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‘Ask your talent what it wants’


Philip Rice

1 February 2014


Across the Gulf States, the nationalisation agenda is creating challenges for HR executives, says Philip Rice. PA's HR expert gives his tips on how to manage talent in this environment.

Expats and talent management

While the demographics and economic context differ in each state, the ambition is broadly the same: to increase the number of citizens in the workforce and, where possible, reduce dependence on expat labour.

Talent management is one of the foremost concerns. In HR, you must make sure you are getting the talent you need while meeting the company’s commitment to the nationalisation agenda. And when you do succeed in attracting the best, you must take steps to keep these employees with the company and continue to perform to the best of their ability.

To help you manage talent effectively, it’s useful to look at the approaches other organisations are taking to analyse the needs of employees in much the same way they assess the needs of their customers. Although businesses in all industries have long known that they can gain competitive advantage through effective talent management, it is dominated by one-dimensional and process-driven approaches.

The companies that have the greatest success are the ones that can differentiate their offer for different groups of employees – including their nationals. By understanding that different groups of employees have different needs, you can give each group the incentives they are looking for.

Asking employees what they want

The results of our research suggest that in companies where talent management is not working well, no one has asked the employees themselves what they actually think of it. We questioned a wide range of employees – from recent graduates to those at the very top – about why they chose to work for their employer. In particular, we wanted to know whether there were differences between groups. Did it matter, for example, what sector, life stage, age or gender group the employee belonged to?

We compared our findings with what HR departments at 44 leading companies offered. Perhaps unsurprisingly, we found a discrepancy between this, what employees want, and what organisations think they want.

Of the companies that were getting it right, those achieving the greatest shareholder return had segmented their talent pool and differentiated their EVP accordingly.

In essence, these companies were identifying who generated the most value and defining these talent types into categories. They could then start to understand what people wanted from their employer relationship.

How to turn your talent management around

To attract the best candidates, you need to establish exactly what makes your company competitive. What is it that sets you apart? When you’ve agreed this, consider the market conditions you are operating in. Using these criteria, you can define who will add the most value to your firm, prioritising the various capabilities you need. With this in hand, you will know which talent will be most critical to your business’ success.

Next, think about the processes you use to identify the talent that fits these definitions. Remember that talent is about more than just future leaders. Also, the whole point of defining your most valuable people is to do something with them in the future. So work out who your value generators are by considering the action you are planning to take with them. Then you can start grouping individuals into pre-determined ‘talent interest groups’.

Matching EVP and interests

The next step is to align your EVP with the interests of each group – tailoring the compensation, benefits and working environment that these individuals receive. When thinking about the type of experience that you want to create for them, bear in mind the challenges they face.

Finally, it’s time to accelerate the development of your talent to see a clear return on investment. You can do this by offering continuous challenge (on-the-job learning) or personal support (line managers who believe in employees).

We drew on elements of this approach in our work with a large commercial bank in the Gulf, for which we implemented the infrastructure needed for its HR systems to work. And our ongoing work with a Saudi manufacturing organisation involves focus on the talent required within its business transformation programme. Effective talent management is certainly a challenge, but by giving talent what it wants, it becomes a great deal more achievable. 

Philip is a strategy and HR expert at PA Consulting Group.

For more information on PA's talent expertise, click here or contact us now.

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