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What To Do?

  • It doesn't look as if the FMCG industry is going to stop hemorrhaging skilled executives any time soon, so the imperative must be to both cast the search net wider and be prepared to bring on more high potentials through a more intensive identification and development program.

  • Again, they are going to have to dig deeper for graduates, and make them realize that a career in an FMCG company can be rewarding, stimulating, and fun.

  • They may well have to consider the locations some of them operate from, and be prepared to move key functional areas or the headquarters of business units to places where top talent wants to live.

  • They will have to learn to promote people ("taking on the risk") faster than today; otherwise, high potentials will jump for better offers.

  • They will need to consider that—like big oil—hiring mid- to senior-level people from outside the industry can be a good thing if it is managed in the right way.

If these are some of the options that finance houses, oil companies, and FMCG firms can consider, what's on the agenda that they have to concern themselves with? What are the issues and initiatives that keep our three human capital gurus awake at night?

While some things are highly focused on a specific industry's requirements, the real concerns are remarkably similar. Below is the laundry list that—I imagine—any senior HR man or woman must have in their top pocket and look at every day.

The Human Capital Laundry List of Issues, Needs and Expectations (in no particular order of importance):

  • Diversity Programs: Organizations must get better—quickly—at being able to comfortably manage a wide range of personnel from different social, religious, and cultural backgrounds. The majority of major corporations are dominated—not just at the top—by white male managers. This needs to change. Diversity also includes women and minorities. If we don't begin to do this as a matter of course and just part of business as usual, we are, in effect, managing under a policy where we deliberately restrict access to vast pools of highly competent talent. The other factor is that we are, more and more, hiring people who don't really belong in our business. Or at least they didn't used to. We have people whose cultural touch points are very different from those of our industry. For example, insurers employ geologists, meteorologists, and physicists to counsel them on earthquakes and other natural disasters and weather patterns; banks have academics versed in chaos theory and the like. Managing these people opens up whole new challenges for our industries.

  • Work-Life Balance: Buzz phrase or major concern? There is little doubt that work-life balance is something that concerns employees. In most firms, it is all about how to live a life dominated by a long-hours culture, excessive business travel, long commutes, and juggling children and social life as well. Certainly, employees working in fast-paced firms, who have little time out of work, appreciate concierge systems (such as laundry, video rental, and supermarket services), a nanny-at-home service for sick kids, as well as at work gyms and massage opportunities. However, there seems little doubt that organizations must take a clear stand on this and develop policies that are meaningful and are clearly understood. Addressing work-life balance issues on an ad hoc, case-by-case basis seems to send the wrong messages, create petty jealousies, and is a recipe for eventual organizational chaos. In my view, organizations must set policy and stick to it—however tough or tender it might be—so employees know where they stand. If you are going to have sabbaticals, set a policy and say so. If you don't want them in your business, make that clear, too. If employees are pushing to exchange salary for days off, decide if you can afford to do this in terms of the disruption it will cause. All the same, you can have corporate guidelines, but remember—especially if you are an international organization—that local managers need to use their own discretion. What would be welcome in one country or region, won't be even understood or appreciated in another.

  • Telecommuting: This can be regarded as part of the work-life balance debate. However, it possibly needs to be viewed as a stand-alone issue. To begin, firms need to make a clear decision about just how much telecommuting should play in their business. This can range from equipping employees with home offices, to doling out a mobile phone and a laptop. Again, the failure to take into account everyone's needs can cause problems. Simple things, such as answering the phone of a part-time telecommuter when they are out of the office, can create all sorts of issues. Equally, some people are completely unsuited to this type of work, needing on-site supervision. And there are jobs like that, too. So, get a policy and fine-tune it as you develop it. That's if you want to have it at all.

  • Pensions and Other Benefits: These still seem to be concerns of employees—particularly those that are planning to stay. While most pensions are fully portable these days, there is also a major move for firms to limit funding or leave these kinds of provisions to individuals to work out. However, there is no doubt that pension-style benefits and major health coverage are on the agenda of most professional managers, who—if they are going to stay with you—expect them to cover the rest of their immediate family. Also, in some countries (the UK and U.S. come quickly to mind), many families opt for fee-paying schools, and are looking to their employers to assist. Again, unless you want an HR operation that is all over the place, policies need to be clear and unambiguous. Incidentally, most companies miss out on the opportunity to let them know just how much they do give them in addition to salary. Hoescht Celanese showed every employee just how much was invested in them in addition to salary—figuring rightly that few had a clue. They explained the value of pensions, health care, cars and other perks, and retention levels rose by over 40 percent. Try it; it's easy to do, and doesn't cost much, either.

  • Professional and Personal Development: This has to be a key part of human resource strategy. Today, everyone puts professional and personal development at the very top of the list of "needs" they expect employers to fulfill. But it's a lot more complex than that. Specific groups need very careful attention. High performers in all disciplines need their own process; so too do future general managers. Being known for offering the very best in training and development becomes a major attractor—don't stint on it, it can (when done right) save you a bundle of recruiting dollars and boost retention.

  • Tracking Ex-employees and Rehiring Strategies: Remember the days when you left a company and you went on their blacklist—never to be re-hired under any circumstances? Ah, how times have changed for us! Today, smart organizations are actively keeping in touch with ex-employees (it can be as simple as mailing them a Christmas card or a company diary every year). Ex-employees (well, the ones you didn't fire for some unspeakable act!) are really worth seeking out. They know the business, have usually learned a lot since they left you, and will quickly and seamlessly integrate. Some organizations are making this a major initiative; one even has an ex-employees newsletter that they mail out every month. Especially in any innovative company, getting an ex-employee's attention can be all it takes for them to pick up the phone. Why? Because they probably left to go and pursue some new idea, technology, or product. If they find out that you have some new challenges, they'll want to be a part of it.

  • Communications: No matter how much money organizations seem to spend on communication, they never spend enough. Always at the top of the "you could do better" section of employee attitude surveys, communication has never ever had much of an easy ride in any business. One of the first things to be axed in a downturn, it is also one of the organizational orphans (or poised chalices), never seeming to find a home. Communications are run by the CEO's office, marketing, HR, or finance, depending on the focus of the business. But, as everyone knows, but does little about, communication needs attention. As we employ more and more intelligent people, we have to keep them informed. If we don't, they find out anyway. I am not sure just how many alternative corporate websites there are these days, but if you want to know all the dirt on the business you work for—or are thinking of working for—a few key strokes will take you there. Somehow, top management doesn't seem to have understood that too well, but it is a fact of life. We owe it to the people who work for us to keep them aware about what our plans are, and we owe it to our employees to allow them to feedback to us what they think. The biggest problem with communication is that most employees don't believe what top management says half the time. And, if you can, don't give it to some fresh-faced kid to do; get a seasoned employee who knows the business. This will be a hard sell though—no one in my experience ever made vice-president or partner by having responsibility for internal communications on their job description !

  • Attracting the Next Generation: Making sure that the new hires of today are your high performers (Hipos) of tomorrow is paramount. As we have already seen, for many it is difficult. Firms are going to have to spend a lot more time and money on getting their case across to the next generations if they are to secure a plentiful supply of new talent. This means that they are going to have to change the perception they have in the marketplace. For some, this will be hard work, and will mean tearing down a lot of very sacred cultural icons that have served well for many years. However, it would seem that many of the dinosaurs of the past will have to reinvent themselves if they are to successfully compete for talent on the global market. Today, there are a lot of "cool" places for talent to work, whose talent magnet is far, far stronger. Neither do I think that this can be solved by a slick advertising campaign. This is a long-term battle that needs to be won. It isn't over in months or years; it will be an ongoing fight to be a better talent magnet than not only your direct competition, but other industries as well. The place to start? Try and understand what those Twinkies want in a job, a career, a life. If you aren't tuned into that, you can't begin to prepare yourself for the fight. My suggestion? If your top management can't accept the need to change—go work for someone who does !

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