It takes a smart firm to keep smart people

Updated: 2013-04-26 09:04

By Robert Parkinson (China Daily)

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It's good to bring in staff from overseas, but that is only half the job

Since China joined the World Trade Organization in 2001, a great number of its state-owned enterprises have developed businesses overseas. An increasing number of SOEs are also conducting international commerce with other countries. Both trends show us that the need for excellent international talent has become inevitable for SOEs. But the fierce competition among all kinds of companies in the knowledge-based economy has led to an urgent lack of foreign talent in SOEs over the years.

There is no doubt that it is critical for companies to take care of their foreign talent, especially high-end management talent and multitalented expats. From human resource management to human resource development, to retain foreign talent can be presented in every detail. But it is difficult to say whether SOEs have done a good job in retaining foreign talent.

To begin with, I would like to talk about the process of adaptation by foreign talent to the Chinese working environment. SOEs should always bear in mind that foreign employees may not stay at the company till the end of their contract.

If an SOE really wants a foreign talent to stay in the company for a long time, it really needs to take action. For instance, in order to help skilled foreigners get used to the environment quickly, a mentor from the company can be arranged to help the foreign employee with life and work issues. SOEs can also plan team-building activities to encourage them to communicate with local employees. Moreover, SOEs can organize training sessions for new employees so that they can get familiar with the company within a short time.

Another important issue is that fairness, transparency and efficiency in performance appraisals should be improved so skilled foreigners can receive objective feedback about their work. A fair performance appraisal plays an important role in the development of one's career. Foreign employees enjoy positive recognition from their company, while negative feedback may stimulate them to work harder.

It is also very important for a foreign talent to see an SOE's real action. To be specific, if a foreign talent performs very well, he or she expects to see a salary increase that matches what is noted in the performance appraisal.

Developing a better incentive system is also a positive action to take for SOEs.

What needs to be addressed is that both psychological and material incentives should be considered. The psychological incentive refers to an encouraging environment for foreign talent. Positive comment and feedback from management can infuse foreign talent with confidence, which can also develop into work motivation.

As for material incentives, I think SOEs should come up with some smart ones. By saying smart, I mean incentives that are tailored to foreign talent. Take housing subsidies. For foreign employees, a housing subsidy is not really practical. The majority of foreign employees in China rent houses rather than buy them. Instead of paying for the housing subsidy, SOEs could choose to pay for Chinese language courses if they are going to stay in China for a long time.

Another issue is with Chinese medical insurance. The Chinese medical insurance only covers expenditure in Chinese hospitals, but it is difficult for most foreign employees to talk with doctors or nurses in the local language. SOEs should consider foreign hospitals or clinics as options.

Lastly, taking care of the family of a foreign employee is also a good way keeping them. Foreign employees, being in another country, are unable to spend time with their families. Arranging a trip for the family of the foreign employee may be a great idea.

There are still a lot of challenges for SOEs. Attracting and retaining international talent is certainly not an easy task, but it would be helpful for SOEs to solve the issue of retaining talent by considering the suggestions set out here.

The author is CEO & founder of RMG Selection, an Asia-focused human resources and recruitment consultancy.

(China Daily 04/26/2013 page7)