fit helps match the right candidates to the right positions.

“We run a series of tests to ensure the individual has the skills relevant to the function,” says Zulkifli.

Sime Darby’s training and development framework tracks the employee’s development and the areas he needs to cover.

As leadership training is mandatory in Sime Darby, all employees are required to undergo the core executive programme at each stage of their career.

“We felt that it was important to make training and development part and parcel of our DNA. It’s no longer by accident. We did our competence review and know exactly what needs to happen — we set targets and come up with a relevant curriculum to train our leaders,” says Zulkifli.

Career paths are discussed annually in the individual development plan, so employees are aware of what they need to do to move up the ladder. Their progress is charted out and Sime Darby supports them by providing the necessary training and individual coaching by senior leaders from the same division or other divisions.

Addressing the generation gap

Zulkifli believes that recognising performance, providing a sustainable working environment, career opportunities and personal growth are very important for talent retention.

It goes without saying that long-term and short-term rewards for employees are essential to the above. However, as most organisations have a mix of inter-generational talent, Sime Darby has had to make sure its rewards are carefully tailored to suit.

“Our rewards must be flexible. We cannot have a one-size-fits-all,” he says.

Gen-Y employees make up close to 50% of Sime Darby’s workforce, the remaining comprising Gen-X and baby boomers. To cater for these different generations, Sime Darby’s “flexi benefits” allow an employee to tweak their benefit to suit their lifestyle.

For example, a family person might want more hospitalisation coverage and medical insurance, while a single person might want to use the benefit to buy a gym membership or purchase electronic equipment.

When the going gets tough, the tough gets going

With the economic situation now favouring an employee’s market, almost every organisation is having difficulty acquiring good talent, let alone retain them.

As a government-linked corporation (GLC), Sime Darby has to prove itself twice as hard. There exists an unflattering public perception of GLCs being bureaucratic and not as dynamic as companies such as Google.

“We are a GLC but the way we have been operating is just like any listed organisation,” Zulkifli points out.

After a merger with Harrisons & Crosfield and Guthrie & Co in 2007, the Sime Darby group redefined its identity and hiring procedures with a view to becoming a high-performance organisation.

Sime Darby’s “HR Transformation Journey” started in 2010 with a five-year plan encompassing the whole cycle, from attracting talent to development, rewards and performance.

The company achieved its goal in just four years. Last year, Sime Darby won regional and global Aon Hewitt Top Companies for Leaders awards.

Aon Hewitt Top Companies for Leaders examines best-in-class leadership and talent strategies, practices and outcomes of companies around the world.

Sime Darby was one of the top 10 regional winners but what really caught the company by surprise was being one of the top 25 global winners comprising Fortune 500 companies.

“We didn’t enter this award to win it but as a benchmarking exercise,” Zulkifli says.


This article first appeared in #edGY, The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on February 2 - 8 , 2015.