Article: People managers need to have the right tools

Employee Engagement

People managers need to have the right tools

Sara Roberts, Head of Talent & Recruitment, Asia Pacific, Citi, talks about retaining talent, communication and more
People managers need to have the right tools

We require our managers to spend quality time with all employees to help them keep track of their key priorities


If the leader sets a tone of open communication and engagement, you will tend to see that filter down through the organization


Q. How important is retention of talent in the current scenario?

A. It remains critically important. There will always be turnover and depending on the business model and requirements certain levels of turnover can be healthy. Ideally we want to manage turnover, as best we can, to retain talent and key skills that are critical to delivering the business strategy and plans. We keep track of where we are, what we think is an appropriate level of turnover against internal and external benchmarks and where we need to focus more attention.

At Citi we continuously review and refine what we are doing. For instance, one of the things that we launched recently was a toolkit for managers to support them with employee retention. We try and provide practical tools to our people managers to help them engage and retain employees. The reason we provided the toolkit was because even though there were a lot of best practices and tools around, there was no single source where people managers could access such tools. The toolkit was about not just about content but also providing single source, easy on-line access. Sometimes the best solutions aren’t earth shattering and highly sophisticated, just practical and simple.

Whilst it may seem simplistic, a key success factor in talent retention is having people managers who are willing and able to engage and have quality conversations with individuals. Not just filling in a form or ticking a box, but having a discussion about their aspirations (rather than making assumptions) and how we can help them be productive and realize their full potential, which is very motivational from an employee’s perspective.

Q. A lot of companies are rationalizing the workforce these days. It is not just about getting the bottom 5 per cent out, it is also about whether you need so many people or not. What do you think is the right way to go about it?

A. If you take a more holistic view then it’s about ensuring that we have the right profile of workforce to meet our current and future needs. There isn’t one single solution and it’s not something you do as a one off, transformation these days is continuous. Our shareholders and stakeholders expect us to continue to evolve so that we right size and right place our workforce. As part of our business strategy planning we review and refine our workforce needs and this provides us with a sense of where we have gaps and opportunities. This helps us be more proactive in terms of hiring, deploying and training our workforce to meet the business needs.

In terms of right placement of resources, the recent trend for many organizations has been to move work to alternative locations. Asia has certainly been a beneficiary of this shift. Going back to the earlier point on workforce planning and being proactive, it is essential to do the best we can get ahead of the requirements to plan our hiring, onboarding and engagement activities. If you plan for what you can see then it’s also easier to adjust to the unforeseen requirements that inevitably pop up, either because business priorities change or simply because opportunities arise.

Another component of workforce planning and profiling is the mix of permanent and contingent workforce, this can vary from country to country depending on local needs and regulations. As with many organizations, we have and will continue to ensure we have the right balance to provide stability and continuity on one hand and flexibility on the other.

Q. What has Citi done to redefine the value proposition to its employees?

A. We have to understand our employees, their aspirations and what they value. We have globally consistent expectations for our people managers. All people managers in Citi have a consistent goal in terms of our “Expectations of People Managers”, this is in addition to our respective business/functional goals. So if you are a people manager in India, Mexico, Singapore, etc, we all have the same People Manager goals. These include the requirement to set clear goals for our employees and let them know what we expect of them in terms of what they do and how they achieve their goals. We require of our managers that they spend quality time engaging with all employees to help keep them on track with the key priorities and to understand and support their professional and career development needs and aspirations. We value and embrace diversity and inclusion. Whilst on the one hand we have clear and consistent expectations of our managers we support this with tools and training.

In terms of how we measure how we are doing in terms of delivering against our employee value proposition we have a regular employee feedback survey which helps us we measure and review trends, see what’s valued the most, what we are doing well and where we need to continue to make improvements.

Q. Why do you think employees need to escalate complaints to the top management? Is it because there is a general lack of confidence in the lower rung of HR leaders who are in touch with the employees?

A. There are many influences in the way people respond to concerns and issues, escalation is one approach. The general “good practice” in organizations includes having: good communications, transparency, clear expectations and developing the right kind of culture and the environment that supports and encourages open communication. This has to be supported by people managers who are, as mentioned before, willing and able to engage and have the open conversations at all levels in the organization.

I don’t see this as an HR issue, of course we partner with our managers and employees to help create the right environment. At the end of the day, whilst it may seem simple, good communication is key, it helps to build trust and mitigate the need for escalation.

Q. Do you think HR leaders have a problem with being straight or transparent?

A. From my experience and perhaps it’s the organizations I have worked for and with, the majority of my colleagues are open and transparent. Of course as with any of us, there are times when situations require discretion that may impact what can be shared and when, but again that’s not an HR issue per se we all have to get the right balance. I find that generally people aim to communicate with openness and respect. Of course there will be times where the message can get lost in translation as it’s cascaded down the organization. At Citi we use multiple communication channels to help us reach out to all employees and provide a clear and consistent message.

Q. Do you think that this situation would come from the top leadership?

A. Leaders do set the tone in organizations. In many organizations whenever there is a leadership change, there can be some degree of shift in priorities, culture, engagement etc.

If the leader sets a tone of open communication and engagement, you will tend to see that filter down through the organization.

Q. What challenges do you foresee for India where youth is going to take over in the next 10 years?

A. As with anything, it’s certainly helpful to see the future trends and respond accordingly. It is important for organizations to factor in the impact of the millennial generation in terms of our employee value proposition and how we are going to attract and retain talent in future.

It also impacts leadership and organizational culture, the different generations have different needs, values and aspirations and this will inevitably reflect our culture as new generations of leaders come through. Citi like most organizations embrace change and regard the millennial trend as part of our diversity and inclusion opportunity.

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Topics: Employee Engagement, #BestPractices, #Retention

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