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Investor Relations

Getting the best from the best

By Naveen Chhabra, Vice President, Human Resources, Southeast Asia

On any given workday at some 30 locations across Southeast Asia, more than 6,000 people follow “The Olam Way”. Over the next three years, that number will swell to 7,500 as we continue to build our businesses in Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, PNG and Timor-Leste.

Olam’s stellar growth in the region is the product of many strategic initiatives and much accumulated experience but few would argue with the fact that our Olam Way, HR practices and the culture of nurturing a workforce that embraces our unique values have been a significant influence wherever we operate.

Still, we are fortunate that not only does raw talent exist in abundance in these markets but that so many people here embrace our Olam values; they reflect an ambition and a work ethic driving the people of Southeast Asia forward.

Attracting top talent, strengthening the Olam “employer brand”

In each Southeast Asian market – and on a regional basis – we entrench the concept of developing “future-ready talent”. Our future-proofing of the business in Southeast Asia demands that not only do we seek out the best talent in the region but that we are recognised by its most ambitious young people as a highly desirable “employer brand”.

Our Southeast Asian leadership team’s commitment to deepening and strengthening the talent pool includes identifying high potential leaders and individualised development plans that combine training and critical experience. We seek out and recruit proven top-tier talent, injecting the team with the energy and enthusiasm of the best-of-the-best from the region’s most respected universities. Our structured campus engagement programme at top-tier universities includes guest lecture series, student visits to our plants/sites and summer internships.

This grooming of internal talent and injecting top-tier external talent is consistent with our long term localisation strategy. For this, we have achieved high visibility in the external Human Capital awards, including most recently being named one of 2018’s “Best Companies To Work For In Indonesia” and “Best Companies To Work For In Vietnam” by the prestigious HR Asia magazine.

Integrated talent management

It is our integrated approach to talent management that ensures the ongoing tailoring of our managers’ personal growth and development goals while assessing their progress and enabling them to perform better by supporting them on their development goals instead of treating performance reviews as standalone discussions.

The broader learning and development framework has been designed to ensure that supervisor career band employees receive at least six man days of training per year which include both domain and soft skills. For the managerial talent pool, this internal commitment is enhanced by e-learning programmes offered by leading business schools and online learning academies.

Our career grades are well defined to ensure all employees understand what is required if they are to move to the next level. The annual selection process assesses the readiness of all high potential national career band managers in Southeast Asia for promotion to the Olam global career bands.

Innovation in hiring processes

What also sets us apart from other employers is innovation to achieve greater productivity and fit. The HR team has implemented innovative processes which can effectively and efficiently identify candidates with the required skills for their roles, thus reducing time and costs in recruitment and training significantly.

The “Bead Segregation” test, Olam Vietnam: Olam is probably the first in Asia to adopt this test in the edible nuts and pepper industries.

For example, segregation of raw materials is a key process in nuts and pepper processing. So in Dong Nai Province of South Vietnam, our almonds and cashew processing factories in Tien Nga and Bien Hoa as well as the pepper processing plant in Loteco have adopted a unique recruitment process which tests a worker’s ability to perform under a simulation environment – we call it the “Bead Segregation” test. In this test, candidates are given seven kinds of coloured beads (primary and secondary colours) to sort out within a stipulated time. As workers are required to segregate cashew into seven different grades for packing, it tests their hand-eye coordination, colour blindness and ability to focus on separating the coloured beads in the shortest possible time with a high degree of accuracy. This is a highly effective method in selecting workers who will be spending most of time in the nut segregation section.

Olam is probably the first in Asia to adopt this test for the selection of workers in the edible nuts and pepper industries. This test is also used by our outsourced manpower suppliers to recruit suitable workers for our factories. The results have been very encouraging – labour productivity has gone up by 22% in the handpicking sections in pepper processing.

For the managerial level, the hiring process now includes cognitive and verbal ability online tests. These online tests work well as an effective filtering and reference tool. This assessment process was first implemented for Olam Indonesia’s management trainee programme. As a result, we are able to fast-track the hiring of management trainees as well as increase the intake size within a given time frame.

Women empowerment

Vietnam is amongst the most gender diverse countries in the world with women constituting 55% of its productive workforce. This is a growing force across the rest of Southeast Asia as the region progresses in labour productivity by harnessing its women population. We have therefore implemented specific policies in Vietnam to promote and nurture the women workforce. For example, our post-maternity policies are probably one of the most attractive in our industry:

  • Dietary support during pregnancy
  • Additional one hour of rest time every day during pregnancy
  • No night shift or overtime work during pregnancy or fostering a child under 12 months of age
  • Female employees who return to work after taking four months of leave are paid full maternity allowance for their absence
  • Child care support at kindergartens for children up to the age of six

We are pleased to see that these policies are paying off as 90% of our women employees returned to work after the maternity leave period. We are now looking to replicate these in other locations.