Leading into the Year of the Dragon, and with banks focusing on tight cost controls, the spotlight will inevitably shine on staff who will be required to step into the shoes of their bosses who have been made redundant.
To ensure their efforts do not go unnoticed, people required to step up to the next level should show how they contribute by producing project performance reports and proactively engage with other managers, says Emma Charnock, regional director of Hays recruitment firm in Hong Kong and China. "It is important not to fly under the radar and to demonstrate how you go the extra mile," she adds.
John Mullally, manager of financial services at Robert Walters, says succession-planning strategies put in place over the past few years by banks are now being tested as participants of training programmes move into middle management.
"It's not the case that we are seeing mass layoffs of senior managers; it's that bilingual employees are being promoted into middle and upper-middle management positions where they are needed to drive business in Greater China where Hong Kong banks are pushing into," Mullally says, adding that these usually are people who have been identified for their skills and talent and been fast-tracked into senior posts.
As banks focus more on business opportunities in Greater China, demand for bilingual and trilingual bankers below management director level should increase, Mullally says.
"Of course, there is always room for talented bankers regardless of their language skills, but this is a trend we see," he adds. "It makes sense that when an IPO or M&A deal is being put together with a firm from western or the interior of China, those involved have the necessary language skills."
At HSBC, for instance, group chairman Douglas Flint told the Asian Financial Forum in Hong Kong last month that, amid reports the financial giant will axe some 30,000 people globally, "ten of thousands" of staff will be hired and most of them will be for frontline customer services in Asia.
Dora Wong, managing director at talent and career management firm Right Management, says in situations where there has been a number of layoffs, the pressure on those who are being promoted to the next level of management can be enormous, as they need to display the necessary resilience to motivate and keep their colleagues focused.
"It may be a case of the new manager making a good contribution through having the technical skills - but not the soft skills - to effectively communicate with subordinates," says Wong. "More senior executives, who could be fighting bigger battles, still need to ensure new managers are provided with support."
Wong adds that it can take time to develop strong people management abilities and leadership qualities.