An Exclusive Conversation with S.V. Nathan on Talent Strategies for Tomorrow

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In an exclusive conversation with SightsIn Plus, we have S.V. Nathan, Partner and the Chief Talent Officer of Deloitte India. He serves on the Executive Leadership of the firm and is a member of Deloitte’s Global Talent Council. Nathan has been serving Deloitte for over 13 years.


Nathan has over 30 years of experience in HR management, across diverse industries including Manufacturing, Hospitality, IT, Telecom, and Professional Services.  A respected voice of the HR profession in India, Nathan speaks regularly at several national and global forums on contemporary HR matters. He was conferred the ‘Distinguished Alumnus Award’ by XLRI by his Alma Mater. He was acknowledged as one of the top 25 thoughts leaders in the Digital space by SAP. He was also recognized as one of the top three Power Profiles in HR by LinkedIn for 2017 and his blogs and posts on ‘#OfficeTruths on LinkedIn is very popular.

Nathan has a keen interest in the development of women leaders. He was conferred the National ‘Male Ally Award’ by Avatar and Working Mothers, 2017, for his stellar role in the development of women professionals and supporting their cause.

He currently  serves as the Chairman and member of the Board at Sumedhas, a not-for-profit education and research body on organization development.

He is an avid reader and writer, Nathan also loves cooking for family and friends. He is a regular blogger and has an active presence on social media.

Q-Thanks for sharing your precious time with us. What do you think HR should focus most on when it comes to develop talent for tomorrow?

Employees want ample development opportunities to Learn and Grow and succeed and this need will only amplify as time passes. The Millennials are hungry for work and not willing to wait. It thus becomes imperative for an Organization to focus on capability building and that adds value to the individual. Building capabilities is about adapting to new challenges that emerge and that happens when we invest in building competencies. Developing these competencies could be achieved through a simple yet tested 70 – 20 – 10 percent rule. What this rule essentially states that 70 percent of all competencies should be developed through on-the-job development experiences wherein they can apply their skills and grow through challenging assignments which could cut across functional domains and businesses; 20 percent of competencies should be developed through networking and by building lasting relationships with mentors and coaches which would create an environment where experiences, innovation and success is shared, and only 10 percent of competencies should be developed through planned training.

Q-How should organizations build effective Talent Pipeline strategy?

An effective talent strategy is one which aims to define, attract, and develop the right mix of critical talent to support and grow business.

As the economy grows rapidly and new age businesses emerge, Companies are running out of talent that is ready in the right timeframe to step into key roles. In such a scenario, how do we identify our top talent, retain high potential talent and give them an opportunity to rise and shine.

The solution lies in the traditional three step approach of recruiting, developing and retaining high performing talent and recruiting talent that is not available in the firm. The greater focus to be future ready. Businesses would need to dig in hard to understand what skills they will need in the next three to five years beyond the current business strategy; where will these skills exist and how they would be able to build the skills from within or buy it from outside. Organizations will need to provide them with accelerated learning and development and design career paths that foster cross functional learning and skills transfer. Talent reviews and assessment need to be more rigorous and thoughtful. Talent teams can drive this success by helping the organisation, in collaboration with line managers, to devolve ownership for leadership development throughout the business. This will help to build the internal talent pipeline, create a better understanding of what talent is already in the business – and where, and create an awareness of areas where the business will have a need for supplementary external talent. Armed with this information, an organisation can begin to create real succession plans. This integrative approach is likely to be the most effective.

Q-What is flexible workforce to you and how to build a successful flexible workforce strategy?

Three things are changing today – Work, Workforce and Workplace. We are way past the time when employees were full-time workers, glued to their workstations and being supervised by strict bosses and were time bound. As we move towards a Gig economy, an increasing number of employees today want to work independently, are self-directed and position themselves as advisors, independent consultants and freelancers. Their focus is on working on the best projects that add value to them. This happens only when they can choose what they wish to work on. The talent strategy that evolves has to take into account this paradigm shift.  Turning to Technology will be necessary to make flexible work a success. This is especially true because the nature of work is transitioning as well; we are moving towards a virtual collaborative culture where employees are expected to break down independent way of working and move towards a common Organizational goal. Virtual collaboration tools are thus a must to make remote working and virtual teams a reality. However, more than tools and technology, it is the mind-set that needs to change. Hiring and managing a virtual and remote workforce requires a different behavioural approach to employee management. Leaders need to do away with traditional approaches to work. They must turn to a more result-oriented work approach. And Talent processes must be aligned with this approach.

Q-Most of the MNCs are keeping Educational Institutes as filter for hiring, do you endorse?

While this may come as a surprise, but educational filter will always be the quick go to approach for any Organization particularly when there is abundance of talent pool to choose from and when hiring for generalist skill sets. This is because such individuals come with a demonstrated set of behavioural and functional capabilities which they have proven over a stretched course of time. However, we need to be wary here as this is merely indicative. The key is to find the right talent who has the skill set necessary to be successful in the role and is a good fit for the company’s culture. And such talent need not be restricted to only the best educational institutes. While it may be time consuming with a lesser conversion chance, an Organization should always look out for diversity, heterogeneity and that is where a multi-channel approach should be the strategy.

Q-Does Gig Economy cause a disturbance to workforce, why?

The right statement would be to say that it’s creating a disruption in the way of working and a good disruption. Technology is changing the landscape and millennials are increasingly finding ways and mean to gain the best experience possible in the shortest time. It is like seeking for the best in everything they do. Gig economy aided with technology helps them to choose what they wish to work on and whom they want to work with. On other hand this change has its sets of challenges. It may not mean a steady income to millennials.

For the companies outsourcing work, it would mean searching for dependable millennials who could deliver in time and with the required quality. Gig Economy will also challenge current employees to rise up the competence curve through training and equipping themselves. Businesses will use the Gig to get an uplift in productivity and rare skill augmentation. This can worry the current employees. Many will feel the heat that is for sure.

Q-What is your best piece of advice on recruiting, engaging and retaining the best talent to HR professionals.

Talent acquisition, management and development are entwined. Recruitment for attitude and train for skills. Recruit for a good culture fit and lastly, recruit someone who is hungry for work. Recruiting provides several opportunities: to make the team stronger, to keep it the same, or to make it weaker. “Under no circumstances should an Organization recruit if that doesn’t make the team stronger”. It is about strategy and fit and how should HR look at it is should not be merely to fill gaps but think long term, sit and understand with the Business, their needs, the right skill sets and with a comprehensive view scout for the right talent focusing on cultural fitment to begin with.

Engaging with employees is to create a connect with them. When employees feel a deep strong connect with the Organization they are working for, they go above and beyond to deliver. Connecting with employees is about how we can make sure that employees are motivated, engaged and inspired when they come to work.

While it is very obvious that culture forms the core to embed and assimilate into the same, it’s important how the Organization is able to connect – and that is how it is able to communicate and engage with employees to drive the successful association.

In inspiring and valuing employees, a culture of open communication, dialogue and one on one talks with managers and seniors need to be encouraged and cultivated. Training managers need to develop a framework for meaningful conversations using open ended questions will help and encourage employees in expressing their opinions and ideas.  The critical thing here is to eliminate fear of repercussions by establishing a culture where employees can voice their opinions freely. Also, Organizations need to have the right communication channel to connect and engage with employees till the last mile. Equity, fairness and transparency are the key attributes that should form the bedrock for all such communications.

And finally when we talk about retention I firmly believe that there is always a reason to leave and a meaning to stay. Find that meaning, and that purpose that gets people to stay with an organisation. BE genuine with employees. Care is an approach to understand the resident skills of talent, challenge them, utilize their expertise, and provide meaning.

To create such an environment where an employee feels engaged and has a purpose at work, Organizations should adopt and cultivate the right practices where employee strengths are matched to the right set of skill sets and enough and more growth opportunities are provided which should encompass financial growth, and career growth. Purpose and meaning are powerful reasons for people to stay.

Thank you Nathan!

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