Talent Management for Shared Services!

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Companies may use different methodologies and structures, or design development programs, but they all have the same goal—to attract, identify, develop and retain top talents in the company.

It is now over 10 years since the "war for talent" in business was coined by a McKinsey & Co. study. The job market today is hungry for skilled people … and the war for talent is far from over! Most companies recognize that a talent management program is no longer a "nice to have," but a real necessity for ensuring long-term leadership capability, which is a key driver for success. Leadership shortage is a common problem all over the world, and management teams have recognized "building a strong talent pool" as a key business objective.

This article describes how EMEA Global Business Services (GBS) organization, part of Hewlett Packard Company, runs its talent management program. Global Business Services aims at providing shared services that deliver maximum value to the business, via three delivery centers in the EMEA region, located in Poland, Romania and Spain, as well as several front offices in different countries. The range of services is broad and includes finance and accounting, human resources, supply chain and marketing processes. As most of our activities are very language dependent, our employees speak foreign languages fluently (2.5 foreign language per person on average). These requirements are very high, so we hire mainly graduates, often graduates in philology. About 90 percent of our staff have a university degree. Another characteristic of our employees is their youth: on average, 26-27 years old. This means they have rather short work experience but are enthusiastic, highly motivated to learn, and have career ambitions. As the most important resource in a shared service business is people, talent management continues to remain one of the main priorities for the organization and our talent development program reflects the specific needs of our people.

Who and What Stands Behind Talent Management?

Over the years, HP has created a culture in which managers at all levels are accountable for managing their talents. The process starts at the very top of the organization and is cascaded down. Why this way, and not bottom up? An effective talent management program must be aligned to the company’s strategy and business objectives, as defined by top management. Management is able to define the right profile of people needed only after determining what needs to be achieved.

For EMEA GBS, it starts with translating our strategy and business goals to specific requirements towards talent. The process is designed and implemented by HR but owned by the business leader who engages all managers from the business. Usually, the management team spends half a day per month in a session dedicated to talent management. First, they define organizational needs that are derived from business strategy. These needs translate into talent requirements. In practice, this means defining the ideal profile of candidates to be hired, and linking it to future business objectives. Every manager presents a thorough assessment of all employees within their organization, including the level of skills, strengths and gaps. Succession plans and development plans for talent and successors are part of this agenda. This is done across all levels of the organization, down to the grass root level where most of our talent comes from.

What is really important is thinking in a long-term perspective and not focusing only on the immediate future. Now is the time to identify and develop the talent that will lead the company in a few years. Young talent, with high development needs…

So, How Do You Recognize Your Talent?

When I came across the idea of talent management for the first time, I asked a fundamental question, "Who is a Talent?" Although each company has its own definition of what constitutes "talent," strong performance and future potential are common denominators for all. For EMEA GBS, as for the rest of Hewlett Packard, strong performance is a prerequisite for future career growth, but a critical skill set, key leadership capabilities, behaviors and values are other desired characteristics. Motivation to learn and a commitment to make significantly greater contributions at higher levels in the organization complete the definition of "talent with really high potential." Most of the above-mentioned attributes are universal, but for the shared services and outsourcing business, we need to further define "critical skill sets." Apart from process knowledge, which is unique for this kind of service offering, I would emphasize global mindset, customer focus, results orientation and deep business understanding. This sounds like a demanding profile, but in my opinion it’s only a reflection of the challenging future for this business. Given that our population is very young, we had to customize the selection criteria slightly for our shared services business. It is not realistic to expect high skills levels from such young people with limited experience. We therefore emphasize past performance results and future potential on the one hand, and willingness to learn and openness on the other. As the needs of our talents are higher, compared to a more mature population, we also need to invest more in development programs.

Every year in EMEA GBS, we offer a special development program to identified talent, about 5 to 10 percent of our total employee population. This is definitely a higher number than for other businesses, where it usually falls around three to five percent, but results from the fact that we have a young population in a dynamic environment where the need for internal candidates to assume managerial positions is higher.

Identifying Talents Is Just a Beginning…

For me, identifying a talent pool is just the start of the journey. Equally important is the next step—defining and driving specific actions for organizational and individual development.

As already mentioned, our particular talent profile requires a more intensive development program from us. For EMEA GBS talents, such a program starts with constructive feedback from various sources. While managers are the most appropriate source for feedback, we also use development center sessions or 360 degree feedback. As the feedback comes from different angles, it is more objective and complete. Defining a subsequent career and development action plan becomes much easier, focused on valid strengths and development needs. Having a clear and mutually agreed upon career objective is the key to success in building effective development plans and, eventually, succession plans.

AT HP, a proven way to define a development plan is the 70 percent:20 percent:10 percent philosophy, where 70 percent stands for learning through experience, 20 percent for learning through relationships and 10 percent for learning through education.

All our talents are offered stretch assignments and specially defined projects. Business acumen, global mindset and customer focus are extremely important for the shared services and outsourcing business. Participation in projects and assignments is a worthy way for our talents to acquire those new skills. Exposing them to a global organization with its dynamics and letting them operate in new environments opens their perspectives and provides them with new knowledge and skills.

I also often hear from young, talented individuals that they are looking for authorities to teach and inspire them. That is why I strongly believe in coaching and mentoring as two different means for achieving this goal. Almost all our talents have mentors assigned to them, selected from senior managers in HP. I always receive very good feedback from both the mentor as well as the mentee, who find this way of learning very effective.

And of course, for these young talents, at the beginning of their career paths, we cannot forget formal education to equip them with knowledge. During the program they have a chance to participate in a series of face-to-face workshops led by senior and experienced trainers that focus on HP leadership standards. We also offer them so called "Leadership Master Classes" during which they have a chance to meet and interact with senior leaders from within and outside HP, build their own network and learn from their experiences.

It’s Really Worth It!

Deploying and driving an effective talent management program requires commitment and strong support from top management but it also requires the involvement of every manager and of HR. Hence the time and effort spent on this program is quite significant. This always triggers the question, "What’s the return on this investment?" Let me highlight some benefits that directly or indirectly have an impact on our financial results.

First of all, talents identified in the organization are highly motivated. They perceive this "identification" as an exceptional recognition. Furthermore, having defined career paths and development plans allows them to see their future in the organization, making them less likely to leave. Attrition, which is certainly a high cost for any company, could be a few times lower in this selected group of employees than for the rest of the employee population. The attrition rate in the group of EMEA GBS talents identified last year, for example, is three times lower than for the whole employee population.

Another notable benefit is better succession planning. With identified talents, the company’s leadership pipeline is considerably stronger. For critical positions, including managerial ones, there are potential candidates who are ready immediately, or with some further development. Having ready candidates in the organization saves time and money for recruitment and training of external talents. All talents from the EMEA GBS organization are already planned as developing successors for key positions.

Looking at our talents in EMEA GBS, I see almost all of them in new roles which are critical for the organization. For example, in June 2006 we identified talents who were at that point individual contributors or young supervisors and ran a dedicated, year-long development program for them. To date, 91 percent of them have been promoted and they are all very successful in their new, challenging roles.

Last but not least, it is the attraction factor. Candidates applying for jobs, as well as existing employees, want to see developmental opportunities. Having a talent management program implemented addresses those needs.

At Hewlett Packard, this is the time of year for talent reviews. We know that investment in our talent is crucial. We strongly believe that these young individuals with high potential may lead our organization in the future.

First published on SSON.