Three Ways Successful Companies Develop Talent

How to build leaders with broad and deep skills for the long term

By Camelia Ram Feb 24, 2015
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Competing in today’s volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous environment demands access to a strong talent pool. Organizations must meet present challenges while cultivating talent for the long term, ensuring the capabilities needed for a sustainable future are being developed.

High unemployment and underemployment numbers, falling birth rates, rising retirement ages, longer life expectancy, as well as the “big data” revolution are influencing the gap between the capabilities required for the next generation and those that exist today.

Much can be learned from the efforts of others to bridge these gaps in the long term.

Here are three lessons from companies that are getting it right:

Tata Motors Challenges Assumptions About Who’s Right for the Job

Tata Motors, India’s largest automobile manufacturer, observed that many Indian families were unable to afford cars. The company decided to investigate ways to produce inexpensive family cars to meet the need for cheaper vehicles. To achieve this, Tata Motors applied a new approach to designing, manufacturing and distributing the cars, which required a distinct talent strategy. The company entrusted the early phases of the project not to the most experienced engineers, but to young engineers who were more open to experimenting with new ways to develop the product.

The Lesson: Broaden your perspective by asking, “Who can have the biggest impact on the decisions that drive progress to the business goal?”

Consider how the industry is evolving and what this means for the financial, physical and human resources that will be required to remain competitive and profitable. Then develop the skill sets at the individual and team levels required to meet those needs.

Schlumberger Invests in the Next Generation

Schlumberger—the world’s largest oilfield services company—is making thoughtful investments in new hires. The company has taken a proactive approach to assessing the future potential of new graduates during the beginning of their careers. Schlumberger conducts regular assessments and provides opportunities for junior employees to assume diverse roles across the company regardless of function, business unit or geography. In addition, the company offers robust online learning programs that are used to onboard new graduates. This reduces the time it takes to turn them into self-sufficient employees.

The LessonWhen building talent for the long term, HR should consider how capabilities can be developed so they are applicable to a broad and expanding product, service and customer set.

Investments in professional development can pay dividends by creating a base of strategic thinkers at all levels of the organization in the short term while building leaders with broad and deep skill sets for the long term.

Pixar Finds Success in Encouraging Employees to Fail

At animation company Pixar, mistakes are seen as an inevitable consequence of doing something original. Team members are encouraged to try to be wrong as fast as possible, not just by picking an unconventional path but by going down that path to see where things may lead. Multidisciplinary teams are involved in weekly “brain trust” meetings where their movies are dissected to test audience appeal.

The Lesson: Learning from early failurescan help you successfully adapt to changing environments.

By encouraging the exchange of multiple perspectives and sharing lessons learned in different contexts, unnecessary duplication of efforts and the associated costs of failure can be minimized.

Meeting the talent challenge requires a concerted and sustained effort to understand the skills required for the future. Stakeholders should collaborate on innovative ways of solving problems, as well as nurture opportunities for employees to have diverse experiences and create opportunities to develop ideas incrementally. This will require an approach to talent that is focused on capabilities that will serve the organization in a range of contexts.

Camelia Ram is a consultant for Decision Strategies International, a future-focused strategy and leadership development consulting firm.
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