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Do you experiment like R&D, communicate like PR, engage like sales and measure like finance? Sabrina Zolkifi reports on why a solid talent management strategy relies on HR leaders to collaborate and increase awareness with other parts of the business in order to be truly strategic.   

There is absolutely no denying that people are still at the heart of what drives businesses.

As the HR function takes on a more business critical role, the need for practitioners to realise the traditional belief that a talent management strategy only consists of the holy trinity of attract, motivate and retain has to end.

“When it comes to an HR person sitting down to come up with a talent management strategy, there are a couple of things they have to obviously work through,” Syed Ali Abbas, chief human resources officer at Pacnet, says.

“One is to look at the business needs and say, ‘This is what the business requires so I’m going to go ahead and drive some HR programmes around that’. However, that’s just a part of the story.”

Jasmine Teo, senior HR business partner for global products and solutions (APAC, Middle East and Africa) at MasterCard Worldwide, agrees the key to a successful talent management strategy “lies in the ability to link the strategy to the business, and have the tenacity to execute it”.

“This will mean that HR will need to be an influential business partner by developing a good commercial acumen of the business,” she says, echoing Abbas’ sentiment that it goes beyond just understanding the business.

Abbas is also confident HR leaders in the region have what it takes to provide that next level value to their organisation.

“They have the capabilities to do it, and if they’re willing to step up, they’ll also have the mandate.”

So why aren’t all organisations already talking about HR strategies in the same breath as other business critical functions, such as finance and marketing?

“I think it comes down to there not being enough awareness and rigour, both in the way the business defines their HR needs and how HR meets those needs,” says Abbas.

“For example, collaboration is an area where people increasingly look to HR to take the lead. All HR often hears about it from business leaders is that they have to drive collaboration through social media, so they work with IT to set up an internal social network and then wait for collaboration to just happen.”

But the reality is that social media does not drive enterprise collaboration by itself and HR people are usually not experts in this area to begin with. To be effective, they need to be able to prepare a business case that shows the impact of collaboration on productivity, the need for the right cultural environment to enable it, the set of HR tools that can drive collaboration, how things like social media fit into that toolkit, what the right metrics are to measure return on investment and where to really focus their efforts.

That requires them to have a very deep strategic HR skillset or – more commonly – partner with people from a variety of business disciplines. This is becoming increasingly common.

Abbas adds that in some cases, part of the challenge could be a lack of awareness, as few people can keep up with the vast body of work on HR systems, best practices, metrics and frameworks. In other cases, maybe HR hasn’t been given the opportunities to gain that exposure so they stick to what they’re comfortable with, continuing to say talent management is about “attracting, motivating and retaining”.

They’ll create great attraction programmes, great development programmes and great retention programmes, but essentially, those are tactics, not strategies.

This is something which resonates with Teo, who believes the secret to ‘securing a seat’ at the table is the ability to develop key relationships.

One factor HR should take into consideration when crafting a more sound talent management strategy is collaboration.

Research by Miller Heiman last year found global sales organisations with a collaborative work culture where the companies leverage the best practices of top performers to improve everyone else’s – among other things – fared better than those who didn’t by 61 index points.

“A collaborative culture captures and shares customer experiences, competitive intelligence and market insight with its community. Collaboration is more than being a team player; it requires active participation in a ‘give to get’ social sales community,” the report said.

Although those figures may only reflect findings from within the sales industry, the concept of organisational collaboration is universal.

“It’s about having everyone in the organisation understand why the company exists, having them know how we’re going to achieve those business goals and know that working together makes it easier to achieve those goals,” Abbas says.

Once you get those sorted out and understand what the business needs are, that’s where HR comes in and starts with workforce planning.

Knowing what you already have, what you need to bring into the company, what you need to build in terms of capabilities and how to make them all perform as one unified unit are the bigger mandates for a talent management strategist today, he adds.

Frederick Goh, regional general manager for HR and administration at Mitsubishi Electric Asia, says one way his organisation is driving collaboration is by encouraging more cross-border working experience.

Aside from allowing employees the opportunity to work in a different business unit, it also gives them a chance to try different things and gain new skills.

“You might be a specialist in a particular skill for the past five years, but you may not know you have a hidden talent which makes you better off in another field,” Goh says.

While this job rotation exercise is beneficial to the employees and organisation as a whole, Goh says one obstacle he’s had to overcome was line managers who were reluctant to release employees to another division.

“What we’re facing now is quite a number of people who want job rotation opportunities are key personnel. But we always explain to the managers that if they don’t allow employees to expand their experience, we will lose that employee faster than they can imagine.”

This trend of job rotation has also caused a domino effect in terms of succession planning. With more senior and experienced employees seeking a change of scenery, Goh says another challenge that poses is making sure the next generation of workers are ready to step up and fill the roles.

“When we identify someone who wants a lateral move, we then look at options of who is next in line or is there is someone in another department who would want to fill that position,” Goh says, adding the company also gives employees a time frame of one year before they have to make the switch.

Another advantage of lateral moves is the role it plays in retention, as it is “one way for employees to grow while waiting for their chance to go up to the next level”.

At MasterCard, Teo says part of the company’s talent strategy is to garner constant feedback from employees on their managers and team mates.

The People Manager Effectiveness Survey allows employees to play an active role in providing their managers with honest and constructive feedback.

“We believe that by reaching out to connect with and hear from our employees, we win both their minds and hearts. We have short but regular weekly communications to share key information in our business unit and quarterly business updates from the senior leadership team,” Teo says.

Abbas says the easiest way to start working on a talent management strategy is to segment the four key stakeholders involved and work with them accordingly.

“The top leaders provide the vision and drive, the line managers channel and engage, HR consults and delivers, and employees consume and give feedback,” he says.

Going back to the idea of borrowing from other business disciplines, Abbas adds in order for HR to be truly strategic, the function should “experiment like R&D, build like product, segment like marketing, communicate like PR, engage like sales, think like customer service, manage risk like legal, and measure like finance”.

Goh agrees, and adds: “For a long while, HR was viewed as just a supporting role to pay salaries and get people into the business.

“Now, a lot of companies are looking at HR with a different perspective, and looking at how HR can work with the business unit to really create something that is different.

“Personally, I believe one of the most important things HR needs to do is step away from the traditional rules and policies and really work with the business to understand how to market itself in terms of strategy.”

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