Thursday 9 June 2011

#ECTalent: Setting a Talent Agenda


I’m at the Economist’s Talent Management Summit today.  the first set of sessions have all focused on setting a talent agenda for maximum business impact.


  As part of this, Hugh Mitchell, CHRO at Shell, talked about this company’s business and explained why many of their employees have specific vs commodity skills – they only exist in people within this sector.  The environment is also increasingly competitive and Shell’s competition will often want to be recruiting at the same time as them.  And a lot of the other companies are their partners, so Shell need to focus on developing their own talent.  Also if they carry some excess talent it’s not going to break the bank – people aren’t their biggest cost burden.  So they can take a long term view.

He then explained how this links to a globally aligned, co-ordinated talent strategy and approach to meet needs of today and tomorrow.



The key is understanding which skills are vital to the future of your organisation.  If you’re short of HR people you can recruit them from other sectors.  You can’t do this with non-commodity talent.

You need to ask - where do we need talent, what skills do we need and over what timeframe?  And ensure you are bringing in enough talent over 10 to 15 year outlook.  Shell try to ignore the economic cycles.  If they didn’t they’d feel the pain of that consequence 15 years later.

They form long-term relationships with key universities too – and look for ones that can do R&D and other activities with as well as hiring too.



They know they have a huge bulge of projects over the next 5 years eg Pearl plant in Qatar using new technology to turning natural gas into vehicle fuel.  Over the next 5 years they’re spending $100m on major projects with 20 starting up across the world.  So in 2005 Shell set up a new academy to raise project management skills.

You also need to reprofile skills to get the right messaging in a company.  So Shell have raised project mangement to their executive committee – emphasising that project management and technical capability are vital to a company’s success by reflecting this in where they recognise power in organisational terms.

Success in project management is also an explicit part of reward strategy for all staff in the company.


Deployment on a global basis

Shell people need to be ‘smarter than the average bear’ – smarter than the generation above them.  There is a dedicated role looking at the health of Shell’s disciplines – ensuring that skill pools will meet the demands of the future.  This drives recruitment and development etc.

Shell carries over 5000 expats which is expensive but you need to be able to deploy a large number of people quickly.  In their business you either win the work or you don’t.  If you do you’d better have the people to respond to it.


HR – Creating Value!

HR’s organisation is also aligned to their business as well.  The function used to be linked to local businesses through country based structures but as they have become a globalised company, they have also globalised HR.  All HR people globally report to him.

A lot is driven through Centre of Excellences, driving coherence on a global basis.

And a 10 person Executive team makes all decisions eg on recruitment targets.  Shell has a 5 year strategy (they are currently looking at 2025) and the people strategy is part of this.  Once this is agreed it is his responsibility to translate this into HR planning.  He doesn’t need to go back every year for approval because he is working against an approved context for the strategic direction.


Interesting isn’t it, and although Shell clearly have a requirement for long-term thinking, talent is always a long-term issue.  I’m sure that a lot of organisations could learn from this approach (so much for talent on demand, Peter Cappelli?).



Earlier on we had an interview between the Economist’s Robert Guest and Phil Smith, CEO at Cisco UK and Ireland.  Phil emphasised that the next generation workforce will be very different to the current workforce.

Making a company a great place to work is the best way to attract people.  Cisco have a five interview minimum rule, and it’s not unusual for senior people to have 10 to 12 interviews.  Phil thinks this is a great thing to do – potential employees gain an overall sense of the culture of company and Cisco gets a great sense of them through a number of lenses too.

Phil also talked extensively about Cisco’s inclusive culture  - and another advantage of the company’s recruitment process is that some of this cultural magic rubs off on new employees early on.

Other aspects of this culture is about an environment where people can contribute to their development, and where people will see what they’re doing not just as a job but a career.  Cisco employees work for a big company but they do lots of different things (working on spin outs and innovation programme etc).

Phil also made a lot of interesting points about social networking which I will post on at Social Advantage later.


  In the later panel:

For Bob Bennett, Fed Ex Express culture is everything – winning companies sustain results over time.  Leadership development throughout needs to be build into culture and culture takes time to develop.  Strategic workforce planning is also vital to success.

A new performance management process should help develop the right culture.  FedEx also encourages story telling.


Roger Cude SVP Global Talent Management, Walmart is also focused on culture.  They have a new leader programme in which the CEO talks about priorities, a former CEO presents on 10 things which led to the company’s success when they were the CEO – very powerful stories.  And a Board member asks what are you waiting for?

They have a manager sponsorship (vs more passive mentorship) programme, ‘Develop to Lead’.

And their talent review programme includes a focus on who have you developed and what have they gone on to do?  For Rogerm talent management is like the balance of trade – as a leader you’re either a net importer or exporter of talent.


Satish Pradhan CHRO at Tata talked about their companies operating separately but in an aligned manner – which makes things challenging.

Like Roger, Tata focuses on net exporters of talent within the group. They have a talent review process operating across group companies to provide opportunities to deploy people into these. They support this through the rotation of talent across cars, chemicals, teas etc. This is very visible but quite small in numbers. People have to have the desire and seek the opportunity.  Net exporters of talent are celebrated (through peer and other recognition, not reward).

For Satish, talent management is no more important than it was in the past but is better recognised eg in the boardroom. We need to think about how we look at talent – our education focuses on things – this limits our ability to think of companies as human organisations.

When we talk about capabilities, and talent – look at creating outcomes not as an algorithm or an equation. Talent is about what peopole do. Cut through the clutter and focus on building source of competitive advantage eg seeing talent management as a pipeline vs quantities at different levels.



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