Standard Chartered Bank, Harley-Davidson Motorcycles and Sony: Three companies with widely different backgrounds, but one common challenge – finding, hiring and keeping the right people to sustain global growth.

At a conference organised by NUS Business School’s Centre for Strategic Leadership, representatives from the three firms shared some of their strategies in managing human resources in their Asian operations. Each has staffing challenges on a different scale.

Harley-Davidson has about 6,000 employees worldwide. It formally opened its Asia Pacific headquarters in Singapore last year. David Foley, Harley’s Vice President and Managing Director for Asia-Pacific said the company has grown rapidly from just two staff on site in 2010, to almost 30 today.

In contrast, Standard Chartered has nearly 87,000 employees in 71 markets. Lee Slater, the bank’s Global Head of Talent Acquisition and International Talent Development leads a team responsible for recruiting an average of 22,000 people a year.

Sony meanwhile has more than 168,000 people on its payroll. Hew Evans, Sony’s Director and Head of Human Resources, Regional & Corporate Services Group, for Sony Electronics Asia-Pacific said for him, the challenge is pretty clear: identify and develop the next generation of innovative global leaders across AMEA (Africa, Middle East and Asia.)

Plan for progress

The three speakers agreed that in order to be successful, they have to have a long-term view. Standard Chartered’s Lee Slater said most HR professionals right now are planning out to 2020.

event555“If we’re really going to solve the challenge and have the availability of talent in the workplace, then we can’t afford to do that on an annual basis,” he said.

At Sony, Evans said HR policy is to map out a plan for progress for every employee, which is helpful for all sides.

ThinkAloud7“For every single person, we want to know where they’re going next. What’s their career? If we’re going to keep good people, they’re all telling us they want to know what their career plan is,” he said.

At Harley-Davidson, which famously reinvented itself as an employee-focused company in the mid-1980s, Foley said the company placed a big emphasis on developing people and giving staff the hands-on time to apply skills learnt in training sessions.

“It doesn’t matter if they’re in Milwaukee (Harley-Davidson’s headquarters in the US) or Asia or Europe. It’s taking the time to teach them the academic piece of that and then making sure we’re providing them with the experiences to develop the things that they’re learning.”

Talent acquisition

In addition to developing the talent already in-house, companies constantly have to be on the lookout for new talent and fresh recruits.

harley280Slater said there was no secret to talent acquisition – just have multi-layered talent acquisition strategies and then have the infrastructure in place to support it.

To that end, he led the creation of talent acquisition teams at Standard Chartered aimed at dealing with everything from finding entry-level employees to filling leadership positions.

As Standard Chartered expands in China – they opened 30 branches last year and plan to open another 22 this year – Slater said they’re searching for “passive candidates” for some of the top spots.

That is high performing individuals, embedded in their own organisation and not necessarily actively looking to move.

The job for the 50 recruiters working for him in China is to identify these candidates and assess them.

It’s a slightly different story at Harley-Davidson. The company has been around since 1903, but according to Foley it has recently seen a new commitment to grow internationally.

Brand appreciation

“Getting people from Milwaukee, Wisconsin or Europe to come out to Asia Pacific is a little bit hard to ask. So we’re really in the early growth stages in terms of staffing up but it’s primarily local, which means we’ve been hiring externally.”

One of the biggest challenges he faces is bringing on employees who have an appreciation for the brand.

“A big part of it has been hiring locally and try to figure out how to onboard them in a way to make them as effective as possible as quickly as possible,” Foley said.

He said they encourage all new employees to attend Harley-Davidson rides or, if they’re not riders, to attend bike rallies because it’s the best way to experience the brand.

That’s probably not a problem at Sony, where most potential employees likely are familiar with at least some of the company’s product offerings.  When they’re looking for external candidates, Evens says they’re mostly looking to fill spots on the lower rung of the ladder.

“For us about 90-95% of our recruitment will be early career and then we work people up through the company. It’s very rare in my 12 years or so within Sony that I’ve seen someone recruited straight in to a senior position. They tend to come in (low) and that creates opportunities further up the chain,” said Evans.

As each executive looks into the future, they’ll also have to consider changes in the ebb and flow of talent mobility.

Slater highlighted some interesting trends in that regard, noting that in the distant past, for leadership positions, most moves were from the US or the UK to other countries. More recently, he said, from 1990 to just a few years ago, that switched with movement in both directions.

Looking ahead to 2020 and beyond, he said trends indicate there will be more moves from Asia into the US and Europe.

For companies already worried about a talent shortage in the region, that’s just one more obstacle to overcome to meet the demands of a growing business.