Seeking talent solutions
It was a formidable gathering of minds to crack the current China conundrum: how do you attract and keep the best talent on the mainland, amid a highly competitive domestic market and an unsettled global economy?
The CEB-SHL LINK Greater China Conference 2013 apparently achieved what it sought to do - allow the participants to learn, interact, network and know. This year's theme - "Big Data in a Nutshell: Integrated Talent Management Solution in Greater China" - was as timely as one could hope for, given the rapid evolution of the mainland human-resources scene.
The event also included a presentation by CEB-SHL executives, led by Robert Morgan, CEB general manager and president and CEO of SHL, on the story behind the 2012 acquisition by CEB of SHL.
Mike Tims, president for Asia-Pacific, Middle East and Africa at SHL, talked about "People Intelligence and Business Results in the New Work Environment".
Other presenters were: Eugene Burke, chief science and analytics officer at SHL; Stuart Hedley, field enablement director for Asia-Pacific at SHL; and Brad Adams, head of HR research and product management for Asia at CEB.
Completing the CEB-SHL contingent were: Anthony Parslow, executive director for growth acceleration and commercial operations at SHL; Chris Frost, managing director at SHL Hong Kong; Christy Forest, executive director for Asia-Pacific at CEB; and Fu Quan, managing director of SHL China.
Guest speakers included leading HR practitioners from organisations such as Boral Group, Fonterra, the Hong Kong Institute of Human Resource Management, ICBC, Anheuser-Busch InBev Brewing Group China, Novartis, Kimberly-Clark China, C&A and Kellogg's.
Arguably, Morgan captured the conference's main thrust, which was diagnosed in Burke's comprehensive presentation: "There's a lot of data around, but not a lot of tools to analyse that data."
Other speakers took turns highlighting the fact that most companies in China have been diligently collecting information about their talent pools, as well as chunks of the national job market, but that very few have been able to make sense of the raw information they have gathered.
What can be gleaned from the unprocessed information gathered by both SHL and other talent analytics organisations was amply summar-ised by SHL China managing director Fu. "There are a lot of differences between China and the world as far as HR practices are concerned," he said. "For example, in China, companies are more focused on retention and performance management."
Fu cited sectors such as retail, pharmaceuticals and fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG). "The rise of the middle class has fuelled growth, so hiring is up. But the talent retention rate is also high - with some FMCG companies reporting almost 100 per cent retention rates. So the challenge is talent assessment, as many companies in China are less focused on formal appraisal and talent data analysis."
Fu also cited the case of the financial sector, where commercial banks are transforming themselves into universal banks.
Tims sees this phenomenon as part of a global problem, where companies are forced to achieve more with the same or less resources.
"About 98 per cent of the members of CEB-SHL say they had gone through significant change over the past few years," he said. "In China and the rest of Asia, companies have become more dispersed geographically, with a more matrixed structure."
Over and above these HR issues is, of course, the matter of leadership, the topic covered by Hedley and Adams.
This issue was further teased out in a subsequent Classified Post interview with SHL's Frost, who offers some hope in the form of talent analytics. "Big data in HR will follow the way companies are now doing financial and sales analytics," he says. "We see a convergence between the building of … the recruitment pipeline and talent measurement. Talent assessment will come to the rescue of businesses facing a multitude of challenges."