In today’s economic environment it is easy to focus on a company’s financials and ignore what has for the past two decades been an increasingly challenging priority — talent acquisition. Given the number of companies reducing workforce numbers by the thousands or going out of business, it might even seem that human capital is in oversupply. While the immediate recruitment requirements of many companies may be more easily met these days, human capital issues still account for some of the greatest challenges businesses face. Recent Booz & Company research and experience with multinational clients highlight key challenges faced by human capital leaders.
- Escalating competitive pressures. These include the demand for new skills and capabilities, ever-higher standards for productivity and a less-benign regulatory environment that increases the need for employee education.
- Labor market changes. These include an aging workforce, a lack of qualified workers in key industries and professions, and Generation Y workers’ expectations for employment relationships.
- The changing nature of work. These shifts include greater emphasis on knowledge work, the extinction of the apprenticeship model, a lack of linear career paths and increased demand for immediate results.
- Competition in a “flatter” world. This is shown in globalization, industry consolidation, collaboration across organizational and geographic boundaries and the need for rapid knowledge capture, dissemination and protection.
While these challenges are common across companies, industries and even countries, knowing how to respond to them has been and will be a source of competitive advantage. These challenges are as critical as ever in Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) countries. The global financial crisis offers organizations in the region the chance to build their talent pool. In a region of unprecedented growth that is experiencing talent shortages, it is crucial to invest in recruitment, nurture leaders, and redesign workforce practices to build capability and competitive advantage. Effective recruitment starts with a forward-looking vision and long- term plan for talent acquisition. For the past decade, finding enough of the right people has been a challenge. A key lesson for human resources is to develop “employee insight” by using employee segmentation. Employee segmentation is the basis for modern human resources and customized career alternatives for a diversified workforce. In the MENA, the primary effort has been to recruit and build capacity. Now, with its variety of talent segments (e.g. skilled expatriates, local workforce, interim employees), using employee segmentation may be an opportunity for companies here to build capacity and capability. Understanding employee segmentation is one strategy. Understanding and effectively using one’s brand is a complementary strategy. Employer brands that attract talent often articulate a clear, shared purpose above the profit motive. Few MENA companies take full advantage of employer branding, but those that do will reap the benefits of attracting and retaining the best people. Forecasting talent needs is essential. Organizations must be prepared to act whenever exceptional people appear — even in economic hard times.
One German industrial company, ThyssenKrupp AG, established a special hiring fund in its technologies business. The budget is dedicated to building the talent pool in that specific business and it is separate from the traditional hiring budget. The imperative is to find the talent, hire them and then decide how to deploy them in the business. In highly competitive talent markets such as the MENA region, strategies that focus on leadership, learning and adaptability will be critical to the human capital agenda, while successful leaders obtain higher levels of employee engagement and retention. The best training and learning programs are closely integrated with the business, driving change, innovation and value. While the learning function should resemble a sophisticated, efficient and cost-effective adult education enterprise with measured outcomes and ROI, the individual also takes an active role in learning. This linkage between individual learning and organizational goals is critical, as individuals begin to ask themselves what they need to learn to have an impact on the bottom line rather than being told by managers and trainers.
Human resource’s capabilities, competencies and focus must be tightly aligned with the company’s business priorities. A business savvy HR function will realize that people are competitive assets and will design a compelling strategy to realize that asset’s value. This strategy habituates high performance in the people who work in every function, region and business unit of the company. Saudi Telecom’s human resources strategy, like its operational strategy, is designed around the needs of customers. Using a shared-services model in which human resources is a strategic partner with the business units, human resources professionals think in terms of providing services. Either they are able to develop the right training for customers inside the company or the business units are allowed to obtain the training they need from outside vendors. Human capital development remains at the forefront of MENA’s development agenda. While the region has not been immune to the financial crisis, MENA organizations may still be able to use the crisis to move from more tactical recruitment efforts to developing and implementing a human capital agenda that builds and develops much needed workforce capability.
Rabih Abouchakra is a partner and Bahjat El-Darwiche and Soon Rabb are principals at Booz & Company