Going Beyond Corporate Legacy With HR Transformation

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Corporate legacy can be a double-edged sword. While it can offer brand recognition and reputation to attract talents, it can be a roadblock when adapting to a dynamic and digital economy.

The 189-year-old company Jardine Matheson thought differently. It used its corporate legacy as an advantage to remain competitive and agile.

Transforming the human potential

The Asia-based Group has been going through a major transformation, including the talent management front, to become more competitive, agile, and innovative in the past few years.

“Historically, the Group focused on supporting and enabling our business units, which were largely run independently. This business model served the Group well for decades,” said Peter Attfield, the Group's chief talent & learning officer. “But about five years ago, the role of the Group started to change to offer shared resources aimed at driving synergy, competitiveness, and innovation.”

Jardine Matheson runs a collective of companies in the region, including household names like Mandarin Oriental Hotel, IKEA, and Mannings/Guardian. It also has property development, engineering and construction, motor vehicles, and food and beverage businesses.

The idea is to also enhance the Group’s modern corporate legacy of steadfastness, strong external partnerships, vision, and financial prudence within and outside Jardine Matheson to attract new talents and develop long-term growth.

“This (corporate legacy) has enabled the Group to prosper through good times and bad for over 188 years,” said Ben Keswick, executive chairman of Jardine Matheson, on the Group's website. “These qualities remain at the heart of the Group as we continue to build on our strengths and deliver value in today's complex and rapidly evolving markets.”

From EX to employer-branding

As part of building a modern corporate legacy, the Group started on its HR modernization journey about five years ago. The key areas of focus include becoming an employer of choice, strengthening succession plans and talent pipelines, developing the next generation of leaders, improving employee experiences and developing HR digital capability,  according to Attfield.

Jardine Matheson’s multiple learning initiatives have helped many employees through the tough times during COVID-19 and provided a stronger connection between professional employees and managers in the Group. Attfield called it “dual-citizenship.”  

“Dual-citizenship” encourages employees to find themselves not only being part of an individual business, but also part of the larger Jardine Matheson Group. The approach strengthens the employer branding both internally and externally.

“We are the biggest private employer in Singapore and listed on the market,” he said. “Many may recognize our brands ‘Guardian’ and ‘Cold Storage,’ but people may not necessarily know Jardine Matheson. Similarly in Hong Kong, we are also the largest private employer, but our brands like Wellcome, Mannings and Zung Fu are more well-known.”

With stronger employer branding in the region, the Group aims to attract talents to ensure its future leadership needs are met. To do so, it gave the Jardine Executive Trainee Scheme (JETs) a facelift.

The newly designed program provides more structured rotation between business units within the group. It also offers overseas assignments, a three-year development program, mentoring and coaching, and considerable exposure to senior leaders across the Group.

From learning to collaboration

To attract new talents and retain existing ones, Jardine Matheson is enabling employee growth through reskilling and upskilling.

In the last three years, it rolled out a Group-wide learning curriculum. While each business unit continued its industry-specific training, Attfield’s team identified other areas to provide shared training resources and form the Jardine Learning Academy. It provides training in industry-neutral areas, but is strategic and essential for the Group and talents to excel. These areas include:

  1. Group strategic priorities: developing programs around leadership, sustainability, diversity and inclusion, and other Jardine Matheson-driven initiatives.
  2. Soft skills development for the important many: offering middle management and individual professionals with training like management development, negotiation skills, and presentation skills.
  3. Functional Academies: providing skillset training in three major business functions, HR,  finance, digital & innovation.
  4. Leadership Academy: developing the future leaders of the business at all levels

By leveraging Jardine Matheson’s scale of operation and shared resources, Attfield’s team increased the Group’s training participants to 10,000 so far this  year, a significant increase in scale from 2018.

The benefit of the Jardine Learning Academy goes beyond training. Attfield said it also provided an opportunity for leadership across different business units to collaborate and create synergies.

Streamlined efficiency

Riding on the enhanced collaborative culture, Attfield said the Group is making good progress in streamlining its patchwork of HR systems and sharing data dashboards to develop more efficiency and innovation.

“(Since the transformation,) we’ve started to behave more as a connected group,” he said. “We (as a centralized group function) really can’t do anything sitting here, without the collaboration and involvement of our business units.”  

Sheila Lam is the contributing editor of DigitalWorkforceTrends. Covering IT for 20 years as a journalist, she has witnessed the emergence, hype, and maturity of different technologies but is always excited about what's next. You can reach her at [email protected].

Image credit: iStockphoto/phototechno