Talent management in China

Dan Zhu, Shanghai Chapter board member and Chair of Shanghai’s HR Working Group, and Jan Anne Schelling, HR Vice President at DSM, look at talent management trends in China.humanity-254788(1)

The role of human resources (HR) professionals has transformed from that of mere back-office administrators to become something more akin to an organisational capability architect. This is partly due to the emergence of the SoLoMo[1] model of doing business, increased expectations of the HR function from business leaders and the increasing trend of HR outsourcing. Human resources now drive the building of organisational competencies and in this way co-own and co-direct a company’s strategy development and implementation.

These days many organisations complain of a talent shortage and a lack of know-how. At the Chamber’s ninth annual HR Conference, talent management was a hot topic with discussion focussed mainly around the following three questions:

What is talent management? 

Talent management involves the creation of a talent pool from the existing workforce and employing systematic succession planning by applying a standardised assessment of identified high achievers. Such assessments often involve a Development Centre to verify these high achievers’ current level of capability, their future potential, leadership style and their problem-solving skills. Upon completion of the appraisal, HR and line managers will work with the assessed individuals to devise a personal development plan (PDP).

Talent management should go hand in hand with your business strategy, with the aim of defining and building your organisation’s DNA through the development of people. With the application of Development Centres and PDPs, organisations often engage a third-party vendor to work alongside HR and line managers to contribute to the process. Since most line managers are not experts in this area training in talent management know-how is in constant demand. Such training can include how to observe Development Centre activities, how to conduct PDP discussions and how to conduct talent reviews.

What is going on in the talent acquisition market?

With the evolving growth model of China’s markets there is an increased demand for talent with increased capabilities and skills; the market is in need of individuals who can drive performance efficiency while maintaining a strategic view. Employers are also seeking not just to secure talent for immediate vacancies, but to assess their potential for growing into positions that are one or two levels above their entry role.

This represents a significant shift from the previous practice of merely filling immediate vacancies, and entails much more detailed planning and long term forecasting from HR and hiring managers. Hiring decisions also need to incorporate many other factors, and often it will involve strategic workforce planning, which would previously have been carried out at headquarters rather than in China.

Due to the influence of social media, employer branding is increasingly built on word of mouth within trusted social circles. Human resources and hiring managers have had to become immediate company ambassadors, demonstrating the employer’s values through their own conduct. Should the desired talent fail to be impressed by the approach of the interviewer(s) they may simply walk away. In this respect, it is the talent that is winning the war of talent acquisition.

What does leadership development mean for HR and line managers?

Leadership development encompasses a lot more than just classroom training in knowledge and skills. Around 70 per cent is devoted to flexible, stretched assignments on top of individual job requirements, turnarounds and new initiatives, 20 per cent on coaching and mentoring with just 10 per cent taking place in the classroom. It is important that HR communicates this process clearly to line managers and employees. Clearly articulating an organisation’s talent management strategy and practice is vital; it is a process that will involve the consolidation of global, regional and local needs and demands, best practices and country-specific priorities.

If third-party vendors are to be employed their selection is also critical, as Development Centre participants and senior management can be very demanding in questioning their validity and reliability. The design and follow-up of a certain talent’s development plan should also be openly communicated. Another challenge is to cooperate with line managers to carefully understand the critical issues involved in understanding an individual’s career path development. Readiness, options, motivation, mobility and personal issues all need to be taken into consideration.

For line managers it is important that they understand how to be true people managers. Only by knowing how to motivate, engage and retain team members can they develop themselves while developing others. They should understand that a core part of their job as a manager is not executing tasks but rather coaching people to help them find their own path, their personal growth potential and their own solutions.

[1] social-local-mobile: the convergence of social, local and mobile media, with particular emphasis on smartphones and tablets, where information is pulled by a user based on their location and activity on social media.