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 / Autumn 2008 / Issue 52(originally published by Booz & Company)


A Talent for Talent

In this way, the concept of a learning organization is translated into a series of capacity-building efforts at the group and individual levels, all linked to business out-comes. Employees are held ac­countable for learning (with the acquisition of skills and capabilities reflected in their career advancement), and the learning function is held accountable for enabling and reinforcing learning through effective human capital programs. Satyam has accomplished this through the rigorous solicitation of stakeholder appraisals, competitive benchmarking, and effective metrics. These metrics include a set of simple questions to individuals embedded in their development plans that seek to discover what employees have learned, what they could have done differently, and what they need to learn to deliver the next wave of business outcomes.

Some companies also establish corporate universities at the center of their learning functions. These facilities serve as hubs for executive and employee education, centers of excellence, vehicles for building relationships with suppliers and key customers (who may be invited to send people to courses there), and visible symbols of the organizational commitment to learning. Most important for their success is a position at the center of the business. Thus, visitors to Royal Dutch Shell’s learning center in The Hague find it co-located with the offices of the company’s senior leaders, and ThyssenKrupp’s new academy is rising in the heart of its new headquarters in Essen, Germany, not in some bucolic setting far from the action.

Emphasizing resiliency and adaptability in your workforce. “Change management is at the very core of success these days,” says Sat­yam’s Raju. Business today de­mands resilient organizations that adapt to many changes: the inte­gration of acquisitions, privatization and de­regulation, globalization, shifts in technology, and the adoption of radical new strategies. This resil­ience, in turn, depends on having people on board who can quickly and effectively adopt new ways of thinking, working, and behaving. 

One company with a proven method for building the adaptable workforce is Kraft. This consumer products enterprise is transforming itself from its old identity as a cost-driven business unit to an indepen­dent company “rewired for growth,” as Kraft’s May puts it. She illuminates how she navigates change “by acting on all our people issues — current talent, recruiting, workforce of the future, culture — to align them with the business strategy as it relates to growth, innovation, and technology.”

In the best examples, the HR function can become a change leader itself. For example, when Saudi Telecom Company was privatized and job rotation was in­troduced to stimulate leadership development, Vice President of Hu­man Resources and Training Salah Al-Zamil rotated the six general managers on his own staff first, sending each of them for short periods of time to take on the job of a peer in another HR function. “We worked it out at HR,” he recalls, “and now it’s company policy that 25 percent of our organization should rotate every year.”

Demonstrating Business Impact
Saudi Telecom’s example of leadership from the HR function is still rare. Many HR professionals have not changed their performance or practices significantly since they started their careers. “The field is basically operating on a model that’s about 70 years old and has a history of being wedded to compliance,” observes FedEx Ground’s Brown. “And that approach simply doesn’t work anymore.”

HR underperforms in companies where its capabilities, competencies, and focus are not tightly aligned with the critical business priorities. “A major risk in HR is that we become seduced by the theory alone,” warns Barclays PLC HR Director Cathy Turner, speaking of abstract ideas about human capital, leadership development, and talent management. “[We] forget that the primary reason the company em­ploys us is to enable business leaders to run their businesses better…. [At Barclays,] our driving principle is to avoid all the ‘fluff’ surrounding HR and focus on what we actually need to do to help the business operate in a controlled and effective way.”

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