Philips: Embedding a winning corporate culture

Shalini Shukla 15 Aug 2012

The mission and values of a company are quickly becoming more important to the people that work for it. Employees are getting more actively involved in discussing and understanding global issues such as climate change and aging population through social media, and are looking for their organisations to show similar interest.

“What Philips stands for and our ability to make a difference in those areas through our energy-efficient lighting solutions and healthcare capabilities has helped us attract people who share the passion to make a difference,” says Harjit Gill, CEO, Philips ASEAN and Pacific, and Chairman of Philips Singapore.

Employees have many chances to get involved in sustainability programmes throughout Philips, with each one aiming to improve the lives of people in the communities the organisation operates in. “A perfect example of this is ‘The ‘+’ Project’, where we ask people what their challenges in health and well-being are, and what their thoughts are on solving them. We take some of those ideas and make them happen,” Gill explains.

Through ‘The ‘+’ Project’, staff in the Philips Indonesia team are currently working on educating underprivileged women on breast cancer and screening them. They are also working with schools in the Jakarta area in order to improve the quality of food children eat there.

“This enthusiasm and genuine belief that we can improve people’s lives through innovation drives us every day and makes the Philips’ culture unique,” says Gill.

Developing a ‘glocalised’ team

Philips is a diverse organisation, with over 30 nationalities working in this region alone. As such, employees are encouraged to be “glocal” citizens, each with a high degree of cultural agility.

“Staff need to be able to understand, appreciate and manage cultural differences, and be flexible enough to adapt to them,” says Gill. “To facilitate this, they are teamed up with colleagues from other markets and cultures to maximise effectiveness and results.”

Local teams have been established in each market to effectively understand and represent the regional diversity as every country is growing at its own pace and people are at different stages of development, Gill explains.

“We encourage cross-fertilisation of ideas and exposure for our staff across markets to provide learning opportunities that will not only build organisational capabilities, but also develop individual competencies and skills.”

The organisation provides lots of opportunities for movement across markets, from short-term assignments (six months) to fully-fledged expatriate projects (three years).

Gill takes it upon herself to personally meet with people around the region to ensure an open channel of communication between herself and everyone linked to Philips. “I am most energised when I am out in the markets talking to our teams, partners and stakeholders,” she says. “In fact, I probably spend more than 70% of my time out in the region.”

Talent can enter the company via several routes depending on the candidate’s experience, maturity and specific area of competency. This enables Philips to build diversity throughout the company, which is a great asset in building a winning culture, says Gill.

The majority of the company’s talent comes from Asia, with good reason she says, “Local people know their markets and culture best.”

The company also believes in offering its talents the opportunity to learn, develop and grow via an international career, either in this region or elsewhere. Philips has posted staff from its Asia-Pacific operations to China, the US, Holland, and Latin America.

Overcoming talent barriers

A key challenge in a region with countries at different developmental stages is finding talents with specific competencies that are relevant for a business in the healthcare, lighting and the consumer domain.

“Having a strong learning culture with the necessary supporting infrastructure and tools, such as coaching, training and international exposure through short-term assignments, is critical to grow and develop our people,” says Gill.

Another practical challenge for Philips today is managing a multigenerational workforce and providing flexibility that will motivate each generation. One programme the company has implemented is ‘PhilChoice’.

“PhilChoice offers a menu of benefits to cater to employees’ needs, such as medical benefits, family-orientated programs, allowances to purchase digital infrastructure, self-improvement courses, and more,” Gill explains.

Recognition and retention

Employees at Philips are deliberately empowered to develop and grow their talent. “Every individual takes ownership of their own development by tapping on the various learning and development opportunities we provide in the company, such as classroom and online courses, project work and attachments, and short-term assignments,” says Gill.

Senior managers also have the responsibility to develop and nurture talent through regular coaching.

While talent is moulded and nurtured at Philips, performance and developmental feedback is done regularly to assess progress. For instance, the ‘On-The-Spot Recognition’ is given to people who have exceptional performance.

“It gives managers the chance to recognise contributions and positive behaviours very quickly without waiting for the next round of performance appraisal. And it’s great at motivating staff,” says Gill. “We have recently introduced a global recognition tool to allow managers to choose from a range of different spot award options.”

Philips also recognises the need to formalise the performance management process, which is why the ‘People Performance Management’ (PPM) process was born. Done twice a year, the PPM is a feedback channel for the company to let its staff know how they are progressing in their chosen career path.

“Besides looking at the ‘what’, we also look at the ‘how’, which is about developing leadership, taking an outside-in view to serve our customers better, and teaming up to succeed,” Gill explains.

Through its various talent management initiatives, Philips has achieved an average turnover of below five per cent in the region, a credible feat considering the average turnover rate in many markets here is over 11%.

“I really believe the values we have as a company and the opportunities we provide have enabled us to retain our staff,” says Gill. She credits the high retention rate to talent management initiatives such as the diverse job scope, challenging assignments and development opportunities for vertical and lateral movement, as well as international assignments.

Gill recounts how she has personally been with the company for over 20 years, having had opportunities to work all over the world and mentors that have helped her to grow as a leader.

She says, “In the end, it is about the values Philips has and the integrity with which it operates that keeps me inspired, committed and proud to belong to this company.”


Tomorrow’s talent, today

Graduate recruitment is one of the pillars of the talent acquisition strategy at Philips. The organisation has put in place several programmes with universities across the region, including management trainee programmes, internships and scholarships. The company also organises networking sessions with many universities to give students the chance to interact with their business leaders.

“I myself have interacted with students from the INSEAD business school in Singapore and regularly take on interns who I personally coach for a short period,” says Harjit Gill, CEO, Philips ASEAN and Pacific, and Chairman of Philips Singapore. “My last intern was from the American University in Bulgaria. He’s already graduated and is now working for Philips in Singapore.”



+       I love: spending time with my two boys, aged 10 and 16

+       I dislike: arrogance and dishonesty

+       My inspiration is: working in a company that can make a huge impact on a person’s life – we have lifesaving solutions

+       My biggest weakness is: Italian food

+       In five years’ time I’d like to be: a proud mother, watching her sons graduate

+       Favourite quote: “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgement that something else is more important than fear.” – Ambrose Redmoon


Bio brief

Harjit Gill, CEO, Philips ASEAN and Pacific & Chairman of Philips Singapore, started her career in banking straight after university as a Graduate Management Trainee, working for the Midland Bank in England. After two years of international banking, she joined Philips in 1990 and moved to Holland for the Consumer Electronics Division, having decided her real passion lay in the marketing and consumer industry.

In her 20 years with Philips, she has worked in several countries, including Holland, Singapore, Dubai and Hong Kong. These were in a variety of sales, marketing, and general management roles in various divisions of the Consumer Lifestyle sector.

Currently, Gill is the CEO of Philips ASEAN & Pacific, managing a team of more than 10,000 staff across 10 markets. Prior to this appointment, she was the Senior Vice President of the Philips Consumer Lifestyle APMEA Region overseeing sales in the regional clusters of Asia-Pacific, India and the Middle East, and Africa.

Gill is married with two children. She spends all her free time with her two boys, who are 16 and 10 years of age, travelling, cooking, going to the cinema, and watching football. She says her children are quite used to visiting retail outlets on holidays and discussing the in-store presence of Philips.


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