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Executive training on the right track
Published on Friday, 04 Dec 2009
Head of property investment and management Roger Poon, training manager Chester Tsang and training officer Sarah Sham.

Every day millions of people travel around Hong Kong on the MTR. Many others work, shop or live in the rail company's growing number of properties.

Following its merger, the MTR Corporation employs more than 14,000 staff, is involved in a massive range of activities and has a distinctive set of corporate values.

To meet the challenges, it has developed a training programme for managerial staff.

Launched in July, the Executive Continuous Learning Programme helps senior managers and leaders develop the best business and management practices.

It seeks to align managerial staff with the corporation's mission - enhancing customers' quality of life and anticipating their needs while fostering a company culture that lets staff learn, grow and feel proud of their work.

"Our four values are excellent service, mutual respect, value creation and enterprise," said Chester Tsang, management training and development manager. "So we wanted to get everybody together on this. All our managers are good, but we wanted to go from good to great and actualise these special values in our daily work."

The programme involves about 250 managerial staff, offering them a wide range of management workshops and classes about specific business subjects. Many of the seminars are given by outside speakers and industry leaders. There is also a strong Web-learning component to cater for different staff preferences.

"Some people like e-learning, some like discussion, some like visits to other organisations," Tsang said. "It's a whole mixture of different learning methods."

Roger Poon, head of property investment and management, enrolled to learn more about the company's management style. He said the most useful feature had been workshops where trainees were asked to discuss different case studies.

"They put you into a very tight time frame with problem-solving situations," he said. "It's a very good exercise."

"It pushes you to do your homework and analyse things in a group discussion.

Everybody has different ideas on the situation."

Poon said the training had developed his ability to take on other viewpoints and adapt the way he approached issues. This has fed back into his position with MTR and he feels he is now more receptive in meetings.

"I consider more factors before giving out directions to my teams," he said. "I am listening more and encouraging the team to speak their minds. I want to be more inclusive and seek diverse views and constructive opinions from every team member."

This is just one of the ways the programme has encouraged Poon to reflect on his strengths and weaknesses. Alongside the classroom training, the participants can also use extensive self-diagnostic
tools and are encouraged to reflect on their progress.

"We have to create a plan to improve our weaknesses and develop ourselves," Poon said.

The participants then discuss the personal profile with a senior staff member. Poon said this was useful because it helped him understand how others might perceive him and offered useful advice on how he might develop.

He said people taking the programme had to be willing to accept criticism without taking it too seriously.

"We should take criticism positively and use it to develop ourselves," Poon said.

Tsang said one aim was to encourage managers to see things from different angles, particularly from angles which they normally wouldn't have time to embrace during their regular working lives.

As part of this, managers participating in the programme make visits to different organisations to get benchmarks for best practices within Hong Kong.

Tsang said managers were also being trained to act as human resources advocates. Poon, for example, has been designated a divisional champion who was encouraged to share what he has learned during the programme with other staff.

Tsang said the combination of these divisional champions, e-learning and self learning together made the training scheme different. It was perfectly suited to gearing staff to meet the distinctive challenges that the MTR presented.

"They gain the ability to multitask, make decisions and think strategically," he said. "These are all very important for a dynamic company like the MTR Corporation."

The value of these policies is not only being recognised in the company. MTR's employee development programmes won this year's Hong Kong Management Association's excellence in training award and the Global Human Resources development award.