The speakers might have come from companies as varied as their products and services - Viagra and insurance, hotel rooms and broadband services - but amid the innovative ideas and techniques discussed, some common themes emerged from last week's HR Magazine staff training and development conference.
As explained by Eddie Wong, human resources director at Royal & Sun Alliance Insurance in Hong Kong, the message to employees was: "You drive your car, we provide you with energy." This idea of staff driving their own development was also highlighted by Rita Wong, operational effectiveness director at Pfizer Hong Kong.
"Colleagues can discuss their strengths and weaknesses with their managers and work out the skills they would like to enhance," she told some 200 people at the conference, for which Classified Postwas the media sponsor.
They could then put this plan into action through one of the company's e-learning programmes, at self-organised workshops and through training from "subject-matter experts" or colleagues with the skills.
Wong said Pfizer's middle managers could also learn from cross-industry sharing sessions, with input from senior executives from Sony, Audi, Yahoo and Pfizer.
Christy Wang, assistant learning and development manager at City Telecom, said those taking part in her company's "management reading days" were constantly reminded of one thing: "Do not expect to learn a lot in two hours. It is what you do before and after that counts, as learning from each other is not something you can do on your own."
Speakers noted that employees were increasingly comfortable with taking responsibility for their own development.
Yvonne Yam, learning and organisational development manager at RS Components, said the company encouraged staff to take ownership of learning and development, while offering training to boost employees' confidence and improve their ability to coach.
Sylvain Friedman, former Far East learning and development leader with Ernst & Young, spoke of the need for a holistic approach. Addressing career development through coaching, he said Ernst & Young was focusing on "how people interact with each other and develop each other, not only through a learning moment, or not only through one moment in their life, but how the coaching element can significantly enhance their career".
While Ernst & Young is very much into the apprenticeship model of employee development, it is interested in moving to a peer-to-peer approach using coaching strategies.
Friedman said it involved "looking at the experience as peer-to-peer conversations rather than top-down conversations", adding that this chimed with the desire of Generation Y members - people born in the 1980s and 1990s - to work as part of a team.
Not surprisingly, the importance of e-learning was a given for the speakers. Eddie Wong described how Royal & Sun Alliance Insurance employees can use an e-learning zone to help them achieve specific goals.
He cited the case of an employee who wanted to be sitting behind his boss' desk in five years' time. Wong said the staff member could search for the boss' profile and then do a self-assessment, allowing him to measure the professional gap between him and his boss - the skills and experience the employee must acquire to gain that promotion.
Some speakers talked about specific facets of training and development.
Chris Yap, Asia-Pacific regional director for client solutions at the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) - one of the event's gold sponsors - spoke about the leadership skills that cross boundaries within companies. Yap said a survey CCL conducted with 128 senior executives showed that boundaries existed not only across hierarchies and functions within a company, but also between external partners and the company, and across demographics and geographic locations.
To illustrate his point, Yap compared the objectives of a rugby team with those of a 100-metre sprinter.
"At the end of the game, the entire team look at the scoreboard and they're looking at one score that defines the success of the team," he said, while the sprinter would just be looking at his own time and position.
Yap said 86 per cent of executives surveyed agreed that working across boundaries was crucial. "But only 7 per cent say they are very effective at it."
Mike Ramsay, CEO of Alliance Group, said companies should compare their benefits packages and level of staff satisfaction with those of their competitors. He also stressed the importance of ensuring that employees are aware of the benefits. He said: "You have invested an incredible amount of money in developing your benefits programme. It's no use if the employees don't know about it."
Keep training short and simple
Lawrence Lee, director of corporate learning and development for Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts, and a speaker at last week's HR Magazine conference, has been in the hospitality industry for over 20 years.
But with half of Asia's population now below 35 years of age, Lee acknowledges that work experience could be a double-edged sword. He says: "When I go to the academy, I feel old." That's why it is important for trainers to customise presentations, especially when training Generation Y colleagues, or people born in the 1980s and 1990s. Lee says: "This is something we sometimes forget as training professionals, as we've done this thing time and time again, using the same programme."
Lee downloads and uses lots of film clips. "YouTube is my best friend in training," he says. "It's nice to talk about teamwork, it's even better to show a video to illustrate the point."
Lee recounts what happened to a fellow trainer at a corporate training programme for younger colleagues. "After two months, he had lost five kilograms because he had to work so hard to engage them," he says. "But once you do engage them, you have their full attention."
Lee says training sessions should be kept short and simple, start with an attention-grabbing introduction and feature frequent breaks. Gen Y members also want to understand why and what they are studying, and they want fast-paced sessions. Trainers shouldn't get offended with young people's style - such as when they keep eyeing and pressing their mobile phones during sessions.
"They are listening. Maybe they multitask a little bit too much, but, believe me, they are listening," Lee says, adding simply lecturing is not going to work with Gen Y. "Let them work in teams. Otherwise, they will Twitter more than you can talk." He adds Gen Y members "are hungry for recognition because they don't get it at home".