For business success, invest in people even if they might leave
Talent development plays an indubitable role in business growth: it provides the business with the right number of people with the right skills to match the needs of current projects and initiatives, and it creates a growth and transformation mindset among the existing workforce.
At People Matters L&D Conference 2021, Janardhan Santhanam, Global Head – Talent Development at Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), spoke about why it's so important to invest in developing your people, and how this can be done. TCS has implemented a variety of strategies to enable the effective development of its workforce, and he shared some details of how that was done.
Democratize talent development across the organisation
For talent development to be truly effective, the organisation needs to first meet three conditions, Janardhan said. Firstly, talent and talent data must be freely shared – and this goes against the instinctive attitudes of many.
“Making talent and talent data truly democratic in the company is easier said than done,” he observed. “It's a natural human tendency to become possessive about the people in your group. It takes a lot of courage, change management, and organisational skill to drive a culture that says, it's not my talent. It's TCS talent that I am leveraging for a while.”
Secondly, the different parts of the organisation must be able to work beyond their own silos: those who are in charge of talent development must work together with those in charge of deploying talent, and they must both work with project heads.
And thirdly, everyone involved in or affected by talent development must be able to work across time horizons. “It's not just what I need now, but what I need in the current quarter, what I need in the next quarter, and what I need one quarter further,” he said.
All this adds up to what Janardhan described as a “fairly elaborate machinery”, a system that involves everything from technology to data to change management. But if done well, it can be immensely effective. Around 20-25 percent of new talent demand at TCS is fulfilled by bringing in cross-skilled talent from other parts of the company, he said – the equivalent of giving several thousand professionals a fresh lease on their career every month.
Build a mindset of abundance
As a consulting firm, TCS needs to stay ahead of the trends that its clients face, Janardhan said. “This needs us to move from being strategic partners, to being trusted advisors. To do this, you can acquire other consulting firms or you can acquire other advisory talent.”
“But what if you could also change the mental construct of mid and senior layers of the organisation, so that across rows and across streams, they can think differently, irrespective of whether they are a technical architect, whether they are program heads, whether they are salespeople?”
The workforce needs to understand the complexity of a business problem, document it, and articulate the value within it, he said. They need to leverage the contextual knowledge of the customer to understand what solution paths exist. And this means having the depth – and the boldness – to have these conversations with senior business leaders, what he refers to as a mindset of abundance.
“This is not an incremental capability. It requires a paradigm shift in thinking,” he said. “How I wish I could have a CRISPR tool to alter the DNA of individuals and accomplish this mental reconstruct, because it can't be done through typical leadership, consulting or sales programmes. Those do not bring that context of what the associates and the workforce typically encounters on a day to day basis.”
To tackle that gap, TCS developed an in-house suite of highly experiential growth and transformation programmes for mid and senior-level personnel. The programmes use real-world business problems as the foundation and then get participants to apply new techniques, technology, and tools to resolve the issue.
“The effect that it has had on thinking is quite notable,” Janardhan said of the success of these programmes. “It reflects in the growth of our accounts: in terms of revenues, in terms of new opportunities, in terms of customer mindshare development, and in terms of higher value partnerships.”
From enabling function, to business embedded
Talent development has gone from being a simple enabler, to a mission-critical part of business. It is a major agenda item on the growth and transformation journey of many businesses, whether in terms of pro-active talent planning or in terms of driving leadership.
This is especially the case for businesses that work at scale and therefore have to transform at scale: TCS, for example, is not just pushing talent development for tens or even hundreds of employees, but thousands of them across every geography where it operates.
The trick to coordinating and executing talent development on such a large scale, Janardhan said, is to plan for the big numbers from the beginning: do not focus just on the one or two immediate small challenges at hand, but on the many challenges across the entire business.
“It's fair to say that talent development has moved from being a long-time - enabling function, to being a business partnering function, to now being a business embedded function, critical to its growth,” he said.