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Top of the hill

A MINING and construction service provider has been named human resources consultant Aon Hewitt’s best employer of the year.

Brooke Showers
Top of the hill

A high-engagement staff strategy and enviable corporate culture is said to have led to Hilti Australia’s success.

The company’s award-winning formula includes high staff engagement, rotation of workers, low staff turnover, leadership development, management accountability and a healthy corporate culture.

The global expertise of Hilti Australia managing director Jan Pacas has also played a part in the company’s ongoing success.

Pacas started with the privately owned Hilti Group 12 years ago. It was his first job as a graduate.

The company promised him that if he was a good employee and proved himself, he could tackle a range of jobs, work in different countries and move into senior positions.

During his 11 years prior to being named Australian managing director in 2008, Pacas was put into a variety of management roles in Europe.

“They really kept all the promises,” he said.

At 35, Pacas is the youngest MD in the group.

“You really earn respect by letting people realise that you know a lot of stuff and can give advice and show good leadership,”Pacas said.

Pacas started his MD role in the thick of the global financial crisis – a challenging position for any director at the time, let alone a company’s youngest in his first few months on the job.

At a time when many companies were laying off staff, Pacas began to exert his influence early on over the corporate strategy to survive the economic downturn.

“In the GFC in 2009, we managed to grow, build profit and retain all our staff,” he said.

A five-year strategic plan emerged. “Part of that is we want to be much more present in the mining and energy sectors than we were in the past,” Pacas said.

The plan to infiltrate the mining sector is in sync with Hilti’s ambition to be a market leader.

As part of this, Pacas acquired two small cable and fibre bolt businesses.

Pacas also is a company director for Hilti Mining Engineering and Hilti Tendon Technologies.

During the post-GFC struggle, Hilti set its sights to win best employer status within five years.

It achieved that goal after only one.

Hilti was crowned Aon Hewitt’s best of the best employer 2011 due to its differentiated high performance culture; clear and determined strategy; the expectations set and delivered to its people; and the engagement created amongst the workforce.

“We had a feeling we were a great place to work, and the award gives us an official feeling,” Pacas said.

Aon’s criteria is based on five elements including engagement, leadership commitment, a compelling promise to employees, connecting employees to the company and strategy and a differentiated high performance culture.

Eleven companies qualified for the award and an independent committee chose Hilti based on the data it collected.

Hilti experienced a 15% growth in saleslast year.

It specialises in technological solutions for the construction and the resource sector, which includes power tools, fixings, chemical solutions, mining bolts and ground support and coal mining roof stable solutions. These solutions are already in use on Xstrata, Centennial Coal, BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto and Anglo American mine sites.

In the next two years, Hilti plans to grow considerably and expects more business to come from mining, energy and construction in Western Australia.

Hilti says leadership development is important to drive its corporate culture and values and is achieved through intensive management training.

Managers get measured on their engagement with staff and how many people they have developed.

The biggest change Pacas has pushed since taking the reigns is to take the corporate culture and high engagement of staff away from solely being a HR responsibility.

Pacas said human resources departments should not be relied upon for recruitment, performance and other staff functions.

“HR is clearly there for the process, to provide the tools, introduce the rules and advise about training,” he said.

Staff accountability has increased and managers are reminded they own all facets of leadership, which includes sustaining staff engagement and building a healthy team culture.

“People say to me, ‘you must give a lot of benefits to people’,” Pacas said.

“I say, ‘no I don’t think that will really buy you [an] employee’s engagement’. People want to do things they believe in and realise their full potential, where they can actually progress to the next position.”

Positions at Hilti cover senior and middle management, sales roles, key accounts, mine projects, energy, construction, trades, retail, call centre, marketing, mining and technical support, field engineers and logistics.

It is quite common for people to rotate through different roles. “You don’t get hired for a job, you get hired for a career,” Pacas said.

Hilti hires 90% of its managers from within and the rotation strategy helps improve motivation, experience and product knowledge.

Rotation helps staff gain coverage across Hilti’s range of business units, allowing for relatively fast role succession and stronger handovers.

“Being exposed to more of the business makes you a more well-rounded manager,” Pacas said.

The strength of being a global company – Hilti is in 120 countries worldwide – means staff can gain international experience. Employee feedback has indicated this rotation is a key reason why people stay with the organisation for so long and this benefits the business greatly.

“All the knowledge and expertise stays in house,” Pacas said. “When you have somebody who has had three, four or five roles, these are much more

valuable members.

“It’s a great benefit when people are exposed through more parts of the business because they have a much broader understanding of how things work together.”

Hilti’s rewards and performance program uses a transparent process.

Managers hold discussions with each of their workers, two to three times a year, about how they feel they are tracking against their targets and where assistance may be required.

Subsequently, coaching sessions can be held if necessary.

Hilti demonstrates a strong connection between performance assessment and how people get paid. There also are travel incentives to recognise outstanding results.

“But the real recognition happens every day,” Pacas said.

“I don’t think you can buy true benefits. Clearly they [incentives] help, but you need to have the basics right.

“You have to have the healthy culture in place.”

Small tokens of corporate appreciation, such as a team dinner or a simple ‘thank you’ every day can maintain morale.

“It’s really important,” Pacas said. “Every person in every position wants to be treated like a human.”

One element of building a highly engaged corporate culture starts with a high standard of expectations from candidates during the recruitment process.

Psychometric testing, including a motivational questionnaire, can help put the right people in place.

Hilti also uses an internal “refer a friend” recruitment program and leverages off university partnerships.

“When new people start after a week, they say ‘wow – people are so helpful and so supportive’,” Pacas said.

Sustaining an engaged culture means not deviating from these values.

Leadership from all levels is the key to a high engagement corporate culture and this is where Pacas has focused a lot of energy.

“That means you recruit the best,” he said.

This article first appeared in the September 2011 edition of Australia's Mining Monthly magazine.

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