STAFF RETENTION : More than just a job

Workplace surveys are showing that staff are finding more job satisfaction in new challenges and social responsibility schemes. Two that are increasing in popularity are international secondment and charity placements.
Secondments have been popular for many years, particularly in accounting and law professions. But in today’s rapidly changing global economy, they are increasingly seen as crucial to not only training and development and talent retention, but also to organisational positioning and strategy.
BDO New Zealand, part of the world’s fifth largest advisory and chartered accountancy group, is keenly focused on secondments. With access to more than 1000 offices in 110 countries round the world, it offers wide range of experiential choice.
BDO has accepted that all young New Zealand professionals will want to escape on their ‘OE’ at some time, and with talent shortage an ongoing issue for New Zealand employers, the company sees being able to offer secondments globally from Paraguay, Peru and Portugal to the Bahamas, Indonesia and Cayman Islands as sure way to retain and grow talent, says BDO New Zealand’s international liaison partner David O’Connor.
O’Connor, who was seconded to London in 1987, says: “Staff can have their OE – and earn more than they would in pub.” However, he says things have changed dramatically since the days when he did his secondment.
“Back then, it was all very much about gaining life skills and it didn’t really matter what work you were doing or what type of client you worked with; for that matter no one really asked much about your work experience when you came back.
“Now it’s much more formal and structured process in which we are focused on key development and strategic outcomes. We look very carefully at where we’re sending people, what work they’ll be doing, client exposure and importantly what relevance this will have when they come back.”
While secondments have taken back foot over the recessionary period, as organisations recover and look once more to grow talent and international markets, the people market has fired up again. And for BDO New Zealand this is definite strategic focus in 2010.
“Everyone is acknowledging that Europe, which is traditional route of secondment, is no longer growth area. Asia is where the future work will come from, particularly China, India and Indonesia.”
BDO is keen to encourage secondments into these emerging markets to set up links, open opportunities and provide insights for their mid-market client base in New Zealand.
“Asia is big challenge for this sector and we have to ensure they understand that to grow their business they may need to expand offshore. So it’s very important that our overseas secondments get exposure to not only bigger market issues, but to these emerging markets,” says O’Connor.
However, all international exposure is seen to be of benefit to BDO, not only in terms of improving its skill base, but the value it brings to clients. “Because our clients are predominately mid-market, they rely on us to service their accounting and to bring them best practice; they are constantly asking for benchmarking against what market leaders are doing overseas. So, after three years’ exposure to the international network and resources of BDO, secondee has lot of great value they can impart to our clients.”
With such high importance placed on secondment as strategic and training and development tool, the selection process is well defined – unlike the 1980s when anyone could go without any particular focus on work or skill development.
“Ultimately we want to be growing and shifting partners from one country to another. That’s where the real value comes in developing people,” says O’Connor. “So, we are looking for people who are committed to career in chartered accounting and have strong potential to move throuzgh the ranks to partnership. That’s key. Indeed, these days we’d rarely make someone partner who hadn’t done an international secondment.”
Selection of country and work stream is then focused on specific core competencies that BDO is seeking to strengthen and develop in New Zealand.
“An area where we see potential is outsourcing; the BDO office in India is very strong on this. So sending someone there to get first-hand knowledge and bring it back as new core competency would be beneficial for us in New Zealand.
“This is very much about training and development, but it comes back directly to the strategic development of BDO New Zealand and where we want to be for our clients.”
BDO is also focused on encouraging secondments into the corporate or public sector, an invaluable experience that will develop competencies not found working within chartered accounting firms. “Being seconded to work as an accountant on the other side – with bank or major corporate for example – is fantastic learning and work experience, something which you’ll never gain working in an accounting firm no matter how big it is.”
The reciprocal side of secondments is equally beneficial with high-calibre people coming here and imparting new level of skills and knowledge to the New Zealand workplace, says O’Connor.
“We had one young senior manager here from London, an extremely high-achiever, high-calibre young guy, indeed, the 69th Englishman to climb Mount Everest!
“He brought cutting-edge training and management skills that can only come from working in much larger office like London with more than 100 partners. He imported completely different work ethic that again can only come from working in the highly competitive environment of Europe. That really rubbed off on us and our people definitely grew working around him.”
Ultimately, O’Connor says secondments take people out of their comfort zones, improve technical competency and life skills while growing BDO’s skill base, global capability and in turn its level of client service. And, while there is very small risk of losing people overseas, he considers the ultimate outcome is nothing but beneficial – return or not.
“My view is that if we lose staff but have treated them in the best way we can, it is not bridge burnt but bridge cemented. Down the track that is an alumnus who will be referrer of work, or employment or even becomes client. Even if we lose people after secondment, they do on occasions come back to us, as even more developed and skilled people.”

At Vodafone what’s good for staff is also good for the community. As part of the Vodafone Foundation, staff are offered two-week charity placements, without any impact on their pay or holiday entitlements.
Says Sum Tran, the foundaton manager: “The Vodafone Foundation has quite few charity partners that we support through grant programmes. One of the ways we get employees involved is through offering charities staff member with specific skills for two weeks of work on project.”
She says, for example, charity could ask for strategist to help with specific plan, or an event manager to help set up fundraiser. She advertises the placement internally, and then staff volunteer by filling in an application.
“The successful person can take up to two weeks off work, fully paid, for the project. The feedback is that employees find it really refreshing being in different environment, especially in not-for-profit. It can be quite reality check.”
Vodafone also allows staff to choose their own charities, and will approve placements that are supported by statement from the organisation. It’s rare for staff to take full two weeks away from the office, says Tran. It’s more likely for them to do couple of days at time, or work at their own desks on the charity project alongside their own work.

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