Asia Pacific
HR Connect Asia Pacific: Top Companies for Leaders 2011 Study - Highlights from Asia Pacific

By Ajay Soni, Regional Leadership Consulting Practice Leader, Aon Hewitt, and Gitansh Malik, Consultant, Leadership Consulting Practice, Aon Hewitt

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Top Companies for Leaders 2011 Study - Asia Pacific Insights 

To request for a copy of the "Top Companies for Leaders 2011 Study" Report for Asia Pacific, please email Pooja Bhalla.

Organizations incorporating great leadership practices demonstrate strong financial results over the long term. Leadership is the single most valuable competitive advantage today. It not only helps in gaining an edge over competition, it proves to be even more valuable as economies go through ups and downs. It was in the midst of this challenging economic context that Aon Hewitt and its study partners - The RBL Group and FORTUNE - undertook the 2011 Top Companies for Leaders study.

Globally, 478 companies participated in this study, of which 152 companies were from Asia Pacific (APAC). Our comprehensive evaluation process included a scan of the participating organizations’ leadership practices and policies; in-depth interviews with participants’ HR leaders, CEOs and senior leaders; and finally, blind judging from the shortlist, which culminated in the naming of the Global Top Companies for Leaders (TCFL).

In this article, we are going to share the business challenges that companies are facing in Asia Pacific and how Top Company for Leaders are using Leadership Development to combat these business challenges.

Business Challenges in Asia Pacific

Business leaders in Asia Pacific are witnessing paradoxical times. On one hand, the region is full of opportunities; on the other hand, the global business scenario has thrown up significant challenges. As part of our TCFL research in 2011 we asked companies to share their top challenges.

The following top 5 business challenges emerged:


Business Growth: In these times of economic uncertainty, managing business growth is the most pressing challenge for organizations across Asia Pacific. Growth continues to be the primary strategy for this region.


Margin Pressure: As more and more companies vie for the same opportunities in this market, margin pressures pose a big challenge for business leaders. Post 2008, companies no longer want growth at any cost, thereby making productivity and profitability the cornerstones of the growth strategy for corporates today.


Increased Competition: As large parts of the globe witness continued economic uncertainty and more companies look to Asia for growth, Asian companies see that increased competition is inevitable. Companies that manage to consistently delight customers are able to leverage their growth opportunities better.


Globalization: Local businesses are either going global or are facing increased competition from global firms. This region is expected to be a major source of business growth for many multinational corporations. Globalization is a pressing challenge for both local as well as MNCs in APAC today.


Quality of Leaders: In effect, this challenge emerges out of the four business challenges above. Companies are realizing that they need to develop quality leaders who can grow the business profitably, create distinctive competitive advantage, and manage cross-cultural operations. Most organizations realize that they currently are not structured to grow quality leaders fast enough to meet these challenges. However Top Companies have succeeded in addressing these challenges and are taking immediate actions to move ahead in the talent race.

In the next section of the Asia Pacific Top Companies for Leaders Study Highlights, we describe in more detail what these Top Companies are doing differently to develop leaders and leadership pipelines that help them stay on top of the above challenges.

What do Top Companies for Leaders do Differently?

The winners of the Top Companies for Leaders study are well positioned to address the aforementioned challenges. They do this by developing a robust leadership pipeline: 95% of Top Companies have sufficient pipeline to meet their future needs. These leading organizations - through a mix of focus, diligence, perseverance, diversity, creativity and innovation - are not shying away from their leadership agenda amid the complexities of a rapidly growing economy. They recognize that building top leaders requires a long-term commitment, which cannot be derailed by short-term distractions.

When compared to other organizations, the Top Companies have a strong focus on developing and preparing the next generation of leaders through smart selection, robust assessment, rich talent pipelines, and accelerated, customized developmental opportunities with emphasis on the art of execution. These Top Companies consider leadership development and building their Leadership Brand as an integral part of doing business.

What Top Companies Do Differently 

Building a Leadership Brand. All of the Top Companies intentionally build a strong leadership brand. This leadership brand encompasses much more than just the disparate charismatic styles displayed by individual leaders. Rather, these organizations take considerable effort to define what a Leader in their organization should look like. They are very conscious of only bringing in those leaders that display these characteristics. Leaders of Top Companies invest significant time and effort in cascading this leadership brand internally through various institutionalized processes. In order to attract top class talent from the marketplace, the Top Companies ensure significant external visibility of their leadership brand. Their leaders are seen to be actively involved in industry forums, community activities and in some cases, nation building.

Views of CEOs, Key Senior Leaders and HR Team 

A comprehensive study of Top Companies' leadership development practices brought out five key themes that clearly differentiate them from the others.


Unrelenting Focus on Talent Assessment: In order to live the leadership brand, an organization needs to identify the right talent who not only live the brand, but also pass on the legacy from one generation to another. With a deep commitment to identify and develop the best talent to run future businesses, Top Companies in Asia adopt robust and deep talent assessment processes as part of their high potential identification.
Our Top Companies for Leaders study suggests that organizations adopt a comprehensive, three-pronged approach for talent assessment:

Robust Talent Assessment 

All of the Top Companies have an institutionalized talent review process, as compared to many of the other participants who do not have such a process. The Talent Review Process extends way beyond discussing and normalizing performance. The Top Companies have Talent Review Forums executed throughout the organization, wherein each employees is discussed in terms of competencies, values and potential. The talent assessment in these companies is performed through various lenses and done with great rigor.

On top of this, more and more organizations are now looking closely at the third pool of talent -- young and emerging leaders. Efforts are being made to identify leaders early and to do everything to ensure their development, engagement and growth.


Customized Learning Opportunity: There are two changes taking place at the workplace. One, employees are becoming much more discerning and demanding about their careers. Each employee has different needs and expects their employer to meet those different needs on an individual basis. Two, companies need to significantly accelerate the development of their leaders in the scenario of high trajectory of business growth.

These two changes are forcing organizations to change the way they look at developing leaders. Not too long ago, leadership development meant a once-a-year event of two-to-three days during which the entire top and senior management came together and listened to lectures by leading gurus. No longer is this the way of leadership development. Just as engagement is created one person at a time, more and more companies are realizing that leadership development needs to be done one person at a time. The table below illustrates this quite clearly.

Top Companies Rely on Multiple Tools 

A comparison of the Winning Companies in 2009 and 2011 shows that there has been significant growth in the use of individual, focused, one-on-one development processes, such as coaching and mentoring in these organizations. In fact, between 2009 and 2011, the Top Companies have increased the use of coaching and mentoring by 30% and 27%, respectively.


Taking Talent Out of Their Comfort ZoneTaking Top Talent Out of Their Comfort Zone: Senior leaders encourage their top talent to take up new challenges outside of their comfort zone in order to create additional long-term value for the organization. They strive to foster a "creative tension" in the organization that will bring out the best in their talent. Our research suggests that approximately twice as many Top Companies in Asia Pacific (68%), when compared to the rest (35%), consciously foster movement of leaders across different functions, businesses, or geographies.

Additionally, the Top Companies have a huge appetite for taking risk with their top talent. Most of the business leaders that we met mentioned that the best business opportunities were given to the top talent in their organization, even if they were only seen to be 60% ready. This leap of faith taken by the leaders of the organization has gone a long way toward motivating the top potentials to strive even harder to achieve business goals.


Diversity of Thought: Top Companies work toward increasing the diversity of their leadership group as a key part of their leadership strategy. These organizations make conscious efforts to build an inclusive workplace promoting cultural agility, a global mindset, and offering diverse experiences.

Eighty-five percent of Top Companies in Asia Pacific have diversity as a core element of their overall leadership strategy. These organizations understand that diversity in a leadership team is about the differences and similarities that people bring to an organization, and leveraging the power of these to create positive business impact.


Leadership developmentDespite the paradoxical business realities of the region –high growth amid the added pressure of increasing competition, quality leadership remains the solution for sustainable growth. It is also a difficult-to-replicate competitive edge for organizations.

Our research confirms that leadership development is a unique process for each organization, but the tools needed to optimize this process remain the same. The companies that focus on building a robust leadership pipeline are better equipped to leverage the growth opportunities in the region. They also have a "killer app" of high-performing, adaptable leaders who can ride through economic uncertainties better.

Thus, the leadership development teams in Asia Pacific have their work cut out for them: to grow and attract high performers, to build and engage leaders. In order to achieve profitable high growth in this increasingly competitive and global business scenario, finding and grooming your best talent will require your tapping the world's best talent!

In this challenging business environment, it's not just about RIGHT sizing, but rather BRIGHT sizing your talent.


Ajay Soni is the Regional Leadership Consulting Practice Leader Aon Hewitt. Ajay is based in Mumbai, India and can be reached at Gitansh Malik is a Consultant with Aon Hewitt's Leadership Consulting Practice, and can be reached at

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