In Conversation with Amit Sharma, Vice President, Head of People & Culture, Volvo Group in India on Managing Talent Challenges in Current Times
In a career spanning over two decades, Amit has earlier worked across various HR roles of which past more than a decade has been in Leadership positions with top-of-the-line organizations, in a diverse set of industries such as Indian Oil, Johnson & Johnson, Philips, TE Connectivity and now with Volvo Group.
Amit has received various internal and external recognition for his work in HR and has been speaking on HR topics in various external forums.
Amit is MBA (HR) from UBS, Panjab University, Chandigarh, and an Engineering Graduate from Thapar Institute of Engineering & Technology, Patiala. He has also done Diploma in Training & Development from ISTD New Delhi, is a certified OD Practitioner from ISABS New Delhi, and is a Certified Coach.
Q- What are the talent challenges at Volvo this year?
Volvo Group in India is quite diverse in terms of the businesses and functions it operates. We have two manufacturing facilities – one each for Trucks and Construction Equipment, Global Competency Centers on – Trucks Technology, Construction Equipment Technology, Digital & IT, Purchasing and Accounting Services, Financial Services business, and of course the Sales & Marketing, Supply Chain, and other Group Functions. This makes our talent requirements very diverse as well as very niche. There is a requirement for the horizontal breadth of competencies as well as the vertical depth of the subject matter knowledge.
In such a talent market the first and foremost challenge is the availability of talent, especially for technology competence. Most of our educational institutions are still providing specializations in one discipline of engineering, whereas for us the need now is for talent who has a multi-disciplinary approach.
Our products are no longer mechanical but have a major aspect of electronics as well as software; hence the need for cross-disciplinary talent. A focus area for us is to have more diversity in our talent pool and that exactly is our other challenge – How to enhance diversity esp. in an industry where the supply of talent itself lacks that esp. the female talent! Hence the need to develop diverse talent through various social outreach programs.
Q- How do you see the global war for talent, and how to win it in 2022?
To me, this global war for talent is a manifestation of a latent need for talent, which was always there but was never much vocal in its display, or we may say never got an opportunity to voice it out. With opportunities emerging all around, the talent is now clearly articulating what it wants.
Whether it’s about working in organizations where their values match up with those of organizations, aligning their sense of purpose with that of the employer, looking up to inspirational leadership, seeking global opportunities, or even better compensation & benefits. Talent today is very much in the situation of choosing what it wants!
To win this war of talent, only compensation & benefits is not a sufficient pull. Organizations need to articulate and live their Purpose and seek that talent where there is clear congruence. The second critical aspect is being continually Innovative.
Many times, organizations make the mistake of thinking that innovation is the job of an R&D engineer; but this is a major misconception. Every function, every level, and every employee can be innovative provided they have built the right ecosystem for it.
Today’s talent is very innovative and wants to work where this trait is valued. The third aspect is Culture. If you have a caring, inclusive, and respecting culture where people are valued and there is a healthy balance between all stakeholders, then even those who left you for higher opportunities will consider returning to the fold sometime in the future; but if the people leave you for bad culture, then nothing can pull them back.
I have seen many such examples, where ex-employees have regretted leaving us and have desired to return to the fold. The fourth aspect is of providing continuous growth to the employees.
By growth, it doesn’t mean hierarchical levels, but varied experiences – be in multiple businesses, functions, roles, geographies, etc. – which will make an employee a well-rounded professional. If an organization can consistently add value to the employee, there is no need for the employee to then search for other pastures.
Q- Why engaging and retaining talent is about to get harder this year?
Engaging and retaining talent was never easy. It is like riding a bicycle where one continuously needs to pedal to stay in balance. Just like depending upon the road conditions, the slope of the road, wind direction, and flow, sometimes it is easy to pedal and sometimes it gets strenuous, similar is the journey of talent engagement and retention!
We are currently in a phase where there are strong headwinds and side winds. The first challenge is just the number of opportunities around, especially for Technology, Engineering, Digital & IT, and Supply Chain talent. These opportunities lure them to explore and then it’s a slippery slope towards the exit.
The second challenge is this work from anywhere mode, the difference between work and workplace and that workplace can be anywhere in the world. This has literally opened the world to talent. Sitting in even the remotest corner of the country, people can aspire and get hired to the best of workplaces and contribute globally.
The third challenge is that with the convergence of technologies talent is no longer industry-specific but has become fungible across. Hence the age of maxim of ‘industry-cum-region’ reference is now out of the window. And the fourth challenge for the organizations is the clarity in the talent in terms of what they want to do in life.
Working is no longer just to earn the living but it is a means to satisfy their inner calling. That’s why we are witnessing a start-up boom where the talent is willing to take a bet on what they want to do and shun the relatively safer pursuits.
Q- How can we reset the recruitment strategy to win the war for talent?
As I mentioned earlier, recruitment can’t be just focusing on attracting candidates basis compensation, benefits, titles and band levels as these are not the hooks anymore. These are easily replicable aspects by all in the industry. The recruitment strategy needs to clearly articulate the EVP of the organization and attract the candidates basis that.
It’s an authentic marketing pitch they need to make amplifying why should someone join the organization and what they offer which truly differentiates them from others. The second but related aspect is the managers and the leadership with which the new hires shall be working. When the managers and leaders become the Talent Magnets, the attraction of talent gets better and their pull brings the talent. The third aspect is to develop alternate talent pools – people with career breaks, those having diverse abilities, regional diversity, etc.
When the pool is widened, the slate becomes better. The fourth aspect is not looking for a perfect fit. A perfect fit will never be excited about the role and stay long term, even if he/she joins due to better brand, compensation, or perks. A 70% fit with a promising potential is the right sweet spot where the talent also looks up to the role as a challenge and there is a path for growth while learning the balance of 30%.
And the fifth aspect is to maintain connect with the alumni network. These employee alumni not only serve as a relevant talent pool but also act as authentic brand ambassadors.
Q- How to build a successful talent community to address the talent war?
A successful talent community is built on the foundation of certain basic principles. First and foremost is to live the Values which the organization espouses. Lack of authenticity is a repeller rather than an attractor. The second is the culture.
A culture where diversity is valued, inclusion is the way of life, health (physical and mental) & safety (physical as well as psychological) is paramount, efforts are appreciated, achievements are recognized and camaraderie is valued is what builds a strong community. The third is employee advocacy. The reason Glassdoor reviews are so popular is that they are directly from the employees; people trust them as they share their personal experiences. A workplace where there is high employee advocacy helps to build a stronger and more diverse talent community.
Fourth is to build strong leadership in the people managers. Employees finally experience the organization through their respective managers; for them, they represent the management. What kind of capabilities they display decides whether the community gets formed or gets dissipated!
And the final one is clear, transparent, and two-way communication. No amount of communication is over-communication in the organization. There needs to be a robust mechanism of open communication in the organization with clear actions on the feedback. These five characteristics shall build a strong talent community to address this talent war.
Q- Any concluding remarks?
In conclusion, I shall say that to win the war of talent, don’t focus on the outcomes of retention or attraction, but focus on your internal & external processes and strengthen them. And next is to walk the talk, as people do what leaders do and not what they say.
To quote the holy Bhagwat Gita here – “Whatever action is performed by a great person, common people follow in those footsteps, and whatever standards he/she sets by exemplary acts, all the world pursues.” Hence focus on setting the right standards, processes, and experiences, and then the result shall be a positive one.
Thank you, Amit!