The Background The title, 'The War for Talent' is an idea that has been borrowed from McKinsey & Company, who published an article on the subject way back in 2001. The idea kept ringing in our minds and we kept observing at every step of our interface with our clients as to what really mattered and subscribed to ending the war. We were in the business of handholding and transforming organisations. The ultimate objective was to provide our client organisations a competitive advantage, which was only possible by establishing the most compatible and contemporary methods of work with the right approaches of the people positioned in the organisation that was in focus.
The Theoretical Understanding Competitive Advantage was a term coined by Michael Porter who deposed that superior performance reached through competitive advantage will ensure market leadership. Primarily a marketing concept, was later captured by Dave Ulrich to display the miracles that unique competencies helped to achieve this (Competitive Advantage) in an organisation. Ulrich went on to add to it the concept of value proposition - the HR agenda for the next decade. The entire stage was set to reduce attrition and retain quality people through these concepts.
The General Scenario The question that remained to be answered in client organisations in this part of the world was how to implement them. And this was, despite globalisation. The concepts were believed to be too 'west oriented' and the argument was, that they would not be universally implementable - the usual cultural resistance to any change initiative. They believed that these were marvellous and brilliant concepts in themselves, but far from deployable. Promoters were averse to accepting any of these jargons and would not let you 'touch' them. They knew nothing else but profitability, as the required yield from a business organisation. No amount of convincing even through Kaplan & Norton's Balanced Scorecard could persuade them, that there were other measures too, for assessing the success of any organisation. And to make matters worse, there was a special lot, who would agree with everything that you suggested, but when it came to putting things into practice, there was a luke warm response which in turn affected the approach. The task that lay ahead of us was therefore gargantuan. There were three kinds of challenges that emerged when we did our Force Field Analysis: (1) The workforce (including managers) who accepted the modern scientific management theories, but challenged their adaptability, (2) the second lot who would refuse to think beyond financial gains and (3) the third who preferred to be where they were because they lacked the risk taking ability or the ability to say 'yes' or 'no' and act proactively.
The Internal Churning
This prompted Team PERCON to embark on every assignment in transformation, with greater caution, particularly while interacting with the promoters, the influencers and the starters/triggers. In all possibilities the priority was to understand and empathise with the woes of all or at least the three groups mentioned here. One had to oscillate between addressing a variety of concerns from work methods to attitudinal issues. Everything converged on cultural aspects. We therefore decided to examine all the cultural issues right from the scratch and concluded on a process shown in the figure above. We decided to seize the first opportunity to make things simpler and start at the beginning.
Crystallising the vision was our first task. The translucent character of a vision is its peculiarity and most of the times, the promoters perhaps never had the blink to think about it, or they perhaps only dreamt of taking their organisation somewhere, which they could not define later and the thoughts were lost in oblivion. This is where we spent days together, to put these thoughts in words and help them to characterise their ultimate horizon for the organisation. Every action that the organisation followed thereafter was within this frame.
The next area of our challenge, and perhaps the biggest one, was the identification of the value system that the organisation adhered to and what it needed to be embedded with. An example here may explain things better. An organisation in order to transform would need a core competence of resilience, which emerges out of innovativeness and an 'out of the box' approach. But if the organisation has been adhering to the value of obedience and in traditional terms strictly abiding by the instructions of the top leadership, this approach would never find space to creep in by any means. This gives rise to a situation of conflict between two sets of values - the values associated with obedience on one side and the ones associated with openness, curiosity and debate on the other. Dismantling the culture or value of obedience was not what we encouraged, but we kept showing the advantages of debates and querying over a period of time - best done in cross functional teams, for instance. Likewise all conflicting values were being addressed and tackled to develop an innovative culture. The biggest battles are fought here and smallest of victories leave a moment of rejoice and success towards change. Guidelines for introducing a fresh value system were always obtained from Rushworth Kidder's Eight Universal Ethical Values
A business organisation is largely understood as, "an organisation set up by an individual or a group of people who collaborate to achieve certain commercial goals and is formed to earn income for its investors." The underlying theme here is indicated by the terms 'commercial', 'income' and 'investors'. Most organisations have their mission statements revolving around this theme. The appeal is for higher profitability and turnover. The evolution of terms, such as ‘return on investments (ROIs)’ also emerges from this mental construct. With constant interventions, persistent recall of the success factors of an organisation delineated by Kaplan & Norton stated above and the transition to a contemporary value system this perception begins to erode. Most of the times, the mission statement is susceptible to redefining or tweaking. Bringing in its acceptability amongst all, amounts to braving it out amidst defiance from various quarters - persistence is a competency one has to exclusively depend on.
The impelling factor that keeps playing as an undercurrent or even explicitly, is the motivational factor - whether self motivated or extrinsically inspired. The mission is deciphered into organisational goals and they in turn are converted to domain or functional goals. This is shown in the following example from TVS:
TVS Motor Company – Mission
We are committed to being a highly profitable, socially responsible, and leading manufacturer of high value for money, environmentally friendly, lifetime personal transportation products under the TVS brand, for customers predominantly in Asian markets and to provide fulfilment and prosperity for employees, dealers and suppliers.
In this statement, what are clearly observable are the organisational goals:
- highly profitable
- socially responsible
- high value for money
- environmentally friendly
- lifetime personal transportation products
- in Asian markets
- to provide fulfilment and prosperity for
- dealers and
In case the above emerge as the organisational goals, then the domain goals are also distinctly visible. Each of the above goals could be split to suit the goals of each domain. For instance, to make the company profitable, the marketing domain has to work out its plans for South Asia, prioritise on positioning and selling and therefore read its goals in that perspective. Similarly the HR domain has to work out alignment plans for rejuvenating the task force and the Operations domain has to pull up its socks to increase the efficacy of their processes and so on. From here on the job goals become clearer and the KRAs more easily spelt out.
This done, it is time that we slip back to from where we started, i.e., intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, which in turn help consistent efforts to attain these goals which in common parlance we call commitment. Here just involvement of people is not enough. Yes we are talking about engagement. Readers are requested to see the subtle distinction. Involvement can be donned (most of the times is) on someone, while engagement is aroused from within. Engaged employees and teams would work towards these goals and achieve them. The higher the commitment, the higher is the pace at which they can be achieved and the higher is the quality that would make them discernible.
Our description of the internal churning actually ends here but it isn't the end of the 'War for Talent' yet. What we need now are the processes, which should sustain the yields of this churning, and fetch the poise of an equipped organisation! The blocks and the arrows in the periphery denote that. These protect the internal processes that have been depicted by the quadrants of the circle, which we have already discussed in the 'internal churning' section.
These are the rectangles at the periphery of the ‘circle’ divided into four quadrants discussed in ‘internal churning’ above. It becomes necessary to mention as to why we have decided to call them ‘protectors’. They are the processes, which consistently govern and safeguard the sustainability of what has been achieved through ‘internal churning’, and if not pursued would lead to retracting all efforts. Subroto Bagchi, Executive Chairman, MindTree Inc., in his book High Performance Entrepreneurs' suggests that if you have a vision to build a skyscraper, you cannot afford to keep plumbing provisions for a two or three storied house. Therefore the protection has to start at the stage of plumbing and what metaphor could be better, when we say that we have to start assimilation right from the grass-root point.
Let's examine the rectangular block at the bottom right. It speaks about Hiring, which is the entry point for anyone in the organisation. One has to be conscious about the method - where the requirement details such as the Job Description, Competency Chart and Job Specification have to be comprehended well and then only the sourcing activity should commence. The accountabilities and the role clarity should be significantly analysed and identified with, before any sourcing process starts. The approach has to ensure visibility about the cultural dimensions of the company to the candidate and the attitudes need to be well assessed, besides the knowledge and skill elements. What are being referred to here, is known to everyone and are laid down stipulates, but what is necessary here are the aspects of empathy and involvement with the organisation and also the awareness of the ultimate goals of the organisation. The people implementing these processes need to possess the intensity in each of these characteristics, else they should not undertake these tasks. Therefore it is recommended that the recruiting team should brainstorm and plan out to the minutest detail of the recruiting strategy. It is for sure that one insufficiently assessed candidate increases the recruiting cost in diverse dimensions, including the brand.
Let's go over to the next rectangle the one coloured pink and mauve and what you find here is the most significant contribution that the organisation has to make towards the fundamental settling down process of the newly hired person - onboarding. "You hired that person to do a job. Giving him the tools he needs to do that job and perform at a high level should be your top priority.....", says Michelle, the onboarding expert. We at PERCON would look at it as the process that entails a systematic and comprehensive approach to familiarise a new employee to help him or her to get "on board." It was important for new employees to quickly acclimatise to their new work environment and get to know that he or she was welcome aboard and also diminish the time for his or her learning. Chipping in with information such as performance expectations straightaway, would get to minimise misunderstandings, which often arise at this stage and lead to frustration, so much so that they could even result in a premature departure of a new hire. Research shows that the first ninety days are exremely critical and if one is able to clear that hurdle successfully, the journey for the new hire enables him or her to 'cross the bridge' successfully. As someone put it, onboarding was the bridge between the résumé screening, interviewing, and selection of a job candidate and the annual review measuring how that employee was doing in the job. This should not be confused with orientation, which on the other hand, is the event that usually takes place on the first day or even in the first week of the tenure of a fresh entrant and provides for a download of information about the organisation and a bulk load of formalities to complete.
Major efforts in onboarding are the responsibilities of the seniors to persistently open windows to usher in more role clarity. This calls for having done the home work well and having the job description and job specification in place with enough flexibility and space for tweaking the responsibilities to bring in more transparency in communicating them. The clarity has to be in the following areas:
- Work Methods
- Time frames
- Work responsibilities
- Customer-Supplier interface
- Work priorities
- Performance expectations
Role Clarity and its diverse implications need to be understood in depth by each supervising manager. There has to be clarity in the understanding of each manager as to what was meant by role clarity how it should become a priority. This leaves most of us in a lurch as to how does each manager feel responsible to do this and this is where it becomes imperative for each manager to subscribe to the other role.
The other role is non else than mentoring. The organisation has to assign a mentor for each new entrant. Ann Rolfe, the famous mentoring expert defines mentoring as, "Interaction with another that facilitates the process of metacognition". Now what is metacognition? Taylor (1999) defines metacognition as “an appreciation of what one already knows, together with a correct apprehension of the learning task and what knowledge and skills it requires, combined with the agility to make correct inferences about how to apply one’s strategic knowledge to a particular situation, and to do so efficiently and reliably.” The mentor helps the mentee in doing that. The mentoring dialogue opens up when the mentee mirrors on his or her personal exposure to a circumstance, concern or dilemma and then the mentor guides the mentee in collecting data from a diversity of sources, arrange and analyse the preferences and helps to choose from the alternatives the course of action, which would include planning and executing it. The process of re-evaluating the outcomes would continue in order to move up the learning and performance curve. Therefore there are no time-limits prescribed for this process and has to be an ongoing activity.
You have now ensured only fifty per cent of the protection that you need to offer to sustain what you have achieved through 'internal churning'.
Therefore we move to the next protector rectangle, on the top left corner. We have seen how we have been able to facilitate the employee to mount on the 'track for progression' after his embarking the organisation and help him balance his journey within. In order to entail the seriousness attached to his association with the organisation, the meaning of his performance expectations (outcomes), need not only to be reinforced but also measured and such parameters need to be transparently communicated. This is referred to as defining performance (this also includes redefining if required). Defining performance would tantamount to chasing a mirage, if the employee is not looked after well. What we should be searching as his best performance would be possible for him to achieve, not only with the quality of assignments with added value but also what we are ensuring for his wellbeing, so that he puts in his best. Work related employee wellbeing is defined as follows,“that part of an employee’s overall well-being that he or she perceives to be determined primarily by work and can be influenced by workplace interventions.” The length and breadth of employee wellbeing would be that which includes development of organisational, managerial, social and physical workplace considerations as well as elements such as people’s physical and psychological health. This also includes employee wellness initiatives. Let's be very clear that we should not confuse this concept with that of the traditional employee welfare, where the underlying philosophy was to give away to the employees, so that the employees were happy and felt more involved with the organisation. Here the effort is entirely to build a 'bonding' with the workplace. A typical example would be that of Google! Organisations are to perceive this aspect with an openness that perhaps is more required than desired. It's not an expense; on the contrary it's an investment that has far reaching and protracted effects on the thrust needed for a paradigm shift. This is no more the prerogative of the 'knowledge worker' oriented industry alone and it is a pride to mention that even conventional organisations are following suit now. See how Unilever has worked on it too! The bonding that we are talking about here is employee engagement or talent engagement. The subtlety that we would like to focus on, is why we chose to use the word 'talent' and not employee. According to Marcus Buckingham the author of 'First Break All The Rules', managers have to recognise talents in every team mate - the power within!! Competencies are only subsidiaries to talents, which emerge from various factors but essentially the core of each talent is made up of passion.
And the best definition of passion we have come across is by Ken Blanchard: Employee Passion is the positive emotional state of mind resulting from perceptions of worthwhile work, autonomy, collaboration, growth, fairness, recognition, connectedness to colleagues, and connectedness to leader, all of which lead to standards of behaviour that include discretionary effort, long-term commitment to the organization, peak performance, low turnover, and increased tenure with the organisation.
Engagement of talent would be possible when the person possessing that talent is engaged with the organisation. The only way to acquire precision data about employee engagement in an organisation is to administer a qualitative and a quantitative assessment. The technique needs to be customised according to the values, the business strategies and the communication style acceptable to the organisation. But essentially when the survey is being designed, make it a point to cleverly partner the key employees performing the tasks for which engagement levels are being measured. This measurement has to be an ongoing activity, as organisations are continually evolving. While keeping in mind that engagement refers to the workplace bonding and not just keeping the employees happy, it's worth mentioning that even accountability contributes to engagement!
This brings us to the last of the four ‘protectors’ and that is where talent engagement takes us to – making the employer, the employer of choice. The employer of choice is an organisation where you find a clamour amongst the potential human resources to ‘bag’ a job with it. How would that happen? Today’s job-seekers are extremely discerning and conscious about what they are looking for and therefore would not opt for any and every job opportunity that comes their way. They weigh various aspects: besides other things importantly, the compensation package, the job content, the work environment, the career growth prospects, and of course the learning. The employer has to ask himself: Is he ready for this? Is he at the bottom of the ladder debating whether to climb, has he started climbing or has he probably realised that he was climbing into an undefined space (reminds me of Jack climbing the beanstalk, achieving success every time and finally settling down for some bagful of golden coins, the harp that played the music and the goose which laid the golden eggs, but Jack didn’t have competition and nor was he aware about obsolescence!) having to whip up an idea that was fresh and rewarding in terms of engagement. Two qualities that the organisation evidently has to promote besides whatever we have been discussing so far – innovation and experimentation and they have to be embedded in a set of values, ridden with trust and transparency.
When you become an employer of choice you have attained the employment brand. It is worthwhile to think and analyse at this stage, whether such a brand was possible to attain without a product brand or a corporate brand. Well yes and no!
Yes, because if you have a great employment brand, your product brand would improve as your brand managers are an engaged lot and would do anything and go to any extent to create that brand. The same would apply to your PR too and therefore you would have a great corporate brand.
No, in the early or nascent stages of an organisation because of the following two reasons: a. you need to be known in the market for whatever business you are catering to and b. you need to have humongous energies and resources in terms of persistence and patience to await the product recognition, on which rely the revenues of the organisation. Although we second the understanding that businesses survive because of people, the latter are dependent on the financial viability of the organisation, a fact, which we cannot ignore.
Having accomplished the employment brand, our agenda is two dimensional. We have achieved the Competitive Advantage mentioned at the beginning of this write-up, but we need to sustain that. The war is over but a new war begins? May be not a war, because you have already built the culture of promptness and perceptiveness, but a continuous combat and confrontation has to be faced in order to set new benchmarks and mark up with them. That is how one would have a sustainable competitive advantage and get over with the War for Talent!