Hang Lung Properties Limited is a Hong Kong-based real-estate developer that has doubled the size of its workforce to 4,700 and tripled the size of its property portfolio over the past five years. And it’s done it without letting employee engagement fall by the wayside.

Despite such rapid and geographically widespread growth across mainland China, the business has been receiving all sorts of awards and industry recognition for its people policies and customer service.

Janet Poon, Hang Lung’s human resources general manager, has been with the company through much of this growth.

“HR is a key asset for our sustainable development,” she says. “We are very grateful that our efforts and initiatives have been recognised, though awards are not our ultimate goal. But the recognition is helpful because it means we are going the right way.”

She says it reaffirms Hang Lung’s belief that a people management strategy is just as important for customer-facing staff as it is for those who are office-based.

Hang Lung’s ability to grow across China has a lot to do with its approach to talent and what it calls its ‘total employee journey’ – which means doing things differently right from the day of recruitment.

“Service excellence is the backbone of Hang Lung’s culture and HR treats every member of staff as an internal customer,” says Poon. “We try to pay attention to every single detail and give each member of staff a unique experience with the company.

“In Hong Kong, for example, we have put a lot of resources into coming up with different ways to assess our candidates when recruiting. In the past few years, we have introduced a two-stage assessment. Around 200 selected candidates are divided into small groups and given tasks around Hong Kong in our different properties to complete as a team. We can then assess their teamwork comprehensively (not just in an interview setting) and they get to know more about Hang Lung from visiting our sites.”

One of the tasks given to the candidates for management trainee positions involves designing a virtual reality marketing experience – a tour round a property using a VR headset. The idea is to show potential new recruits that the organisation is more innovative than some of its more traditional competitors.

And when new recruits join up, they take part in a one- or two-day orientation programme called the Hang Lung Challenge. This year, it took the form of something resembling a treasure hunt, and mixed in some existing staff with the new joiners.

“They’re divided into groups and have to complete tasks together,” says Poon. “They might get a question about one of our properties, which is a clue to the next location they need to find. We keep it quite fun – we want them to find out more about the company’s organisation and culture, and get to know the managers.

“It will teach them about our history, values and integrity, but in a more interactive way than just hearing it from a straightforward induction tutorial. Everything is done through experience and interaction.”

Keeping levels of engagement high goes beyond the first week though, so what can be done to ensure that kind of new job enthusiasm lasts? Emerald Awards are given out annually to employees who go above and beyond in their customer service. It’s an incentive the business says rewards individual staff members and sets an example to all their colleagues.

In August, one of this year’s winners will be a member of staff who potentially saved a life because of his diligence.

“One day, he received a call to say that an elderly resident in one of the properties had fainted,” Poon says. “But they gave the wrong flat number. So our employee checked the records for every resident in the building and asked around until he found the right one. He figured out where the person lived and called an ambulance, which saved the life of the resident.

“In a traditional training programme, you cannot prepare people for certain critical situations, but the Emerald Awards draw attention to the right response and show our appreciation for our staff who showed such wisdom.”

HR also organises monthly breakfast meetings with the CEO for 10-12 staff with different levels of experience. Poon says this encourages two-way communication rather it always coming from the top. The meetings are informal so staff are encouraged to talk about whatever is on their mind. “They have the opportunity to speak up,” says Poon.

Open communication is clearly important to Hang Lung, which has designed its own app for staff to download and use to get company news and announcements. Employees can vote or give feedback through it.

There’s also a big L&D investment within the organisation; training hours per head increased from 15.7 in 2014 to 20.4 in 2016. And staff appreciates the kind of training on offer.

“We select some of our high flyers from Hong Kong and the mainland and send them to Tsinghua University for a two-day course,” says Poon. “It’s a prestigious Chinese university and a professor will talk them through macroeconomics and share some of their research. We heard that some of our staff are calling their parents, saying ‘I’m studying at Tsinghua today’, which is their dream come true. Hearing this makes us proud.”

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