Sunday, March 22, 2009

Managing Talent during Turbulent Times

Traditionally, HR function is viewed as one that fosters performance excellence, full participation, and personal and institutional growth. The HR function is required to be highly responsive and supportive to the needs of the institution as a whole as well as those of individual employees. HR personnel need to be flexible & creative problem-solvers, with collaborative and participatory work styles. A well trained, technically competent and knowledgeable HR team is a business imperative, and one that is accountable at the individual, managerial, and programmatic levels for being a strategic asset to any company. Typically, value in Human Resources should be defined by the receiver more than the giver, and HR professionals add value when their work helps someone reach his or her goals.

People, intellectual capital, and talent are ever more critical to organizational strategic success. This observation is so common today that it almost goes without saying. Digitization, labor shortages, growth through acquisitions, simultaneous downsizing and expansion, workforce demographic changes, and globalization are just a few of the trends that have made talent a top priority

However, the majority of today's HR practices, benchmarks, and measures still reflect a traditional paradigm – i.e. excellence defined as delivering high-quality services in response to client needs. HR helps the firm operate within a critical market - in this case, the market for talent. Organizational decision processes and tools employed in the talent market are far less mature when compared to other business functions such as operations, finance and marketing. Management of the talent resources is at an inflection point today.

HR can add the most value by starting a culture conversation at all levels of an organization. One way to accomplish this is to conduct a cultural assessment or audit of an organization through employee surveys, focus groups or interviews. An audit can be supplemented by a review of an organization’s history, leadership styles, HR programming and industry practices to determine what currently drives and reinforces the culture. Lastly, it is important to determine what customers are saying, what cultural elements are obvious to customers, and if the culture is aligned with business strategy. This can be the basis for healthy discussion at team meetings and employee chat sessions.

Acquire talent based on cultural fit by identifying characteristics of people who exhibit those behaviors that is identified as desirable. The people who fit and thrive in a particular culture will perpetuate that culture in everything they do. This could be achieved by redesigning the on-boarding process - making sure that every new hire knows what it will take to fit in, and understands the cultural imperatives. As an example, Southwest Airlines has a culture committee that facilitates this process. One can also try focus groups around topics; form cross functional teams; call random groups of employees together for monthly breakfast or lunch meetings; and engage the help and support of a group of passionate, committed people to identify cultural disconnects and recommend remedies.

With lifetime employment in one company not on the agenda of most employees, jobs are increasingly becoming short term. Today's high-tech employees desire a continuous up-gradation of skills, and want work to be exciting and entertaining - a trend that requires designing work systems that fulfill such expectations. As employees gain greater expertise and control over their careers, they would reinvest their gain back into their work. As strategists, HR professionals require to achieve integration and fit to an organization's business strategy. As interventionists, they need to adopt an all-embracing approach to understanding organizational issues, and their effect on people.

Maintaining and investing in talent programs even during an economic downturn will reinforce the message that ‘talent is everything’. Even if an organization needs to lay people off, it must be done surgically - focusing on the people, projects, and organizations which most need change. Yet, one must not forget to reward high performers even during a downturn. Continuing to search for great talent in a downturn potentially means hiring the best engineers, sales people, marketing people, managers, and executives. From a talent management perspective, rather than freezing all hiring, downturns must be used as an opportunity to upgrade the organization.

Most organizations display a natural tendency to spend a lot of time and energy on internal efficiencies during a downturn. While this is needed, organizations must make sure they spend even more time focusing on customers; products and services, and explore customers’ new needs.

According to a recent study conducted by Deloitte, CEOs are playing a greater role in talent management with two-thirds of the interviewed executives admitting they are connecting more with employees around the globe – particularly those with high potential. Even while companies are focused on reducing costs and headcount, they are making unexpected moves. For example, 52% of the executives surveyed by Deloitte report their company plans to restructure jobs to lower costs and increase efficiency. In addition, 40% of polled executives reported they will try to attract more critical talent with hard-to-find skills, while 30% report they are looking to bring on more critical leaders. In an environment where companies are continually rebalancing workforces to match difficult times, restructuring jobs to cut costs and increase efficiency, and redeploying employees to make the most of current talent, more than 25% of the executives shared that they will increase innovative work practices, such as the use of flexible work schedules through measures like telecommuting and reduced work weeks to engage and retain key talent.