Talent drought amidst Covid-19 | Sunday Observer

Talent drought amidst Covid-19

20 September, 2020

Talent has always been a buzzword in business circles. We saw a wave of writings such as ‘Winning the War for Talent’ spreading around the world. Despite the popularity of the concept, it is still complex and challenging in global and local scenarios. This has aggregated amidst the Covid-19 pandemic where a dearth of expertise on multiple fronts was felt in hampering the restoration of normalcy.  Today’s column is all about talent drought with implications to individuals and institutions alike. 

Talent in focus

Talent comes from Biblical times. It was one of several ancient units of mass, involving a precious metal. The meaning and use of the word talent has changed over time. Today, we call it a special natural ability or aptitude such as a talent for drawing.  Also, it represents a capacity for achievement or success; ability: young men of talent.

We often hear the term as a talented person: The cast includes many of the theater’s major talents. 

In essence, talent has moved from currency to capability. Yet, capability has its own currency value. In that sense, it has not lost its original meaning. 

Triple Cs of talent

There is a specific set of attributes associated with talent, especially in the HR circles. Dave Ulrich, a veteran HR thinker calls talent as equivalent to competence multiplied by commitment multiplied by contribution. In mathematical terms it looks as:

Talent = Competence x commitment x contribution

As Ulrich explains, competence means that the individuals have knowledge, skills and values required for today and tomorrow. In brief, it involves right skills at the right place for the right job. Commitment on the other hand is what makes the competence to put into action.

Committed employees show a high level of involvement in their jobs with a high level of identification with their organisations.

In other words, they thrive on their jobs while enjoying working at one’s organisation. 

Contribution is the deepest and the subtlest component of the three. It highlights ones purpose in serving others. According to Ulrich, contribution occurs when employees feel that their personal needs are being met through their participation in their organisation. 

“Organisations are the universal setting in today’s world, where individuals find abundance in their lives through their work and they want this investment of their time to be meaningful. Simply stated, competence deals with the head (being able), commitment with the hands and feet (being there) and contribution with the heart (simply being)” 

Talent issues 

According to a recent report by McKinsey, HR professionals need to think about the effects of large workforce transitions being accelerated by the COVID-19 crisis and how reskilling plays a key role in helping close talent gaps while keeping employees connected to jobs. As the report further explains, the agenda for post-pandemic learning and development extends beyond reskilling, however, to other categories of cost-effective training, namely, broad-based digital training in essential skills and focused upskilling rooted in changing work. 

“Many organisations are expanding remote training to address challenges, such as effective leadership of remote teams (a new skill set for most managers) and building personal resilience in difficult circumstances. Many forms of upskilling are function and work-group specific and tied to different ways of working. For example, a sales force that is moving from a largely in-person to a hybrid remote model will need to be upskilled in the practices that drive remote success. The right data-driven approach can bolster sales-force performance — and help HR departments draw a direct line from talent to revenue.”

Much of the academic work on talent management has argued in favour of “putting talent management issues on top management’s agenda”.  As Group Managing Director of Hay Group, Murray Dalziel said, “These issues aren’t HR issues anymore. They are line (functional) management issues. There’s been a profound shift.” 

A survey of CEOs in the European context finds that most CEOs feel that talent management is ‘too important to be left to HR alone’ (Economist Intelligence Unit 2006). Furthermore, the majority of those CEOs surveyed report that they spend more than 20% of their time on these issues. Former Senior Vice President of General Electric (GE), Bill Conaty, argues that the first principle of mastering talent management is ensuring the support of an enlightened leadership team, starting with the CEO, as “the enlightened CEO recognises that his top priority for the future is building and deploying the talent that will get it there”.

As the Boston Consulting Group observes, the challenge for HR is convincing organizational leadership of its capability to manage global talent.  In essence, top leaders question the ability of HR to accommodate the strategic importance of talent management, while the HR departments themselves believe that they lack the competencies needed to effectively address the global challenges of talent management. 

Considering the Sri Lankan scenario, the picture is not so rosy. Based on a recent survey done by a leading consultancy firm, most acute issue in the recruitment and selection process has been identified as finding the right talent. 

In Sri Lankan society, I see two types of talent which I call raw talent and required talent. Raw talent is the multitude of school leavers seeking employment. Required talent is what CEOs of leading organisations look for. There is an obvious gap between the two. Bridging the R –R gap is one critical challenge for people managers. 

Ten talent challenges  

From the continued impact of the difficult global economic situation on HR departments to a growing focus on workforce diversity, the coming times will be more challenging, says HR Zone website. Recruitment consultancy firm, Futurestep, features top ten talent trends. Let’s go through them with local context in mind. 

1. To outsource or not to outsource?

As budgets continue to be scrutinised, organisations will increasingly start exploring whether or not outsourcing makes sense for them in their specific situation.

They will start developing business cases and thinking more broadly about the bigger picture rather than concentrating on the detail of individual tactics.

2. Balancing short- and long-term talent strategies

 A trend that will become more acute in the year ahead is the need to balance shorter-term financial challenges with longer-term strategic needs – such as the imperative to build a brand that can attract talent over the longer term.

 Because of the economic climate, many companies are finding it hard to dedicate the necessary time, resources and budget to develop and execute a talent strategy that will continue to attract colleagues in the short and long term.

3. Workforce planning goes global

 The globalization of workforce planning is a trend we will see more of in the coming years as organisations start – both through desire and necessity – to think about their talent on a more global basis.

 As companies expand internationally, and different markets present more attractive business opportunities, they will have to think about their workforce and talent in this way too.

 4. Employer branding gains recognition

 Businesses will start to treat job candidates like true consumers to attract and engage talent globally. Smart employers are starting to recognize that many of the strategies and tactics used by consumer brands to attract and maintain relationships with customers can be applied to job candidates.

 5. New talent battlefields emerge

 The war for talent, which was once ferocious and dominant, will become more subtle and focused in time to come. Employers will recruit fewer people than they once did but, against the current economic backdrop and drive for growth, will instead focus on critical hires.

6. The rise of talent communities

 Consumerist-based ideas will lead to the development and use of higher numbers of ‘talent communities’, resulting in the continued maturation of talent pool management techniques. The challenge - and also the opportunity – over the year ahead will be to find ways of building a sustainable strategy for engaging internal and external talent.

 The issue is that, although organisations know that they will need talent at some point in the future, in today’s economic climate, they don’t have the luxury of hiring people when they first encounter them.

 7. Engagement and employee-driven development

 An engaged workforce is essential to foster growth and innovation, but the ongoing economic uncertainty has left workforces exhausted - employees feel insecure in their jobs and many feel that there is little to no commitment to them from their employer.

 During the years to come, employers will need to become more egalitarian in their engagement approach –engaging all employees if they want to keep hold of talent.

In addition, employee-driven development is expected to become the new normal. The majority of employees across the world today do not have an actionable development plan, however – they may know where they are going career-wise, but they are unclear on the steps required to get there.

 8. HR starts to adopt new technology

 HR technology options are becoming more engaging – there has been a growing shift away from monolithic systems that do little to engage employees and software providers are innovating at a rapid rate.

9. Increased push for diversity

 Organisations will increasingly start demanding greater diversity in the workplace in time to come, particularly in sectors such as engineering where there is a growing focus on gender equality, particularly in the boardroom. As a result, many business leaders are now looking to HR to ensure that their company is representative of society.

 10. Focus on internal promotion

 Pressure facing recruitment and talent managers now will almost inevitably lead to a greater focus on up-skilling employees for internal promotion. Tighter budgets, the need for specific skills and increased complexity in terms of global workforce planning will mean that many businesses look internally rather than externally to solve their staffing issues.

Way forward

In the midst of a talent drought, only sharp strategies with concrete action will see the showers of talent rain. A sector such as hospitality cannot grow simply with sun, sea and sand, sans solid talent. We need to think and act in systematically converting raw talent into required talent in multiple sectors. It reminds me of what Mahatma Gandhi said a long time ago. ““The difference between what we do and what we are capable of doing would suffice to solve most of the world’s problems.” That’s where the talent becomes potent.