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Your staff is your greatest asset, unfortunately many not maximising usage of their talent [28-08-2012]  
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IN human resource and some corporate circles, talent often refers to employees and in most cases, key staff.

One of the statements many organisations and business leaders have professed is that their staff, their people, are their greatest asset.

Unfortunately, a majority of these organisations are probably not making the best use of their talent. More often than not, this usually stems from a lack of planning or having a long term view, and in some cases, both. Most organisations hire talent to satisfy an immediate need but consideration for their future requirements is often overshadowed by the need to fill a vacancy with an individual who can deliver immediate results, as quickly as possible.

A client, a forward looking one at that, when formulating the requirements for a key hire, once asked me to take into consideration that the company aspired to be public-listed within a 12 to 24 -month horizon. Clearly, any candidate for the role needed to be able to operate in the current as well as the future state of the company.

Another reason to take a longer term view in the talent acquisition process is the buy vs build' dilemma.

Those of us who have been in the workforce for the last decade or so, will know that it is almost a certainty that when a company needs to reassess its staffing cost during an economic downturn, the more expensive employees are usually the first on the chopping-block. However, these are often the people with the most experience and knowledge in the organisation. As such, optimising talent in such as situation would require further due diligence to determine which high-cost talent the organization can and cannot afford to lose.

This often boils down to how important talent management is to the organization and what other areas an organization can be managed' in times of crisis, rather than taking a broad stroke approach to immediately minimize operating cost by retrenching the most highly paid executives. One needs to consider the potential secondary costs involved, for example; if the initial hire needs to be compensated should a redundancy take place and the knock-on cost of rehiring.

The impact on staff morale due to the departure and the loss of productivity are also issues that need to be dealt with. All things considered, it is not only prudent but essential to take a long term and deliberate view when acquiring talent. Whilst talent development and retention may be considered costly exercises, the cost of having to bring in another executive to meet the needs of the next phase of the business further down the road may actually end up costing the company even more than keeping the initial hire.

One of the key questions I would ask potential candidates during an interview is, are you making the best use of your talent? Academic qualifications and experience do not necessarily relate to the innate ability we also call talent. It has more to do with what an individual enjoys doing and how this skill can add value to an organisation.

Most executives who are climbing the corporate ladder often strive and put a great deal of effort into reaching the next step. Although, once they achieve some level of success they sometimes feel that they have “been there, done that” and they begin to lose focus on developing their core skill set. I had a recent conversation with a human resource director whom I tried to headhunt for a multinational company that was starting its operations in Malaysia.

The individual was not keen to move even though it was a bigger role and the compensation was almost 40% more than her current salary. Her reason was that she was comfortable in her current role and she did not want to start over in a new organisation where she would have to lay the foundation for systems and build her team again. In other instances I have encountered candidates who have given other reasons for not taking on bigger, more challenging roles to enhance their skills and hone their abilities further.

The most common ones include wanting a country role after being in a regional role so that they are not required to travel as frequently and preferring to remain a single contributor rather than managing a team.

As such, these executives tend to stop growing and may eventually stagnate in their careers.

On the other hand, I have met managing directors and CEOs who are in their fifties and are still making the most of their talent. One such individual is currently the CEO of a large manufacturing plant in China.

He had just returned to Malaysia after a posting in North Asia when I presented him with the opportunity to turn around a manufacturing plant in China. Upon hearing the details of the role and giving the opportunity sufficient deliberation, he gave me the “green light” to share his profile with my client. After their first meeting, we were already talking about making arrangements for him to see the plant in China.

This individual was very much aware of what he wanted and he decided that he was going to gain even more exposure and further his career even more by taking on this next challenge. Hence, he was able to maximise his talent and push himself even higher up the corporate ladder.

Therefore, when dealing with talent issues let us consider the primary objective or the end-game.

If we are ultimately trying to build a talent rich organisation, it is essential to have the right talent at the right time. This would probably involve a great deal of planning and discipline to prioritise this objective especially if the company's revenue is declining and there is pressure to cut costs. From an individuals' perspective it is important to keep oneself current and that includes taking on roles that will help enhance your skills or take you to the next level.

At the very least we may run the risk of not maximizing our talent or in some cases become a dinosaur.' So, let's make the best use of our talent, shall we?

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