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BW Businessworld

I Wonder... I Wonder...

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I wonder… are we short of talent or talent managers? I think our bigger problem is line managers do not know how to manage talent!
I wonder… is the talent shortage one of quantity or quality? India’s output of 100,000 MBAs from 1,700 business schools accounts for 20 per cent of the world’s output of MBAs. It must be more an issue of quality!
I wonder… what has changed that there is a talent quality crunch? Are poor minds entering the management market, or has the quality expectation of the recruiters suddenly gone up? It is the latter. After all, competition is fierce and growth is dizzy. However, the situation is exacerbated by the fact that we have an education system which is not training people in contemporary ways. But the real killer is attrition.

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I wonder… could corporate leaders not foresee this development? Of course, they could. After all, they study markets and customers, and recruitment is a market! However, leaders did not get involved and they left the solution to their ‘purchase department’ i.e. HR.
I wonder… what was HR’s response to this market development? HR increased internal training programmes and produced managers better than before. There is evidence: the galloping sale of management books and the expansion of corporate education and the increasing success of Indian managers abroad.
I wonder… why did this not solve the problem? It did not because every company did not do these things equally well. People trained by efficient companies became attractive for poaching by others.
I wonder… what did companies do to reduce attrition? Well, they paid more. And the price spiral began.

I wonder… why does attrition happen at all? Do people always leave for more money? Surprise, surprise! Research shows that about two-third of people leave because they are unhappy with their boss or workplace, not because of money (as early as 1999, Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman of Gallup published the findings). It is facile to argue, “young people are not like we used to be”. Weren’t we different youngsters compared with our parents? So, the bottom line is that the managers join companies but leave their bosses.
I wonder… do line bosses know all this? Well, they don’t behave as though they do. And any way, line managers think that it is the HR department’s responsibility to reduce attrition.
I wonder… why did HR people not assert themselves? Because line managers did not take HR sufficiently seriously. Further, HR people were themselves quitting their jobs. The attrition rate within HR is among the highest in any company.
I wonder… where does the solution lie? Like all complex questions, the answer is simple — but very difficult to implement:
Place HR on line managers’ agendas by putting it back where it belongs. Make sure the line people understand once again that their main job is to manage people.
While evaluating line people, make their departmental attrition a measure of their performance. Managers who consistently lose subordinates at a rate higher than the market average must be helped to look within themselves for solutions.
HR can help managers rediscover how to manage. Managers in this Blackberry age need guidance to re-connect with people and to restore the human moment. Apart from managing glamourous things like money, materials, machines and markets, people matter.
Because business is about people and nobody can be a great business leader without being a great people manager.

The writer, executive director of Tata Sons, has authored The Case of the Bonsai Manager
(Businessworld issue 29 April-5 May 2008)