By Sumantra Sengupta
Just prior to joining academia, I had the pleasure of serving as the interim group president for a multinational agriculture farming, processing and trading company for three years. With physical operations in 10 countries and commercial operations in 36, the company had a workforce numbering more than 2,000 people and crossing many different cultures.
As I traversed the globe many times, I found that good associates were tough to find, recruit and retain everywhere. Qualified supply is much lower than bona fide demand. The war for talent that is being waged by employers all over the world forces us to think in nontraditional ways.
Identifying internal and external talent forms the bedrock for recruitment, retention and employee growth, but I find that managers do not spend enough time and energy thinking through and addressing this complex issue. The end result is often one of three outcomes: disappointment, mediocrity in hire, or higher than expected turnover.
There are no silver bullets that will resolve the issue, but learning from very senior executives and my own experience over the years I have found the following practices help:
• Study the prospect’s natural propensity. If the candidate has inherent capabilities that are core to the work, then the likelihood of long-term success increases. However, we need to ensure that core is defined broadly and not in a highly prescriptive current-state mode only. It must include functional and psychological requirements that are desired in the end state for the role.
• Ensure that a prospect has the ability to decompose major tasks into basic fundamentals. “Boiling the ocean” is not good for the long-term health of any business. The ability to create small building blocks that contribute toward the final solution is crucial for all employees and business environments. People who have issues with creating time-phased and actionable work products will have a tough time succeeding in today’s hyperactive business environment.
• Carefully analyze the prospect’s ability to learn and adapt. This is always a tough trait to gauge unless the role is being filled internally. I have found that even the most experienced employee must spend some time observing the culture. Similarly, employers must learn to adapt to new ideas. This process can often tax both the employee and the employer. If mutual expectations are set correctly up front, then there are fewer issues.
• Encourage and maybe even mandate cross-functional interaction or rotation. No business is unidimensional anymore. However, we continue to develop single-faceted individuals. Job rotation and cross-departmental assignments are a must for the future workforce development. Japanese companies do this in a brilliant fashion.
• Executive management must be able to nurture “unlike” talent. Surround yourself with people who have complementary skills. If you surround yourself with “yes men” and sycophants, you will always be right and, in the end, you will just be wrong.
• Position the job as realistically as possible. Huge upselling of the job can lead to significant disappointment and in many cases early departure. Be pragmatic about the present and cautiously optimistic about the future.
• Create a work environment that rewards the A’s, nurtures the B’s and reskills or retrenches the C’s. We will never have an environment that requires all top-notch talent. The ability to retain and attract the B’s and provide new skills and capabilities for the stragglers (C’s) is fundamental for long-term success. However, one must also have the mechanism that allows the retrenchment of the associates who will not make the cut – maybe not as aggressively as Jack Welsh’s 10 percent rule, but he was highly successful.
• Think globally, coordinate regionally and nurture locally. Talent has a way of finding the right home in today’s connected economy. A company must be open to global talent pools outside the normal boundaries. The successful company sets targets that align with global talent pools and then executes in a regional model. There is no such beast as centralized global talent management.
• Sumantra Sengupta, Ph.D., is the director of MBA programs and a faculty member in the California Lutheran University School of Management. He joined the university after a 24-year career in the private sector.