The Counsellor: Guarding your home turf
It is never possible for any company to satisfy every employee's needs and aspirations even if they are top performers
While the new competitor is hiring on a large scale, it is always a good idea to beef up the bench strength even if you are well established
CASE: An established and successful domestic aviation brand with a reputation for an engaged workforce and great people management practices is facing competition from an international rival who recently entered the market. How should the domestic player counter the competition’s attempts to poach its trained workforce?
A new competitive business being launched by a corporation or a new manufacturing facility that may come up in the near vicinity of your own is always a concern for an established business player. There are multiple ways of dealing with such a situation. However, whatever strategies one may adopt, some talent loss is inevitable. Let us accept some realities: It is never possible for any corporation to satisfy every employee’s needs and aspirations even if they are top performers. This is because there will always be limited opportunities for growth in a pyramidal hierarchy where the higher we move, the narrower the structure is.
However, the likelihood of a major loss of talent from a company that has a very well engaged workforce and excellent management practices is much lower.
Let us look at some of the options. No one option will work in isolation and hence a combination of options will have to be deployed.
Refocus on compensation and benefits: Generally, the new entrants are very aggressive. Since they are in a hiring mode, they have no hesitation in positioning themselves at the top of the market. For the well-established domestic brand, this is a good time to ensure that they are well positioned. They should ensure that the critical and key roles necessary for business continuity are quickly identified and the top talent in these roles are ring fenced. This helps prevent the new competitor from poaching.
Capitalise on unique positioning: The established domestic brand is in a unique position: It has an engaged workforce, great people management practices and has its headquarters in India. This unique positioning ensures that the company leadership is empowered and will have influence on the policies, processes and strategic decisions and therefore will be true corporate leaders. In the case of a new entrant, it will have an Indian subsidiary / joint venture. Hence, the policies, decisions and the culture will flow from the corporate headquarters, leading to local leaders not being fully empowered. This unique position should ensure that the senior leaders who matter are not lost to the new entrant.
Communicate more with employees: Difficult times call for lots of communication. Anything that is worth communicating has to be over communicated. This is a perfect time for the top leaders to become visible, travel to all the locations as many times as necessary, meet people, communicate the vision, plans, results and the motivating stories leading to higher build up of pride and confidence in their own employer. Just ensure that people are not looking forward to the call from the competition/ head hunter.
Sort out internal issues if any: Every company has some issue or the other that bothers employees like for example internal politics, non-payment / delayed payments of incentives, bureaucratic hurdles that frustrate people, indecision on critical projects, promotions, transfers that are overdue, etc. It is a good idea to bring the house in order as early as possible so that the employee’s confidence in the company is enhanced and builds reassurance on the management’s focus. In short, it is time for the domestic player to reinvent itself.
Build a talent pipeline and beef up bench strength: This is the right time to look at the existing manpower and build a talent pipeline on an aggressive basis, while keeping in mind the reality of attrition. While the new competitor is hiring on a large scale, it is always a good idea to beef up the bench strength even if you are well established especially for the key and critical talent groups.
Time to adopt some disruptive strategies: My experience says in such a scenario the well established brands also have to aggressively deploy some disruptive strategies to take the entrant off guard. Some examples:
1. Hire few senior leaders of the new entrant. One can always create few additional positions like Deputy Director, Projects Head, COO, etc. Give such newly hired leaders significant visibility in the company and media. This ensures that you create significant questions in the minds of your own employees about the worthiness of your competition who in any case is a new entrant.
2. Announcing some appropriate new initiatives will create a compelling value proposition to retain the talent. These could be new products and services, newly-packaged benefits programmes etc. Such strategies do work positively. This may mean that the company has to be proactive in its decisions.
There is no limit to innovative methods to retain the critical and top talents. While the company must have a focused approach towards critical resources, it should develop methods to build a sense of pride and deeper engagement for non-critical and key resources. In order to accomplish these things, deep partnership between business and HR leaders is an absolute must.
Always remember that the new entrant is working hard; their leaders are burning the midnight oil in building the company. But, the well established leaders cannot rest easy. They equally have to put in a lot of hard work to safeguard their turf.
(Vivek Paranjpe, Consultant & Strategic HR advisor to Reliance Industries will solve a live and current business case scenario every month)