Revolution with a human face

Technology may be changing but companies still need to nurture people talent, writes Nick Martindale

Whatever the 21st-century workplace looks like, it will include people-shaped spaces. New technology may be bringing about a revolution as profound as the move from an agrarian to an industrial society, but few would disagree with the idea that a committed, engaged and productive workforce is essential for organisations to survive or maintain profitability.

But the current business climate has heightened the need for effective talent nurturing, says Professor Paul Sparrow, director of the Centre for Performance-led HR at Lancaster University Management School.

“Competitive forces are requiring organisations to take control of the skills supply chain through the use of more forward planning,” he says. “Strategic workforce planning is aimed at identifying the characteristics of human capital needed to achieve a strategic objective and then scaling the activities needed.”

Cris Beswick, consultant and author of The Road to Innovation, believes that in the future how companies operate will be just as important as what they do. “If we take it as given that organisations should have great products and services, their differentiator will be how their culture marks them out from the competition,” he says. “Organisations that understand how to attract, retain and develop talent will be the ones we admire.”

Finding the right people is the first hurdle to overcome. On the face of it, increasing numbers of graduates imply a wider choice for employers; but there is a growing gulf between their skills and those required by businesses.

It empowers people to solve problems themselves rather than pass them on

As graduates often have little in the way of relevant employment history,many employers opt to run talent assessments ahead of hiring, says Sean Howard, vice president of solutions marketing at SHL, a HR consultancy, with people skills becoming especially important.

Technology is particularly important in helping to attract graduates, says Professor Sparrow pointing to the use of “gamification” by companies such as Disney. “They design their websites to reflect the sense of playing a strategy game,” he says. “It’s a more intense form of a realistic job preview.”

Once on board, one way of combining greater productivity with attracting and retaining the right staff is to develop a culture of “intrepreneurship”, where employees are encouraged to come up with solutions to problems or suggestions for revenue generation.

“It’s about giving employees an opportunity to share their thoughts and feed back ideas to management,” says Derek Bishop, director of Culture Consultancy, a business advisory service. “It’s the frontline staff in most organisations who can see most clearly what’s not working.”

Such an approach is helping attract more staff for IT services company Fujitsu, according to Ella Bennett, the company’s HR director for UK and Ireland. “It empowers people to solve problems themselves rather than pass them on,” she says. “Certainly with our service desks, we’re able to attract people because the jobs are inherently more interesting. One of the reasons we did this was because of the levels of attrition and the amount of on-boarding and training that we needed to do. It’s a real differentiator for us in terms of getting senior people in too.”

Having an effective induction process can go a long way to ensuring employees become productive quickly, as well as boosting overall retention rates. “Good onboarding should start when a candidate accepts an offer,” says Chris Phillips, vice president of marketing, Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA), at Taleo, a recruitment and talent management company. “This can include doing simple things efficiently such as providing them with a BlackBerry or laptop through to offering them initial development activities and training supervised by a dedicated mentor.”

But failing to get the process right means more than the loss of a potentially talented employee, warns Raj Tulsiani, chief executive of Green Park Interim and Executive Resourcing. “It’s arguable that the greater cost is the time for all the people that are involved with that new hire, which takes them away from their own work. That magnifies the cost, sometimes by a factor of three or four.”

And in a world where there are so many new calls on corporate expenses, that’s a cost no business needs to waste.