Article: Transformation Required in Talent Advocacy

Strategic HR

Transformation Required in Talent Advocacy

With organiations being unable to match talent needs with their growth prospects, there is a requirement for fundamental changes to talent management philosophy
 

Quite like the chase for energy resources between the big nations of the world, forward looking companies will have to start working to secure their future growth / resources

 

Shortage of good talent means that the entrepreneurial spark is crushed by organizational bureaucracy

 

With organizations being unable to match talent needs with their growth prospects, there is a requirement for fundamental changes to talent management philosophy

The war is upon us. Companies across the world are struggling, chiefly with talent issues or because of it. The market is getting hyper competitive and there aren’t enough good people to help companies win and stay in winning positions in their markets. The war for talent has begun and things are definitely going to get worse.

While ‘war’ may be too strong a word to describe mostly the profit motive of organizations, it does get the message across rather powerfully. The ability of organizations to expand talent pools to meet their growth is severely constrained - think Lord Macaulay bringing English education to Indians as it was too expensive to bring clerks from England, or the current global sourcing chains spread across the world to optimally utilize talent where ever available, be it R&D outsourcing or shoe manufacturing.

Quite like the chase for energy resources between the big nations of the world, in an environment where talent supply and sources seem to be shrinking, forward looking companies will have to start working to secure their future growth / resources.

Strategic response to the situation
When confronted with problems of strategic proportions, military history with its mine of real life and well understood examples is a sound body of knowledge to look up to for answers. The RAF with their ‘few’ fighters, took on the Luftwaffe Bomber command in a very real and much celebrated David Vs Goliath fight. The Japanese surprised a much larger Russian fleet in the Russo-Japanese war at the turn of last century; the guerrilla forces the world over are frustrating modern and well trained armies.

The lesson for management is to, like the RAF, use a ‘few’ to focus on a narrower set of objectives to find victory in those areas where winning is most critical. The RAF, well connected to the Radar stations on the coast, could scramble their fighters at a moment’s notice to the locations where the Luftwaffe bomber density was the highest.

It used its talent (read fighters) on objectives that were most critical (read thick bomber concentrations).

Defining the problem
Fact 1:
Great business performance results from the efforts of top talent operating in enabling environments.

Fact 2: Top talent and enabling environments exist in symbiotic relationship as top talent is needed to build and maintain an enabling environment; it is attracted to environments that empower them to realize their potential.

Dilemma: Talent is scarce, and is getting rarer still.
Solution: Matching talent to objectives.

In the business environment of today and the foreseeable future, the situations are changing extremely fast due to new technologies being introduced in all the spheres of human endeavor.

Microfinance companies, harnessing the power of technology and on the back of micro gains from millions of transactions have emerged from nowhere and hold the potential of seizing the fortune at the base of the pyramid, and may one day reorder the Banking space. An online bookseller is now so diversified and big that it is threatening the prospects of the world’s largest brick and mortar retailer. Strong and entrenched imaging companies are finding that the mobile handset makers are selling more cameras than they are.

All these examples are of how technology is accelerating change. Companies will have a choice of being quick or dead. The companies that will be quick will be the ones which have the best talent in roles that allow them to seize the opportunities that market offers.

Take for example a technology company which was well up on product development, but fairly ordinary in matters of customer relationship management. Despite having discovered a weakness in its products relating to data privacy and protection, the firm failed to move quickly to redress the problem. After considerable delay and some lawsuits later, the company put the problem behind it, but this distraction set them back in market share and product momentum.

This happened because the employees were thinking and operating in isolation. Lacking a holistic appreciation of the problem and each function’s contribution in the organizations objective was the primary reason for this event.

Do we need to think radically?
One consistent finding from role clarification exercises during job evaluation is that some professionals in certain roles have larger responsibilities than how they had been designed.

This is because certain roles accumulate larger size as organizations adapt to their market, and assume / assimilate greater responsibility / decision making powers in routine functioning. These roles are critical as they have a direct impact on business performance and need to be treated differently from other jobs that were measured for size.

Companies have been so obsessed with finding and retaining the right talent that they have been ignoring the aspect of ‘pivotal roles’ and how they impact the organization.

Additionally, the current focus on talent pool is leading firms down ruinous paths. An alternate approach is required to reduce / effectively manage talent costs. Matching talent deployment to pivotal roles is the solution being proposed.

The Proposed Solution
The techniques and systems to identify talent are well developed and have been deployed to great effect. However, beyond identification, their effective utilization has been sub optimal. Optimal deployment is frustrated because these resources are spread too thinly across all the functions in the organization. As all positions at that level are treated equally, the critical role of some vis-à-vis others is not apparent and gets lost. Thus, the only growth that most professionals see is vertical, and in their own broad area. This is not very welcome to top talent, which hates a slow learning curve, wants to be stimulated by getting exposure to multiple and newer areas and wants to be provided with opportunities / careers that fully utilizes their potential. Silo growth frustrates them. The result is the plethora of employee / talent management issues that keeps the HR busy with.

The proposed solution must not be confused as a case being made out for horizontal growth. It is aimed more at manning of critical positions by the best available talent. Besides, not all vertical growth needs to be staffed by the best talent.

On the other hand, companies struggle with building an organization that hears, understands and acts in a timely manner on market developments in order to retain competitive edge. Shortage of good talent means that the entrepreneurial spark is crushed by organizational bureaucracy.

So companies on one hand are unable to meet the expectations of top talent and on the other hand are losing out on market opportunities because they are unable to seize the entrepreneurial capabilities of top talent.

Organizations could strike at these two targets with one arrow mobilizing a team of talented professionals to move into important positions whenever required by the business.

What companies need to do?
• Companies must have a clear picture as to how internal and external factors impact the way business adapts to its environment. They then must map out process maps to discover the critical points that act as pivots and significantly impact business. Business Process Re-engineering approaches have created the tools and methodologies that are ideally suited for this task.

• Next step is to structure roles in a manner that empowers the pivotal ones to deliver value more effectively. This is most effectively done by using job evaluation techniques and organization design tools and principles.

• The third step is modification of present talent management systems, making it more open to ‘mobility of talent’ between functions.

Role of HR
Conventional HR Business Partner (HRBP) approaches may not be effective to deploy this framework. HRBP models may not be up to this task primarily because it is identified too closely with a ‘support’ function (HR) and is not really an organizational agenda. Additionally, all management groups don’t invest in building talent and it is seen as the responsibility of HR people. Lastly, there is very rarely an incentive for HR to understand the finer nuances of the business they are in.

How it works?
To implement this talent model, companies have to build a talent advocacy group. While HRBP groups support a business, the talent advocacy groups identify and support a set of employees as the companies finest.

Wealth managers will be the role models for managing the talent of the company as its wealth. Wealth Managers Advocacy Group must understand the needs of their clients and help them identify the evolving criticality of roles, helping their ‘clients’ connect with those opportunities within their companies.

The leadership team’s support and time will be a must for success of the group and monitoring its efficiency.

Differences from current systems
The proposed idea is essentially one of alignment between several aspects of HR. Out of the current approaches, a combination of fast track career programs and succession planning would meet the objectives of this idea halfway. It will have to be further coupled with organizational efforts that promote job rotation and encourage horizontal growth of employees. The boundary condition that must be satisfied is that this will have to be run by ‘talent managers’ that are drawn from all parts of the organization and not just the HR function.

Summary
The current talent management systems focus only on talent identification, but not the best utilization it can provide. Companies will need to ensure that the limited talent is reserved for its most critical roles. Channelizing its most gifted people into its most important roles will become a source of competitive advantage in a fast changing world.

Subeer Bakshi is Principal Consultant with Talent & Rewards Practice of Towers Watson

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Topics: Strategic HR, Employee Engagement, C-Suite

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