We need to be able to filter the practices from our history that will take us forward and let go of the practices that couldhold us back
Best practices in talent management across the world have the same fundamentals, shares Dr. R. Palan, Chairman & CEO, SMR Group
You have had the rich experience of working with a number of Asian companies, how different are the challenges they face?
The universal issue with all organizations is talent. However, the specific HR challenges faced by each country are different. The focus of our research has always been around issues of competency and talent. While countries like India have a growing talent pool, there are countries like the Gulf Cooperation Countries such as Qatar, United Arab Emirates, etc. which thrive on expatriates, where the majority of senior leaders in organizations are expatriates. The percentage of local population is small. A few countries have an abundance of people but not enough skilled talent. Malaysia needs much more of a skilled workforce than what is now available, hence the focus on skills development. Singapore also had similar challenges but they have solved it with immigration from China and India. In China, the aspirations of the Gen Y are different. Their aim is to grow faster, quicker. A 25-year-old wants to become the CEO in the next 18 months. Countries like Saudi Arabia, Qatar and United Arab Emirates have started to focus on identifying local talent who can be trained to replace expatriates.
The human resources in each country is tied to the economic progress and development. The critical concern is the alignment between the education being imparted and the industry requirements. The institutes must cater to a industry-ready workforce. On their part, the industry and (or) the government need to be ready to train the workforce quickly so that they become productive and far more employable than what they are at present.
Does culture have a say in determining best practices? Is there a need to relook at the commonly cited best practices?
Best practices are basically some common sense principles. They work extremely well in some cultures and need to be modified in some other cultures. I define best practices in two ways – static or dynamic. A static best practice is implemented exactly as others are doing it. Following static best practices would mean benchmarking one organization with standards set by someone. The goal is to be like an organization that will keep moving forward by setting new dynamic practices that become the best practices. Personally, I think best practices need to be dynamic and energizing.
For instance, there are many best practices for engagement. One of the common practices is measuring how happy and involved people are with the organization. But engagement is not just about satisfaction, but beyond. If anyone had measured the engagement at Apple computers under Steve Jobs, the scores would not have been too high. Yet, it had one of the lowest attrition rates, because while Steve Jobs was, as they say, rude and rough but inspirational; he commanded great loyalty. Building engagement to inspire and increase innovation is the key.
Should companies merely adopt best practices or should they also adapt to the local culture?
Best practices, as I said, are static and dynamic. While some are best practices because they have shown improved results across organizations, most practices need to be altered to the culture of different countries. To take a very small example, in some cultures, calling colleagues by their first name may be fine, while in some cultures, it may be offending because it disrespects elders. Another very common cultural difference can be the way of greeting people. While it may be acceptable to hug someone in America, such expression of warmth may be misconstrued and taken as intrusion of space in other countries. There are different ways of adapting the best practices to suit the culture of the country.
Do you think Indian companies are following western practices in the talent management space? What is the implication from the cultural perspective?
India has a rich historical base and culture that offers a lot of learning. The concern however is, due to global economic dependency, we sometimes forget the good practices inherent to our country. We need to be able to filter the good practices from our history that will take us forward and let go of the practices that hold us back.