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Different strokes for different folks

Organisations must consider talent as a strategic investment to drive value, create agility and respond quickly to market conditions

Jayesh Pandey & Shuchi Mehta 

Indian business leaders today are a visionary lot - companies are going global, setting scorching growth rates, innovating to reach the bulk of the pyramid, bringing in operational efficiencies. They grapple with a host of marketplace realities - permanent volatility, cost pressures, increasing competition, rapid industry shifts, skill shortages. They are increasingly identifying talent as the weapon to realise their visions. For them, wielding this weapon successfully means fully harvesting the talent potential that exists in and outside of their companies.

The good news is that India is set to emerge as the largest supplier of labour. It will account for almost 26 per cent in the increase in the global working-age population over the next 10 years, according to UN estimates. The bad news, however, is that a large proportion of this talent pool is not appropriately skilled for their current and future jobs. These issues are creating enormous pressures on CEOs and HR officers.

Different strokes for different talent segments is an important approach for companies to adopt. An aptly defined talent ensures the right people, with the right skills, in the right places, are brought to bear to drive the business forward towards strategic success. This implies first segmenting talent, and then applying different strokes or levers to each of these talent segments.

Workforce analytics helps segment talent in a host of ways; the most relevant methods are typically based on the value that talent adds to the company. CEOs of most high performing companies have successfully used four key levers along with their chief HR officers to revolutionise talent management:

* Innovate on talent processes: In talent definition and discovery, identifying the right profile becomes crucial. For instance, a leading insurance player took a close analytics based look at the profile of field agents it needed for achieving sales targets. A dramatically different profile from the one previously used was identified for different insurance products, and customer audiences. Most surprisingly, this profile was then successfully sourced from previous blind spots of talent pools - ranging from housewives, to retirees.

Taking this one step further, talent deployment can be differentiated in a variety of manners - different work schedules, rewards and compensations based on the value that the talent segment adds and even workplace design.

For example, a leading FMCG player identified significant potential in highly skilled new mothers returning from a career break. This talent profile required flex time - and workplace options, but were willing to work at a fraction of the cost of their counterparts who did not take a career break. It turned out into a win-win for employees and the organisation.

* Align learning with business needs and personal styles: It is vital for employees to be aligned with the company's priorities. An emphasis on coaching and mentoring to make learning more efficient and effective is imperative. It is well acknowledged that every employee has a unique learning style, and the concept of customisation is more relevant in talent development than in any other area. Functional and behavioral skills can be built based on individual learning areas, and through modes that help the learner imbibe the knowledge best - whether it is experiential, e-learning, instructor-led learning or any other.

* Identify and invest in developing leaders early: Most companies traditionally identify leaders at the top levels. However, it is useful to identify the future leaders early and invest in their development through mentoring, coaching, and structured action learning.

A project-based, experiential approach to leadership development can make young leaders practice what they learn. For instance, a leading engineering, procurement and construction company in India launched a leadership programme to build a pipeline of leaders needed to guide the company through its growth plan. The approach was based on experiential learning, featuring a combination of strategic action learning projects, content-driven workshops and one-to-one mentoring. As a result, the company has experienced significant improvements in its systems, processes, technology and people capabilities. Not only this, more than 40 per cent of the programme participants have moved on to new and challenging roles within the organisation.

Similarly, one of the largest conglomerates in India has recognised the importance of embedding a culture of coaching across organisational levels to enable the creation of a robust leadership pipeline. The design of the programme veered away from traditional conceptual framework sharing and focused instead on enabling learning through role playing, and by debriefing groups and individuals.

* Identify and consciously shape organisational culture: The traditional path of employee engagement focuses on a few key levers of how the employee is attached to the organisation. However, it is more productive and sustainable for an organisation to consciously define and chart a two-way street on how an employee 'experiences' the organisation and vice versa. A leading engineering solutions player, for instance, undertook a desired-culture analysis and organisation value assessment to assess the current business culture. The analysis helped the company to generate insights into the gaps that exist between the current and desired employee experience and create an action plan to move toward the latter. It threw up insights towards addressing core issues such as work accountability and reduction of internal politics - a productivity lever for its growth agenda.

To conclude, the need of the hour is to think strategically about creating a workforce with the capabilities that can help create a competitive advantage. If organisations consider talent as a strategic investment, they will be able to make the right choices to drive value, create agile organisations, and respond quickly to market conditions.

JAYESH PANDEY
partner and leader, talent & organisation practice, Accenture India

SHUCHI MEHTA
manager, talent & organisation practice, Accenture India

First Published: Mon, February 17 2014. 00:12 IST
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