Written by: Jason Hovet
Photo by: Vojtěch Vlk
From cafeteria-style benefits to targeted training, employers are putting more power in employees’ hands. Empowerment seems to be what workers want as these great places to work show.
IN THE PAST, when students were looking over companies at career day events, typical questions would center around salaries and benefits like a phone or car. Now, according to Jiří Vacek, who has many years experience in HR and has run the Nestlé HR department for three years, the first questions are about training and development opportunities, as well as company culture.
Fresh job seekers aren’t the only ones asking these questions, though. Many young – and even older – professionals are also looking for more than a paycheck. Of course, most companies aren’t being caught unprepared, as larger (and more international) firms have always had some sort of training and development plans. What’s unique now is that these programs are not unique any more, and the choices for quality employment that job seekers have are numerous. As a result, employees have forced employers to work a lot harder in retaining the best staff.
So what sets great companies apart? While most firms have already ventured into better compensation, more benefits, and so on, it seems the really great ones are providing one simple thing: empowerment. Today, professionals have more chances for training and career development than before. And it’s a win-win situation for both parties, as many companies are now using appraisal systems for more targeted training and development, which aims at improving specific areas, not just general education.
One such example is beer giant Plzeňský Prazdroj. “We provide employees with a wide range of development opportunities based on detailed analyses of their training needs,” says Ivan Balogh, Prazdroj’s human resources manager. For training, two unique initiatives for the workforce are PUSA (Pilsner Urquell Sales Academy) and PUBA (Pilsner Urquell Brewing Academy). In these year-round internal programs, employees in both areas are taught very specific skills by more experienced staff. While advancing employee’s development, the training also benefits the company’s move to align itself more to its parent, the world’s number two brewer, SABMiller.
Many companies still prefer trainings to be inhouse, although outsourcing training has created a big market among business schools and training centers. One area that has been particularly affected is MBA opportunities – in a Hewitt Associates compensation study in the Czech Republic in 2003, 30% of employers (out of 117 of the largest companies operating in the country) now offer further education in this form, mainly at the management level, where it’s needed the most. But, Peter Loewenguth, at CMC Graduate School of Business, while acknowledging an increasing interest, says that number can be misleading. “What we are not seeing are companies sending large numbers [of people],” he says, pointing that a (large) company sending one person could be counted, but for a large company that number isn’t impressive. Still, he does see this statistic as positive.
Getting a little help
Although many companies are teaching their employees, more are starting to learn from them. Shortly after AstraZeneca completed its merger in 1999, the company wanted to better define its new company culture. Told to take a local approach, the Czech office went to its employees for help. After a series of workshops, the employees gave the pharmaceutical company its four key values to follow. Václav Kouřim, AstraZeneca’s HR director, believes that it gives the values more meaning by getting employees’ help. “Otherwise it would have been just a piece of paper,” he says.
Not satisfied with that, AstraZeneca also utilizes a few other tricks common among other companies. Internal surveys are increasingly used as a way to finetune operations and benefits. And when employees are on the way out, exit interviews are helpful to not only identify the reason for leaving, but to find improvements that can be made. “We want to learn where we can improve,” Kouřim says, adding these ways help to reach a better level of frankness.
Another positive trend in workplaces is that women are starting to get more focus. One change gaining momentum is the way companies transition mothers back to work after maternity leave. While companies are legally bound to hold a woman’s position open for the first six months after giving birth, most women will be out of work much longer. Therefore, upon their return, they still have a job, but typically find themselves in a lower position. Some banks are starting to hold positions longer, including Dutch financial player ING (see sidebar, p. 24). “We are trying to build the possibility where a woman has a chance to leave and return to the same position,” says HR manager Marie Martínková, adding that this means finding temporary workers able of filling a position for up to a year.
Not the money
At the end of the day, though, payday has not been forgotten, and many compensation tools have become quite common. While salaries continue to grow – though still a fraction of the EU average – most companies now practice benchmarking in order to stay competitive. Adding to compensation are staff benefits, and there, companies are increasingly similar. One example, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers’ annual Pay Well survey: in 1999, only 10% of companies in the Czech Republic had supplementary pension insurance schemes in place; today that number is 69%.
This just goes to show that as more employee benefits and training become commonplace, employers may have to do more – or just do things better. That was the conclusion that Hewitt Associates reached in its first Best Employers survey. Looking at companies in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, the study concluded that the best companies don’t do more, but just do certain things better. This trend is illustrated in the profiles throughout our story. Seeking help from HR and management consultants, business schools, recruiters, and just people who’ve seen the inside of many companies, we chose six examples of great places to work. When reading them, if you see a resemblance to the place where you currently work, consider yourself fortunate. If not, just be patient – maybe your employer will read this story as well.
Bristol-Myers Squibb: Shares in success
While 26% of the 117 companies in the Czech Republic covered by Hewitt Associates’ compensation survey now offer stock options, not all have such a wide-reaching program as American drug maker Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS).
Upon entry, every employee receives a gift of up to 1,000 company shares and can begin optioning these after three years. Even more, for work well done, the company awards bonuses upwards of 1,000 shares. “These awards are based on successful projects” like a particularly effective product launch or marketing campaign, says HR director Monika Počínková, adding awards are not like lollipops and must really be earned.
Johnson & Johnson: Power to the people
A lot of firms preach employee empowerment; Johnson & Johnson practices it.
J&J took the top spot in a Best Employer survey done this year by Hewitt Associates that measured employees’ engagement (feeling a part of the organization and a desire to contribute) and alignment (the feeling you know where the company is going and have a stake in it). 57 Czech and Slovak companies took part in the study, which surveyed more than 5,500 employees.
McKinsey: Developing potential
There are few terms in human resources more ubiquitous than “personal development”. Almost a given ambition for job-candidates, the concept is simpler to promise than to deliver.
“People don’t develop by being told to develop,” says Jean-Pascal Duvieusart, Director of global consultants McKinsey & Company’s Czech office. Duvieusart is referring to concrete and systematic measures that guide and push their professionals towards consummate development. McKinsey is known as an excellent environment in which to gain experience and broaden expertise.
ING: Youth rules
Top management in most companies is rarely seen and usually feared. But when Marie Martinková started her first day at the Dutch financial house ING, even the group’s young chairman was among those who greeted her.
That may be what makes ING stick out in the traditional, button-up banking and financial world: youth, which governs by informality, but with a professional and dedicated spirit. Aged 39, Dutch-native Dick Okhuijsen is chairman of ING, a brand name that encompasses banking, pension and insurance services. The three other board members are just as young: 33, 39 and 42 years old. In management, as well, over 40 is more the exception than the rule.
Nestlé: The graduates’ choice
With fresh university graduates increasingly being sought out, Nestlé CR has renewed its recruiting efforts in its six-year-old trainee program, Líheň. Fresh grads are taking notice, with HR director Jiří Vacek saying his department sees nearly 2,000 applicants each year.
Even more exceptional: this year the company moved to the fifth spot on the international student organization AIESEC’s Most Desirable Employer annual survey, jumping from 25th in 2001 – the same year Vacek took over.
Philips: Cultivating leaders
Leaders aren’t born – so many companies go to great lengths to groom future performers and managers. One of the most extensive initiatives can be found at Philips Czech Republic.
While year-round training programs are designed for all 160 employees here, the company pays special attention to star members of its staff. “We are even more demanding toward our key people,” admits Philips’ management development officer, Blanka Lisá. “We have a clear method to identify early career talents and high potential employees.” Early on, Philips measures target-related and people-related competencies. “Only employees who have potential to grow in both areas can be involved in our talent pool program,” Lisá says.