Talent attraction in the China market

visionary-on-arrowThe fight for talent in China is becoming more intense, and it is no longer about who can offer the biggest package.

Stephen Burke, Vice President, HR, at The LEGO Group, says that smart companies will the ones that build a strong corporate culture based on dignity and respect, and live the ideals that they espouse.

The topic of talent attraction can be approached from three different angles. First, there are aspects of a workplace that that will be attractive for young employees irrespective of their nationality and background. All young talent reacts positively when treated with respect and dignity, and young Chinese talent is no different. This is a basic trait that transcends both cultural and organisational boundaries.

Second, there is a ‘quid pro quo’ aspect to attracting talent that needs to be incorporated in the mind-set of a company. This also goes beyond cultural boundaries and leads us to a third aspect of maintaining an honest, deep-rooted culture that will be attractive for young talent – companies should not fall into the trap of overselling their corporate culture and risk attracting talent under false premises. In the end, it is not about attracting talent as much as it is retaining and developing it in a way that benefits the company and the talent (the quid pro quo).

Why invest in talent attraction?

Every company should ask themselves this question. A well-known statement from a renowned company goes as follows:

“We get fantastic results with ordinary people because of our excellent processes. Our competitors often get mediocre results using fantastic, clever people to salvage poor processes.”

The essence of this statement is that it is of the utmost importance that you know how to deploy your talent to the advantage of the company and for the development of the individual. So when attracting talent it is important that you know what capabilities you will need in the future and how you intend to build them through your build-buy-borrow plan.

A strong company culture where all employees are treated with respect and are encouraged to share their opinions, and with a focus on diversity, is increasingly desirable among those seeking employment in China. Many even prioritise a company’s values and culture above monetary incentives.

Setting the tone of your company culture starts the first time you interview a potential candidate. In the past, interviews had the flavour of an interrogation where the objective was to find flaws in the candidate’s personality. Today, a job interview is a two-way conversation where the candidate is asking just as many questions as the recruiter. Openness and trust play a major role in getting employees off to a good start in the company and ensuring they understand the basics of what culture they are buying into.

Workplace environment and new ways of working

There is a basic statement in psychology that “context can change behaviour”. The workplace environment and the ways of working are therefore important factors for young talent in China.

A company should always be very conscious of how and why they design their workplace. Employees are subject to environmental influence as much as they themselves influence the environment. This is why creating an environment that increases learning opportunities is so important and a key part of organisational development.

Many companies are introducing an entirely new way of working, where the traditional, physical concept of ‘a department’ has dissolved, which encourages cross-organisational collaboration and knowledge sharing.  It results in more holistic thinking, and, ultimately, better decisions being made.

How to develop talent

The key to talent attraction and retention is having a strong concept of how you will develop your talent, for example, the 70:20:10 approach. This emphasises that 70 per cent of an employee’s development will derive from on-the-job experiences; 20 per cent from coaching, mentoring and networking; and 10 per cent from classroom training. It is also important that talent is exposed to challenges that stretch their abilities and builds on a company’s existing competencies while they are mentored by a senior leader.

While this may seem obvious to some, many companies do not have a very clear talent development concept, often just presenting their young talent with a catalogue of courses or MBA’s to choose from. This approach will benefit neither the employee nor the company and can result in the talent misunderstanding what is necessary in order to grow, and the company squandering good potential.

Understanding the difference between performance and potential

Many young, talented individuals may not yet be performing at their maximum level but have the potential to grow. A company should have a clear definition of what potential they are looking for, and it should be communicated to all employees and evaluated every year. There is no use in employing smart people if they are not using their intelligence for the good of the company.

Evaluation of employees’ potential should be carried out every year, with their leader gathering input from relevant stakeholders. There should be a structured process with qualified tools, and leaders should be trained in the process, especially how to give feedback in order to ensure that it is received in the spirit of learning and that there is respect for the employee.


There can be no short cuts in attracting the right talent. Ultimately, you will only get value if you know how you will develop your talent, you practice the values that you espouse and truly believe in the quid pro quo principle of talent development. The Chinese market is very quickly getting up to speed with the rest of the world with regard to how a good workplace is evaluated. The new generation prioritises differently to the previous one: salary is no longer the number one priority – the work environment and work/life balance is also very high on the list.

The LEGO Group is a privately held, family-owned company with headquarters in Billund (Denmark), and main offices in Enfield (USA), London, Shanghai and Singapore. Founded in 1932 by Ole Kirk Kristiansen, and based on the iconic LEGO® brick, it is one of the world’s leading manufacturers of play materials.

Guided by the company spirit: “Only the best is good enough”, the company is committed to the development of children and aims to inspire and develop the builders of tomorrow through creative play and learning. LEGO products are sold worldwide.