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Insight on Demand | Managing retention


The biggest headache faced by HR Managers and Business unit heads in Malaysia at the moment is not just identifying and securing the talent they need to meet business objectives, but retaining the best they have. Attrition is an inevitable aspect of operating within a growth economy. A very high proportion of professionals with 5 years' plus experience in a ‘high in demand’ discipline like Data Science will be highly desirable to the competition at any given time. Given there are approximately 500 shared services operations across the Selangor region, many of which are gearing up for a push on hiring again post COVID, it comes as no surprise that many organisation are bracing themselves for battle. The interesting question is, what will determine the winners and losers in this war on talent? If all companies are looking to grow in the region then something will have to give. The outcome will be that some businesses will not be able to successfully hire the local talent they need to satisfy their business case for a meaningful and productive Digital hub in Malaysia. Given the critical nature of the challenge and the competitive aspect, all companies looking to make a play will need to very seriously address the matter of retention. Put in simple terms, it’s of no value successfully hiring 10 staff if you lose 5 from the same department in the same period. This is the challenge many of our clients are facing right now.


Looking at determining factors, some obvious factors come to mind. Salary and moving up the food chain are the most obvious and the corporations I am aware of are all very actively looking to address budgets, bench-marking and organisational matters accordingly to accommodate this. Perhaps more subtly, we have areas such as strong management, skills training, and personal development that serve to foster a retention culture where staff stand to gain more longer term by staying put. We also see ‘high potential’ programmes in place, to create a strong sense of long term career visbility for the best calibre staff coming through the ranks. Whilst the above strategies are highly commendable and are definitely an essential part of the HR strategy of any viable employer, I still sense a crucial part of the equation is overlooked in what does look like a rather commoditised job market where a candidate with 5 yrs’ experience as a ‘full stack’ developer is traded between MNC shared services hubs like bullion.


A management principle that has gained significant airtime of late, thanks to many high profile proponents is ‘values based management’. Looking at the challenges faced here by employers from a common sense perspective, my view is that a lot more could be done to embrace this approach. The effect of this would be to enhance feelings of loyalty and connection between the employee and employee with the net effect of improving retention levels. When an organization and its team members are united around a shared set of values, staff will tend to work harder to achieve business results and will also gain a greater sense of fulfillment around achieving these, which truly galvanises the long term working partnership.


From a practical management point of view, this entails leading by example, or going out of your way to do the right thing for the right reasons and not compromising those principles. Whilst these could be deemed empty words, based on the feedback we receive from candidates leaving their existing employer, values alignment features very highly on the wish list.. In my view, the MNC community in Malaysia would do very well to look carefully at their employee values proposition as they go into hiring mode. They should ensure it resonates well, is well defined and most importantly, ensure that the management team, especially those responsible for high profile hiring campaigns, are 100% bought in and live and breathe these values.


Based on my observations, this undoubtedly leads to a healthy business climate where staff employers, aligned to their employees, can overcome hurdles collaboratively, united in a common set of objectives. There is no question this has led to better retention compared to most businesses in this region within our sector.



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