CEOs asking HR leaders where to put their money

Amidst slowdown, CEOs have to ensure that they provide rich developmental inputs

CEOs asking HR leaders where to put their money

While many organisations are investing in selection tools, on-boarding, soft-skills training, technical training, assessment for development/succession, performance management, employee engagement, employee benefits and activities to sustain the morale of the employees etc, the clear two choices that HR leaders should make are on “Building Learning Path – Learning Journey” for their key talent and “Improving Engagement” for the next six months.

It’s clear now that we are on the edge of the cliff. All economic indicators globally are indicating another wave of slowdown. In such times, the obvious choice for the CEO is to cut down HR budgets. But this is where they go wrong. A smart CEO would take this time to invest smartly in their human capital.

It’s the only time they have to ensure they provide rich developmental inputs to their key talent and at the same time improve the engagement levels of the rest.

All senior management and HR folks in organisations would swear by the shortage of time and space to build critical competencies, skills in their talent which can improve their business earnings and establish them as stronger brands.

While as many would agree to the fact, slowdown might be the best time to actually do these activities, another thorn in the flesh is the lack of investment for such activities.

According to me, this thought arises from looking at learning and development as typical trainings, workshops and seminars etc. Ask any L&D personnel and they will create in no time a learning time table which has the best content available in the market, best trainers involved and lots of offsite activities.

I clearly remember the downturn that cast its shadow in 2008. One of the big FMCG companies which had wanted to merge its Sales and Marketing function as a part of their Business Strategy, but identified that major competencies need to be built with people involved and thus were postponing it.

As soon as the markets had started to go slow and all others were cutting on training budgets and development activities, this FMCG company invested in building those critical competencies with key talent, necessary to make the merger happen.

They actually created a Special project internally based on the 10/20/70 model and by the start of 2010; it was no surprise that they had improved their market share and planted a few new brands successfully.

It was no surprise that their attrition and frustration during the tough times was the least when compared to the industry. A survey in the organisation concluded that employees appreciated the formal trainings and stuck to the company due to the investment in them and were excited to be a part of the journey, which actually looked a huge task initially.

Let me share another example with you, which describes the importance of engagement in tough times. A big MNC insurance giant had its employee engagement results come out, which clearly stated that employees were feeling low morale and their belief in the company was at its lowest.

Immediate managers not been able to manage the situations also came across as a major problem area.

The engagement with immediate managers was at its all-time low.

The Organisation decided to invest heavily in building skills with their people which they thought will retain them and also improve their chances of making it better in their careers. Downturns are difficult times; it’s also the best time when competition poaches the best talent from one organisation.

A comparatively new insurance player started to poach from our dear insurance giant and the best part was that they were investing in people, who were going to work for their competition.

As I talk to folks from the company now, on hindsight they feel, they missed critical information from their employees. Their managerial effectiveness was very low, which is an important parameter for all organisations.

The right approach would have been to identify the development needs of their managers through assessments, projects and internal business metrics.

Based on the development need analysis, it would have been very important to close those gaps and make the organisation more employee-friendly, create positive environment and build a stronger relationship with employees while investing in their skills as well.

As per a research done by DDI, among Executives across the industry, the same sentiment gets captured.

Most executives in these top notch companies when asked to rank their top business priorities termed leveraging talent and growth as their top priority, along with improved customer service and cutting costs.

The way to these difficult times is – assess, understand and devise a learning journey.

“Empty minds are devils workshop – as they say”, it is important for organisations to
understand the development needs of their employees through scientific methods of assessments and tests and then have a learning journey create for them.

(The author is Head of Sales and Marketing at DDI India)

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