The year 2015 will be pivotal for Maybank Group. The Malaysia-based financial services provider has been working toward that milestone year since embarking on a transformation journey six years ago. As the defining moment approaches, the company is accelerating its efforts to meet its strategic objectives and pave the way for greater achievement.

Engagement Surveys Lead Maybank Group to Positive Change

In an increasingly challenging and competitive environment, Maybank set its sights on becoming a regional financial services leader by 2015. The vision involves earning a place within communities' hearts by giving community members convenient access to financing with consistently fair terms and pricing, and advising them based on their individual needs. To realize the vision, the organization needed to build a high-performance culture and engage all Maybankers in the effort.

Maybank leaders knew success depended on engaging employees and customers in a different way, and focusing the workforce on providing top-quality services. To be fully engaged, employees needed to understand what was happening within the organization and where it was heading, and also to see themselves as crucial elements in the company's success.

Taking the Organization's Pulse

"To be a progressive regional leader, a high level of employee engagement is paramount," said Nora Abd Manaf, Group Chief Human Capital Officer of Maybank Group. "But given the demographics of our 47,000-plus workforce, which spans various geographies, the engagement challenge is complex. The most important element is soliciting employee feedback and acting on it. It's extremely important to listen to employees — and to act on what we hear.

"We use a variety of platforms to achieve this. A primary tool we deploy yearly is our employee engagement survey, which we conduct with Towers Watson's guidance. The survey enables us to collect and analyze the opinions of our more than 47,000 colleagues around the world. And it allows us to see what's working and make necessary course corrections to sustain engagement levels throughout our diverse organization.

"Our periodic surveys are vital tools for finding and examining pockets of high and low employee engagement," Nora said. "The surveys reveal the levers we must pull to create a more engaged workforce. The survey program is a barometer for organizational health. Also, it shows employees that we operate with internal transparency, and helps us infuse our culture with the practices of listening and responding to feedback."

Engagement Surveys Lead Maybank Group to Positive Change

The 2014 survey, in which 90% of employees participated, uncovered issues that needed addressing. For example, the results revealed an opportunity for better cost control. Though employees were generally conscious of recent changes aimed at improving cost effectiveness, many said cost control at the sector level could be improved. Leaders are now taking a closer look at that feedback and making changes to the company's strategic cost management program.

The 2014 survey also elicited the following employee recommendations:

  • Clearly articulate Maybank's employee value proposition (EVP), particularly to high performers, to boost the retention of top talent.
  • Create an environment in which employees can safely present innovative ideas for solving customers' problems.
  • Use strategic communication campaigns and meaningful career conversations to ensure that all employees understand how they can help Maybank meet its goals.
  • Provide the latest tools for employee collaboration and teamwork.
  • Strengthen programs that support employees' long-term development.

As part of the strategy to improve in these areas, Maybank launched a yearlong, groupwide program in 2014. Based on the company's core values and brand elements, the Live the Values, Deliver the Promise campaign encourages employees to put forward ideas for improving productivity and profitability.

The survey also found that employee enablement can be further improved by removing barriers at work, while providing the right tools to help people perform efficiently and effectively. Leadership quickly put interventions in place, and launched training sessions on enablement for all leaders and line managers. The two-day sessions are among many initiatives that comprise the Leaders Teaching Leaders series.

In planning all such sessions and other engagement-related programs, senior Maybank leaders ensure that the unique organizational culture — which they're passionate about nurturing — is factored in. For example, to create an environment conducive to idea generation, collaboration and feedback sharing, leaders involve a cross section of participants from different geographies in all new initiatives. These include IT transformation, groupwide strategic cost management and more.

A Commitment to Change

"Our survey is more comprehensive each year, as we work to keep it relevant to our business outcomes," Nora said. "Also, we're working harder at communicating with employees about our responses to their feedback. Clear, effective communication is imperative for our people to understand and be receptive to the actions we take."

Those actions include equipping designated employee engagement champions with toolkits for sharing survey results with their teams and creating action plans. The goal is to help employees understand how their behaviors fit into the profit chain and encourage them to own the effects of their engagement on business performance.

"We're paying attention to line of sight throughout the organization," Nora said. "Among senior leaders, we gained trust by continually aligning the survey with the organization's strategic goals. We need to hit the right spots — the areas that matter most to employees and affect our business. And to show people that leaders understand and respect their day-to-day concerns, we provide periodic updates on the status of improvement initiatives. It's crucial for employees to know that our leaders are authentic, and that they sincerely value open communication and the exchange of ideas."

After several survey cycles, Maybank managers are accustomed to diving deeply into the survey results and developing action plans. As they design and enhance programs and products, they frequently reference survey data points. This companywide focus is keeping engagement levels high.

"I'm happy to say that engagement has remained high, even as we've made dramatic transformational and structural changes. In 2012, our engagement level was on par with Towers Watson's Global High-Performance Company Norm (characterized by superiority in financial performance and HR practices), and it remains high this year, at 82%," Nora said.

An Active Partnership

Maybank Group and Towers Watson have built a closely knit team over many years. "Towers Watson fully understands our business and organizational culture. Most important, they're in tune with the aspirations of our transformational journey," Nora said.

"With the help of Towers Watson's expertise, we can identify the most significant survey findings and work with stakeholder groups to turn the results into actions. Also, the results of the employee and customer surveys — that is, the surveys on engagement and risk, internal customer effectiveness and external customer engagement — are correlated to customer service and the profit chain.

"The Towers Watson consultants have extensive experience working with high-performing companies, so they enable us to benchmark Maybank Group against the crème de la crème of the corporate world. This helps us ensure we're meeting world-class standards for our employees and customers."

Impressive Results

Engagement is playing a starring role in Maybank's transformation. And the company's culture of transparency and responsiveness is earning a reputation both internally and externally as a driver of high performance.

Maybank's internal initiatives are anchored by its guiding principles, known as T.I.G.E.R. values — teamwork, integrity, growth, excellence and efficiency, and relationship building — which lie at the center of all efforts to reinforce the high-performance culture. "You see Maybankers living the values every day as they collaborate to meet the needs of internal and external stakeholders," Nora said. T.I.G.E.R. values, which are deeply rooted in Maybank's culture, help to synchronize the company's leadership, culture, operations and service levels to sustain strong performance.

Communities are benefiting as well. For example, Maybank leads the most extensive corporate responsibility (CR) program ever undertaken by a Malaysian company globally. On the annual Maybank Global CR Day, over 21,000 employees showcase the volunteerism initiatives they will champion during the year to benefit the community. This and other programs instill Maybankers with a strong sense of purpose and add meaning to their work.

Job candidates have taken notice of Maybankers' enthusiasm. For the third straight year, a survey conducted by research institute Trendence placed Maybank among Malaysia's Top 100 Leading Graduate Employers for 2013, ahead of local and foreign institutions in the banking and financial services category. "This is evidence that our leadership and EVP have made us an employer of choice," Nora said. And in 2013, Maybank was the only Asian organization to be recognized internationally for superior financial performance and people practices on Towers Watson's Global High-Performing Company Norm list.

Also, Maybank topped the list of Best Malaysian Organizations in the Life at Work Award 2014. Talent Corporation Malaysia Berhad gives the annual award to recognize employers committed to championing diversity and inclusion in their workplaces. The winners are acknowledged as trailblazers in work/life integration, parent-friendly work environments, and strong attraction and retention programs, particularly those targeting women.

The business world has taken note as well. In 2014, Maybank was recognized as a Brand of the Year at the World Branding Forum in London. Among the Malaysia-based honorees, Maybank was the only brand to be recognized in the banking category.

Most recently, in Malaysia's 100 Leading Graduate Employers Awards 2014, Maybank took the top spot for the first time. Maybank has risen in the award rankings from 17th in 2010, to fifth in 2011, third in 2012 and second in 2013 before clinching the number one spot this year. The company got top honors in the following categories:

  • Graduate Employer of the Year
  • Leading Graduate Employer in the Banking and Financial Services
  • Best Innovation on Campus — For the Maybank GO Ahead Challenge
  • Best Internship Experience

Maybankers' high engagement levels are paying off. The company has had double-digit revenue growth for several years, and last year recorded the largest profits in its 53-year history. This growth has led Bloomberg Markets to put Maybank among the top 20 strongest banks in the world for the past two years — impressive recognition for the growing regional financial services company.

Beyond the Numbers

When employees are engaged, the effects go beyond an organization's financial results to nonfinancial elements of performance.

Nora points to an example where employees rallied together in the successful merger of Maybank Investment Bank with Kim Eng Securities. They showed remarkable collaboration and commitment during the post-merger integration, adapting to changes quickly and meeting deadlines within a short time frame. As a result, Maybank successfully transitioned from having siloed operations in each of the various countries to being a truly regional organization.

"It's very important that our employees are agile, take ownership of Maybank's transformation efforts and push beyond boundaries to work effectively in a regional environment," Nora said. "From my experience, those things happen when you coach and motivate people, while providing a work environment that enables them to be the best they can be. You also need to provide opportunities for continual skill and career development.

"We've tasked our centers of expertise and relationship managers with keeping their ears to the ground in order to understand and anticipate needs, and develop innovative programs to meet the needs."

To support its refreshed corporate brand, Maybank formalized a mission-driven EVP tagged GO Ahead. GO Ahead is both a mantra and a statement of intent: Maybank goes beyond keeping promises to exceeding expectations. Its four propositions — GO Ahead Create, GO Ahead Grow, GO Ahead Lead and GO Ahead Fly — inspire employees to seize opportunities. Company leaders hope that GO Ahead will boost attraction and retention as employee engagement continues to strengthen.

"As we accelerate our regionalization, attracting top talent and keeping them highly engaged becomes even more crucial," Nora said. "It all comes full circle: When employees are engaged, their work is awesome; our clients are loyal; business is good, and we can reward our shareholders and our people."

Looking Ahead

As Maybank moves closer to realizing its vision for 2015, more and more people see a difference in the company. "In the past year, our employees and customers have been delighted by the changes taking place. This strengthens our resolve to solicit employees' opinions regularly. Their feedback informs many of the decisions we're making," Nora said.

"We want to identify more next-generation best practices and adopt them across the organization. And there's no doubt our employee surveys will continue to play a major role in our success. Sustaining high engagement levels is key to keeping productivity high and realizing a strong return on our investment in people.

"The survey metrics are part of our comprehensive People's Dashboard, by which we track the skill sets and performance of all employees," she said. "This enables us to align performance with our business needs and priorities, to truly differentiate Maybank among our competitors.

"As I look to 2015 and beyond, I'm confident Maybank will continue doing the right things to build better tomorrows for our employees and our communities," said Nora.

Tips From the Team

For organizations embarking on a transformation journey, Maybank leaders offer the following recommendations.

  • Cultivate an environment of trust via open, honest conversations. Use frequent, consistent communications and multiple channels to keep employees informed and inspired. Make constructive dialogue integral to work life.
  • Provide multiple employee feedback channels. Leaders can use a range of employee engagement platforms to get input from employees, including the company intranet, town hall meetings, and mentoring and coaching programs.
  • Ensure that company leaders map out a clear direction and set appropriate expectations. Leaders must also foster employee involvement in decision making and problem solving, and should coach targeted employees to assume leadership roles in the transformation initiative.
  • Choose the right survey partner. Employees are more likely to buy into a survey program when it's independently run. Work with a partner that will deliver meaningful insights to the survey results, which will help you make the right decisions.
  • Show employees that boosting engagement is more than an HR initiative. Help them understand that their engagement has a measureable effect on business outcomes and on their rewards.