Demystifying the journey to best employer

Saturday May 11, 2013


In my last few years of consulting in South-East Asia, I have increasingly found one question emerging in conversations with CEOs and human resource leaders across the region – “How do we become a best employer?”

It is a complex question for organisations to answer as the journey to best employer can often span multiple years and represents a sum total of their efforts and investments in improving human capital, strategy, practices and processes.

Becoming a best employer usually starts as an aspirational goal articulated by the CEO and represents a statement of intent. While there are many companies that proclaim that “our people are our greatest asset”, our global research of over a decade proves that best employers most visibly back this up with decisions and actions.

To understand the way forward, we must examine the best employer journey from various perspectives.


Firstly, companies that invest in becoming a best employer are not driven by any altruistic motive.

They believe that if the organsation is recognised as an employer of choice, it will fundamentally improve their ability to attract the best talent in the market, motivate their workforce to achieve goals and retain high performing/high potential employees in the organisation. This will in turn help them to deliver better business results to shareholders.

Our global research over the years corroborates this view as we find many cases where best employers surpass the market on key metrics like revenue growth, profit growth and workforce attrition.


The truth of South-East Asia today is that highly talented people have greater bargaining power than a prospective employer. While there is no shortage of applicants for an open job, companies still struggle to hire people who have just the right mix of education, experience, skills and ability to fit the organisation’s culture.

Faced with an array of choices in the market, employees (whether prospective or current) carefully analyse and assess which employer is most likely to fulfill their personal and professional goals.

Therefore to become an employer of choice, organisations need to inspire confidence that it is a place where employees can feel engaged with their work rather than just turn up nine-to-five to collect a salary. If you step back and think, shouldn’t a place where we can spend anywhere between 40 and 60 hours a week be an opportunity for meaningful contribution and growth?


Our research over the last decade has shown that there are four measurable factors which contribute to whether an organisation is a best employer:

1) High Employee Engagement

Best employers are defined by their ability to consistently engage employees regardless of factors like industry, business cycle, size, maturity of organisation etc. We find that the average engagement score for Best Employers 2013 in Malaysia is 80% as compared to 56% for the Malaysia market.

Best employers are not only disciplined about collecting employee feedback to understand employee issues, but are also better at addressing them systematically through various programmes and initiatives.

These issues can vary widely and cover themes like recognition, career, learning and development, total rewards, and employee communication amongst others.

2) Compelling Employer Brand

The second critical factor is an organisation’s ability to build a compelling employer brand. What needs to be taken note of is that the employer brand has two dimensions to effective execution – external and internal.

The external dimension relates to the organisation’s reputation in the community and the degree to which it inspires pride amongst its employees.

The internal dimension refers to the organisation’s consistency in delivering on the promises or commitments it makes to its employees. As per our findings from 2013 study in Malaysia, seven out of 10 organisations have said that they have a clearly defined employer brand.

However, the research shows that there are strong alignment issues. Only 20% participant organisations have complete alignment between CEO’s perspective and HR focus. Best employers are doing relatively better with 50% alignment. Thus, overall this factor remains an area of work in progress for the Malaysian market.

3) Effective Leadership

The role of a leader in this journey cannot be underestimated and therefore is the third critical factor in the best employer journey. Our 2013 research shows that employees in best employer organisations believe that their senior leaders provide a clear vision for the organisation (82% for best employers vs 65% for Malaysia’s average), make good business decisions for the future (79% for best employers vs 65% for Malaysia’s average), treat employees as valued assets and communication from their senior leaders is open and honest (76% for best employers vs 57% for Malaysia’s average). Contrary to many opinions that I encounter, it does not mean that leaders need to treat people with velvet gloves or step back from driving high performance.

4) High Performance Culture

The fourth and a very critical factor is an organisation’s ability to create a high performance culture to compete more effectively in today’s difficult economic environment.

Based on our 2013 research, best employers focus on three key areas related to high performance- setting clear goals to help individuals understand what is expected and how it links to organisational goals (84% for best employers vs. 67% for Malaysia’s average), fairly evaluating and rewarding for contribution (77% for best employers vs 58% for Malaysia’s average) and providing opportunities for learning and career growth (81% for best employers vs. 57% for Malaysia’s average).

The 2013 study shows that this is the biggest gap when we compare the employee perception in best employers against the market average.

The truth of South-East Asia today is that highly talented people have greater bargaining power than a prospective employer. The truth of South-East Asia today is that highly talented people have greater bargaining power than a prospective employer.


For any organisation to reach best employer status, it will need to develop and implement a set of people programmes that moves the needle on the four factors.

However the one key learning we have had in every best employer study cycle since 2001 is that apart from the quality of design of HR programmes and processes, what truly makes a difference is the quality and consistency of execution.

The best employers may often have the same programmes as seen in the market, but they implement them with much greater discipline over a longer period of time.

To achieve the goal of being a best employer, what must also be realised is that HR cannot get there alone. Unflinching support from top management and ownership of line managers is an essential ingredient to making it happen.

Animesh Mukherjee is the practice leader of the consulting divison at Aon Hewitt and led the Aon Hewitt Best Employers in Malaysia 2013 Study. We explore the results of the study in the next pages of the pullout.

Source: The Star

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