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Leadership in the pipeline

Published on Friday, 11 Feb 2011
Michael Fraccaro, Asia-Pacific head of learning, talent, resourcing an organisation development, HSBC.
Professor David Ahlstrom, Chinese University.
Niq Lai, CFO and head of talent development, City Telecom HK (shown left)
Talent Development Forum 2011 speakers (from left) NiQ Lai, Francis Mok and Louisa Yeung are introduced to delegates by the event’s moderator, Classified Post chief editor Rex Aguado.
Photos: Edmond So

In addition to employing talent-development strategies as an effective means of boosting business performance, forward-thinking enterprises can also utilise talent development opportunities to attract the best employees.

Human resources professionals note that faced with tight budgets, many companies have taken a close look at their talent development spending. At the same time, poor foresight, and a lack of talent development can severely harm companies.

Michael Fraccaro, HSBC Asia-Pacific head of learning, talent, resourcing and organisation development, said focusing on talent development was a useful way to build employee loyalty and ensured a continuous pipeline of leadership. "The concept applies to large and small organisations, only the process and tools need to vary to achieve the desired outcome," Fraccaro said.

He was speaking at the Talent Development Forum 2011, co-organised by Classified Post and Kornerstone and sponsored by Michael Page International, where participants heard from specialists about the latest trends associated with talent development.

He said talent development for the future was a key priority for HSBC. The company used a nine-step assessment model to measure performance, strengths and weaknesses, he said. However, details are not revealed to individuals as this may detract from key objectives.

Instead, senior managers provide directional guidance and opportunities are made available to those who show promise. Support and skill-development opportunities are also provided to employees who need to improve in certain areas.

Fraccaro said local initiatives implemented to strengthen HSBC's talent pipeline included an accelerated development programme for the top 100 junior managers. Talented executives are also exposed to cross-customer and cross-business function rotation to broaden their experience. The goal was to provide young managers with faster career development opportunities, while giving them enough time to gain substantial experience and prove themselves, he said. HSBC also seeks to recruit top individuals from other organisations. Fraccaro said HSBC had structured talent development programmes that take into account the needs of Generation Y members that required rapid development opportunities and consistent feedback.

"Top Gen Y performers are likely to stay with an organisation for four or five years and then may go travelling," he said. "We have to find ways to ensure they come back to us by setting up an alumni network and other ways of staying in contact."

David Ahlstrom, professor at the Chinese University, explained the difference between in-born expertise and one developed through learning and practice.

"Real expertise must pass three tests," he said. "First, it must lead to performance that is consistently superior to that of the expert's peers. Real expertise [also] produces concrete results. Third, real expertise can be measured and replicated."

In many cases, he added, successful leaders develop their skills through dedication and practice.

Quoting an ancient Chinese proverb, panel presenter NiQ Lai, CFO and head of talent development, City Telecom (HK), said if you wanted 100 years of prosperity, grow people. "It gives you an advantage over your competitors," he said.

To encourage talent development, City Telecom sponsors between 80 and 90 per cent of the fees for further education for 50 employees.

It also focuses resources on the top 95 per cent of performers, while the bottom 5 per cent of salary earners were released each year, he said. "Not every hire will fit the company."

Bosses must see value of talent

Support from management to develop talent development programmes is vital. However, taking a cue from Sun Tzu – the military tactician from the 6th century BC who wrote the classic treatise The Art of War – human resources (HR)  professionals should carefully pick their talent development battles with management.

Louisa Yeung, Michael Page international director for Hong Kong & Southern China, says HR practitioners should consider how they approach management to invest in talent development programmes. “The idea should be presented highlighting the benefits to the company, not as an HR initiative,” she says.

Despite the advantages of talent development programmes, many companies are reluctant to provide upfront investment with no obvious payback time. “An investment in talent development is also an investment in the personal development of
employees, and helps to strengthen a company, but these can be hard areas to sell to management who are most likely focusing on profits.” Yeung says.

During a panel discussion at the Talent Development Forum 2011,  co-organised by Classified Post, Kornerstone and Michael Page International, Francis Mok, president of the Hong Kong Institute of Human Resource Management, says
companies that fail to provide support and opportunities to develop talent are likely to pay a high price. Mok highlights the importance of management support for talent development initiatives.

“Management needs to be involved in mentoring and coaching, and understand how the process benefits the rational  growth of the company,” Mok says, adding that there is no single talent development strategy that fits all companies and sectors. 

A great deal depends on operational requirements and timing to market, and the importance of talent development to drive  a business forward, Mok says. In the long-term, talent development strategies can help cut the cost of recruiting, while boosting profits through efficiency,  and making the workforce happier and more motivated.


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