Talent management for competitive differentiation

As an HR professional, I am often asked if a challenging macro environment actually makes it any easier for organisations – especially in the IT industry, to manage and retain a workforce characterised by an affinity to mobility across organisations. 

My response is that: far from making it easy, uncertainty in the marketplace makes it ever so critical for technology companies to ensure that their talent management processes are aligned to deliver the right skills, at the right place, right cost and right time to deliver to the business strategy.

With a ‘perfect storm’ characterised by cautious clients, constrained talent pools, and technology innovation upon us, technology organisations need to constantly evolve to weather the winds of change and remain relevant.

The varying ability of companies to respond to the changing rules of the game explains why some players are struggling to cope with the challenging operating environment, while others – benefiting from the vendor churn – are defying the gloomy prognosis and detecting strong demand for software services.

Indeed, in this volatile business environment where customers have a slew of options to choose from, it is only innovation in service delivery that can differentiate an IT provider from the rivals. Put simply, innovation – enabled through an energised workforce – is turning out to be the key to survival of businesses in today’s marketplace.

Now, more than ever, companies need to tap into employees’ transformational ideas in order to outmaneuver competition and pursue the next level of growth. That makes talent management the battleground for competitive differentiation in industry.

Just think about it. Companies, that re-engineer conventional HR strategies, to foster a culture of innovation and creativity, invest to engage employees even in challenging times, and shift the balance of organisational power to empower employees, will stand to gain.

Why? Well, because placing employees at the forefront of change and introducing initiatives that enhance individual performance and group productivity will enable employees to then single-mindedly focus on the ‘value zone’ between them and the clients they work with.

And yes, HR is accountable to direct and deliver people strategies that lead to execution of the desired business objectives. By creating people practices & processes that are aligned to the values and beliefs of the organisation, deliver on the promise of the business strategy and lead to action which brings the strategic intent to life, HR is now enabling organisations to deal more effectively with changes in the external business environment by transforming employees to be the change leaders that provide clients a competitive edge.

In the past, traditional models of HR management in the technology industry focused on volume hiring and retention – and the insatiable demand for its offerings took care of business growth.

Today’s HR policies have to be strategic as well as tactical in nature – be it by attracting specialised talent, imparting extensive and continuous training suited to individual needs, devising career progression plans and leadership development initiatives, establishing new communication channels for employees engagement. And they have to get it right – at every stage of the employee lifecycle.

Naturally, there can be no quick-fix approach to winning on this battleground. It starts with employees selecting to join and stay at organisation that offer a value proposition beyond salaries. Remember, people today are sticking to workplaces that offer them true democracy in their way of working.

A place where they can come up with new ideas, get mentored, seek timely coaching and feedback and are regularly apprised of their career progression plan – a place where change in employee led and management embraced.

Hence, talent management practitioners have to say what they will do and do what they said they will. They need to build practices around a multi-pronged approach, some of which are intended to impact performance and productivity directly and others that enable us to have the right talent join, learn, perform and grow. Some of the main considerations are outlined below:

Career development and growth is an essential expectation in a value proposition, especially when it comes to Gen Y workforce. Companies therefore need to introduce initiatives that can actively engage employees in personal development and career advancement goals – which, in turn, make self-development a personal change journey. Continuing education allows employees to keep up with emerging trends in business and management, and helps further their professional and personal goals.

An equally important aspect of people engagement is an organisation’s rewards and recognition framework, which acknowledges outstanding achievements and efforts of employees. Rewards and recognition foster a culture of excellence, and recognises the contribution of employees in organisation building. Be it spot awards, performance-based incentives or membership of exclusive leadership groups, rewards and recognition can go a long way in engaging employees and in aligning the workforce to the company’s overall goals and objectives.

And then, of course, in today’s hyper-connected age where information is available at a click of a button, effective two-way communication with employees generates the dialogue that reflects democracy in the workplace. Companies need to open up multiple channels for discussion and debate, at all levels. Suitable platforms and online forums help maintain and facilitate a meaningful employee-employer interaction.

This not only allows senior managers to share information with employees, but more importantly, allows employees to ask questions, contribute suggestions, provide honest feedback and communicate with their managers.

Real-time communication channels strengthen the trust between management and the employees operating in the value zone – thus creating another service-level differentiator in the marketplace. Also, these listening posts assume significance in today’s context given the increasing change in the generational mix and entry of Gen Y in workforce.

While HR practices need to specifically understand the aspirations of each segment of the workforce and develop practices, processes and policies keeping each unique segment in mind, the onus of empowering and enthusing employees to reach their true potential lies with individuals with higher levels of responsibility.

Each individual is expected to demonstrate the appropriate leadership mindset so they can personally invest in identifying individuals with high potential, and sponsor their development experience. Hence, a strong emphasis on improving the leadership skills of senior management by providing them a mirror into their abilities and impacting this by investing in coaching, training and regular feedback is critical to nurture people who will be future-ready.

And most importantly, empathy to employee-centricity is reflected by committing to facilitate work-life integration. Companies should continuously endeavor to tailor individualised approaches that support employees in balancing their work and family life.
Enabling HR policies such as sabbaticals, life counseling programs, concierge services and allowances for special occasions, can make the company a fun and easier place to work at.

To sum up, passionate workers are not just brand ambassadors for a services organisation; they are now directly influencing business results and outcomes. HR practices should, therefore, be designed to enthuse and excite employees to reach their true potential, and to enhance their passion to add value to their clients.

Empowered employees are an organisation’s best bet in today’s hyper-competitive marketplace – and investment in them as the right bet will lead to the exponential results we see.

(The writer is Chief Human Resources Officer, HCL Technologies)

Source: Deccan Herald

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