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Q&A with Garrick Lau, Hopewell Holdings

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Garrick Lau, associate director – managing director’s office and head of talent acquisition and development, Hopewell Holdings on unleashing social innovation in HR.

Having been a management trainee (MT) of a regional conglomerate, Garrick Lau has run the management trainee programmes at Hopewell for a decade. He has created a Facebook fan page for local MT applicants which attracted more than 10,000 followers in eight months.

Q Coming from a law education background, how did you get started with working in HR?

My first encounter with the HR function was rather unexpected and challenging. I was assigned to handle the outplacement of staff at the revolving restaurant at Hopewell Centre, which has been in operation for more than two decades.  The company decided to cease the operation of the restaurant and I was hoping to provide a solution to ensure a smooth transition for every staff member.

I spent more than 50 hours of facetime with everyone who was affected by the change to listen to their needs and concerns. It was certainly not easy as different people had different expectations. Some wanted to move onto other restaurant businesses within the Hopewell group, some wanted to get their bonus and then move on, while some planned to retire.

It was a formidable challenge for me considering I was quite new to the job market and I had to negotiate with people who were a lot more experienced than I was.In the end, my effort and patience paid off and every staff member went through the transition smoothly. That was my defining moment to enter the HR function.

Q Graduate recruitment has been your specialty, what make you so successful?

I started working on graduate recruitment 10 years ago when the management trainee programme in Hopewell just started. Before that, I had first-hand experience as a management trainee in another conglomerate and therefore my seniors considered me suitable for the job.  My approach to recruitment is simple – we try our very best to be helpful.

We think helpfulness has been underrated in building relations with a candidate, especially when there are thousands of candidates applying for the same job.  Our definition of helpfulness as a recruiter means having empathy for candidates who are going through the stressful process of hunting for a job.

For example, like most employers, we have a Facebook page to promote job openings. But our Facebook does a bit more. It is built as a community for graduates who are applying for MT programmes to share their thoughts and experience.

Besides sharing, we welcome students to ask us any questions regarding their career development. Our graduate recruitment team and graduates of the MT programme will try our best to respond to them.  Sometimes we will receive comments/questions which we don’t know or are not related to our own programmes, so we will try our best to source information or line up related parties.We make it a priority to respond to every inbox message within 24 hours.

Even if sometimes it may take quite some time to find the right answers, I will reply and inform them I have their questions and I am looking into them.I think being responsive to candidates goes a long way in building relationships with them. Since we started it eight months ago, the page has more than 10,000 followers.

My approach to recruitment is simple – we try our very best to be helpful.

Q What makes Hopewell an employer of choice for graduates?
To be successful in talent management, employers need to put themselves in employees’ shoes and rethink the employee value proposition.  Ask yourself: “What have you got that makes people want to come work for you?”.  Listening to what employees want and trying to put them in the best position to be successful is the key to attracting and retaining talent.

In our 24-month MT programme, we intentionally leave a two-month “blank” in the second year to let our MT choose where they want to get experience.

Furthermore, we believe it is natural to have changing thoughts on career aspirations during one’s early stage of a career, and therefore we will adjust individual rotations per ongoing dialogue with our MT.  We want to let them know we will give them the flexibility they need to help with their career development.

We think Millennials consider their gadgets as part of their personal brand, so we will let them choose what model and colour of their work notebook, with accessories. One small perk we hand out is that we give every MT on their first day of work is a brand new MacBook Air or Microsoft Surface Pro tablet computer – they are free to choose from either brands.But to be honest, we believe job satisfaction trumps over any perks.

Q How do you incorporate social innovation into your talent management strategies?
To me, social innovation is innovations that bring positive social impact, on top of financial sustainability. Many organisations are committed to bringing positive social impact to society.

Conventional CSR programmes may imply a separation between the core business operations and impactful initiatives, which will not be the most effective.  HR, with its involvement in many touch-points in each organisation, can be a role model in influencing business units to consider the social impact in their day-to-day decisions.

For instance, we have created an internship programme which pairs up university students and secondary school students called “INreTERN”, catching the pronunciation of “in return”, which means an internship programme having a give-back concept.The university students get the chance to be “manager interns”, leading inexperienced secondary school students as “officer interns”.

The manager will get an empathetic experience to develop their emotional literacy and leadership, while the officer will get their first business environment exposure with intensive guidance, so as to inspire their perspectives in education-plus career paths.

We already have an internship programme in place and we added a social element to support the social upward mobility of local youth by getting under resourced secondary students involved.  The “INreTERN” internship programme is one of the social innovation projects we started and we have been learning from Social Ventures Hong Kong and Good Lab to leverage on their experience and networks to enhance our capability.The programme is now in its second year and there are 10 students who have journeyed with us.

Another kind of disruption that we are trying is on industry collaboration. We are arranging inter-company training for interns so they can maximise their types of exposure and network during the summer to help them make better career decisions when they graduate. There are potential to further develop such initiatives into inter-company externships for talents from different companies. I believe these types of training will enhance the talent pool of society as a whole. The so called “war” for talent is not a zero-sum game if companies are able to nurture more high quality talent together, as “co-opetitors”.

Listening to what employees want and trying to put them in the best position to be successful is the key to attracting and retaining talent.

Q Many employers think Millennials are very different from workers of other generations, hence, making them tough to manage. What are your thoughts on this?
I think what Millennials want is very much similarly attractive to other generations. Who doesn’t want a four-day work week? Who doesn’t want flexible work arrangements? Who doesn’t want prompt feedback from supervisors?

The major difference, however, is the perceived higher bargaining power the Millennials enjoy compared to the previous generations – given the Millennials are less urgent to put bread on the table for the whole family, coupled with the information transparency of the career options they can get on the internet.

Sometimes, we have to admit that many Millennials know the job market better than us.  They have more guts in voicing what they want, and are more prepared to change course if they are not happy.

Q What are the must-have features of an MT? How do you judge?
I am impressed by candidates who are curious about the “why” of everything, and candidates who possess high levels of empathy and humbleness. We would be assessing this by understanding the life stories of candidates, including how they invest their time and how they make major life decisions.

Actions speak louder than words on the CV. Candidates who have experienced and overcome obstacles in life (such as critical family situations or personal setbacks) do support us to believe in their persistence and introspectiveness.

Sometimes, we have to admit that many Millennials know the job market better than us.

Q What do you like to do during your free time?
Besides spending time with family, I like to read about motivation and workplace happiness, and my favourite writers include Daniel Pink, Adam Grant and Clayton Christensen.  I also like to keep myself updated with local youth through mentorship programmes and social enterprises.

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