Talent management –the circle of life

Since the idea of a talent war was first mooted, companies have been battling to hold onto top players, while the skills shortage seems only to grow. Unisys’ Melanie Laing explains how her organisation is fighting its corner

Talent management –the circle of life

Since the idea of a talent war was first mooted, companies have been battling to hold onto top players, while the skills shortage seems only to grow. Unisys Melanie Laing explains how her organisation is fighting its corner

Talent management: it’s a term HR managers are confronted with on an almost daily basis. Since the now infamous McKinsey report on the war for talent, any company worth their salt has a talent management program. The McKinsey research predicted that the talent war would be an issue facing all organisations for decades to come, making it an issue we can no longer ignore.

And as with any long-term problem, long-term solutions are required. The Australian Government has acknowledged as much with the announcement of a campaign to recruit 20,000 skilled workers from overseas to fill the worsening skill shortage Australia currently faces.

Every CEO who read the McKinsey report knows (and evidence suggests that many have) “the average return for shareholders of the top talent-focused companies is more than tenfold that of the least talent-focused companies”. This is a compelling statistic. It would be a brave, and somewhat naive, CEO who would ignore such research at the expense of their organisation’s own competitive edge.

And so in the last five years, since this research was released, many organisations that previously paid minimal attention to their arguably most precious resource – their employees – now have comprehensive talent management programs in place. Nevertheless, the marketplace is still suffering from an ongoing shortage of skills due to many factors, including an ageing workforce and a continuing shift away from manufacturing to technology.

We appear to be fighting a losing battle in Australia, where many of our best and brightest move overseas for both lifestyle and career reasons. Why is this? And how do we reach the ultimate equilibrium of harnessing the potential of existing employees to maximise business performance?

The solution is actually quite simple. We must view talent management programs as part of a bigger picture, not in isolation. It is the elements in this bigger picture, or as I see it an interconnected cycle, which can make or break the success of a program. The elements included in this interconnected cycle internal elements, such as career development, employee rewards schemes, mentoring, brand alignment, company commitment as well as market dynamics such as skill resources, labour market and shareholder demands.

By ensuring all factors within this cycle are operating in an optimum manner HR directors can help achieve increased productivity, lower costs and a happier workforce – making their organisations more competitive.

Factors which affect the cycle are both internal and externally relevant, none of them remain constant – all are fluid and subject to change. Therefore even once a program is implemented it should be reviewed on a regular basis to ensure that a change of dynamics is not undermining the effectiveness of the program.

In Australia we now operate in this environment where labour and skill shortages are an everyday challenge, and ones that will only become more challenging over time. The impacts of these will be felt across the whole organisation, ultimately affecting performance and return on shareholder investment. Unfortunately, to some extent we are victims of the situations we operate in. However, it will be the organisations that rise to these challenges by building and operating innovative and integrated talent management programs that will ultimately maximise their own potential within these market conditions.

And it is precisely at times like this that we should implement a strategy to harness the potential we already possess internally. This is what an effective talent management program does. It takes account of the market conditions and adapts its internal strategies to identify and develop those high potential employees who are the future leaders of the company in years to come. Although the ultimate realisation of such programs might not be evident for a number of years, the initial effects can be felt internally earlier, as company morale increases and with this creativity and productivity.

An example of how a talent management program can deliver results as it goes is through coaching and mentoring. Unisys has a very successful mentoring and coaching program which we implemented as part of our Australian talent management pilot program – so successfully in fact we are now rolling it out across Asia Pacific. The mentoring element is vital for individuals as it allows for continuing effectiveness to share ideas, track progress and grow and learn in a supportive relationship – all of which directly benefit the business by increasing creativity and team motivation.

Retaining employees and increasing productivity levels is not done easily or in many instances with one program. ‘One size fits all’ strategies rarely provide success, especially if you are working across borders and cultures, as we do in Asia Pacific. Unisys operates in 11 markets across the region and we are ever aware that each market has different needs and expectations. In order that these are met we are continually reviewing our program to ensure it is flexible enough to meet different regional requirements, including language barriers and cultural sensitivities.

Differences can run deeper than cultural sensitivities; they are equally apparent in the motivations of different employee age groups. We’ve seen babyboomers tending to be more interested in developing their skills and work/life balance whereas Generation Xers are more likely to be engaged by career development and bonus incentives. Consultants agree that organisations need to be more proactive in addressing these differing needs by specifically tailoring a program for each specific target group, thus increasing an organisations’ performance and retention levels.

A further obstacle that can see retention rates slide is when external perceptions of a company and internal realities are not aligned. That is a gap between employment brand perception and employee experience. Some 80 per cent of Australian managers considered their employment brand to be aligned with employee expectations, while only 63 per cent of employees felt they were being delivered the employee experience they were promised. Such results are disheartening, but also helpful in identifying where we can all target improvement.

The important thing to remember is that we all operate in a business environment which is constantly evolving. And therefore our approach to talent management must be ever evolving. As change occurs there is a flow-on effect to all elements of the program cycle – career development, mentoring, brand alignment and company commitment as well as market forces such as skill resources, labour market and shareholder demands.

The key is to create a flexible program that can adapt and grow as the market environment evolves, creating a balance between all program elements and market conditions. If an organisation can achieve this, the pot of gold promised by the McKinsey research – an organisation’s returns will improve more than tenfold – may finally be realised.

By Melanie Laing, human resources director, Unisys Asia Pacific

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