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Insights from Award-Winning Companies: Siemens North East Asia

Insights from Award-Winning Companies: Siemens North East Asia

SHCS
Nov 11 2013

Siemens China was awarded the Special Commendation Award at the recent 2013 Singapore Human Capital Summit. This is the first company from the world’s second largest economy to have received this distinction. The judges of the Award Panel were impressed by Siemens’s holistic approach to people practices, as well as its track record for developing and retaining local leaders in one of the hottest job markets anywhere. Mano Ramakrishnan spoke with Ms Ma Qing - Head of HR for Siemens North East Asia and a key architect of its People Excellence Initiative - to better understand what other HR practitioners can learn from Siemens’s experience.

We asked Ma Qing to reflect on the critical success factors behind Siemens China’s people practice. The first thing she pointed out was the importance of support from the very top. Three years ago, the new cluster leadership team were appointed. The CEO Mr. Mei-Wei Cheng and his team were explicit that people were one of the key pillars of their new business strategy. This top level commitment also ensured that the HR function had adequate resources to engage both strategic and executional issues. While many organisations often say they want strategic HR, Ma Qing points out that it’s hard to expect HR to work on strategic issues while they are fully loaded with operational challenges.

“If you don’t prioritize communication, your other priorities will be at risk”

Even with strong support from the top management, Ma Qing emphasized the importance for HR to actively communicate with the business line. In our interview with Ma Qing, she listened thoughtfully to our questions, and answered them with refreshing candor – addressing not just the strengths but also the gaps she saw in her company. It’s these same qualities in her HR team - patient listening, transparent communication – that no doubt played a key role in the success of their people practices. Her mantra to her team is “Communicate, Communicate, and Communicate”. She argues that if one does not prioritize communication, then the other business priorities will be at risk. She clarified that communication has to be genuinely two-way, rather than HR trying to sell an existing solution.

While most HR leaders understand the importance of communicating with the business lines, how does one overcome the oft-cited challenge of having too little time? Instead of focusing on how much time such conversations take, Ma Qing highlights the value that good conversations can bring. In her experience, good conversations can help business leaders gain greater clarity on their challenges and priorities. While many organisations focus on building capability in business leaders, she is also focused on building the capabilities of HR team – especially their ability to form strong business partnerships with the line. Her point is clear – If your HR team has the right skill sets, these conversations will be seen as a valuable resource by the business lines.

A good conversation is not necessarily one without disagreement or conflicts. Ma Qing drew an analogy to a good marriage. In a good marriage, disagreements – and even strong arguments – do occur from time to time. What defines a good marriage is that the relationship is strong enough to address disagreements openly, and there is the commitment to find “win-win” solutions together.

“Let your people grow into their responsibilities”

In a market where the demand for talent far outstrips supply, Siemens China is remarkable in that three quarters of its cluster leadership team are local. This is all the more remarkable as many engineering companies tend to be risk-adverse, and often resort to parachuting expatriates with both technical skills and leadership experience.

What is their secret in developing local leaders? Ma Qing points out the importance of empowering local talent and letting them “grow into their responsibilities”. In high-growth markets like China, she suggests, you will not find a lot of “perfect” job candidates. Instead the onus is on the company to find high-potential talent, and then bestow on them the trust that they will grow and develop accordingly. It’s equally important that these talents deliver on their commitments and repay the trust that is bestowed upon them, thereby earning even greater trust for bigger responsibilities in the future.

“We are not there yet”

As our interview winded down, I wanted to gain a deeper understanding how Siemens retains the talent it has worked hard to develop. Knowing how scarce good HR talent is in China, I asked Ma Qing what had kept her at Siemens for more than 16 years. She thought for a couple of seconds, and then replied “The key for me is that I have always had challenging jobs here. There are still challenges that we have yet to overcome. It’s these challenges that make my role attractive. I feel fulfillment since I’m growing with the company”. Ma Qing also clarified that it is not uncommon in Siemens China, for employees to have long tenures.

As growth in China becomes more unpredictable and threatens to slow, there will certainly be challenges ahead. Siemens’s ability to build, empower and retain leaders – and leaders who relish challenges – looks to stand them in good stead.

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