Article: Retaining Talent at the Top Level

By Prasanna Soparkar, Founder and MD, Core Integra

India has emerged as the fastest growing economy in the world. The consequences, which are mostly in favour of economic growth, have presented companies across sectors with a unique problem – talent war at every level. Whether it is about attracting talent at the entry or mid level or retaining senior management talent using innovative retention techniques, HR managers are considering every trick in their playbook to control attrition in senior management level. An HR manager most important responsibility is to maintain a balance between young and experienced workers. An organisation, which is too young in its workforce, can be volatile and a top-heavy organisation may slow down at various decision and implementing stages. Thus a fine balance is the formula for the companies who are looking to scale up, generate revenues and present themselves to the World stage as a serious competition.

To build a World-class company, manpower resources play a key role. More important talent at the senior cadre is largely responsible to lead the way for a company to emerge as a global player. IN the last 2 – 3 years, we have seen senior people from large business hubs like Silicon Valley have given up their cushy jobs in matured market and relocated to India to take up challenging jobs. Indian companies on the other hand, have managed to match compensation expectations and in some cases surpassed it too. 

Prasanna Soparkar, Founder and MD, Core Integra
In the HR circles, it is largely believed that a stint in fast growing Indian companies makes a CV premium. The trend picked up pace in 2013 but in the last few months, we have read about many high profile exits. Senior professional brought to Indian companies with much fanfare started exiting within months of joining. The factors can vary from one end of the spectrum to the other like mismatch in job expectations, not able to adapt to Indian style of working, many processes missing etc. This can be a debate, which should be kept for another day. While these factors have a role to play, in a dynamic work environment like today, what can HR heads do in order to control attrition at the very top level of their respective companies?

The senior cadre of a company’s talent is a niche lot. They have been groomed to this level or hired specifically for a certain profile. They carry the direction and the vision of the company on their shoulders. The leadership talent in the company offers many value propositions: institutional knowledge, industry and organisational networks, domain expertise, etc. Recruiting managers should ensure that their top tier talent remains fulfilled and engaged with the company.

One of the central functions of the HR in any organisation is to identify the top 20% of the star performers. We do this in order to know the personnel to retain across every function, especially at the leadership level.  Most companies will only look to retain this top 20% in any economic weather. We find that this sort of an exercise is easier to carry out in larger organisations, whereas in smaller organisations this is more difficult due to a higher number of personal relationships established. Such a strategy is specifically designed for senior management. Of course, the balances 80% of the personnel are indispensable, too. However, we find that, the treatment of 20% club has a cascading effect of personnel retention in the organisation. The leadership talent in an organisation forms individual social and professional networks, resulting in voluntary or involuntary attrition if the critical leaders are not retained.

The times are changing. Monetary perks alone are not retaining incentives anymore. At this level of talent, more cash-in-hand may not be the most optimal strategy. People are more ambitious these days, and the drivers to retain them have also changed. While stock options remain a popular strategy, HR managers are not shy away from designing some niche retention strategies especially for the top tier leaders.

Learning and Development-related sabbaticals are a major draw. Organisations are realising that it is a win-win strategy to sponsor a course at leading global universities for their top leaders or leaders-in-training. The employees get a chance to interact with some of the best minds in the industry and academia, and the organisations receive a renewed, perhaps more skilled, leadership from the employee. Similarly, many of us also mark some star performers to be groomed as potential leaders. For example, the TATA Group offers TAS, which is a fast-track programme to groom future leaders in the companies. Such programmes nurture talent to create a pipeline of next generation leaders who can steer the organisation. The programmes have different components like L&D, rotation among various departments to understand the aptitude of the employee and enable the employee to have a holistic operational understanding of the organisation.

Many companies also design succession planning, wherein the future leaders are identified much in advance and groomed by the current leader as well as other key personnel in the organisation. L&T, for instance, already identified its next Chairman.

If one were to apply Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to retaining a senior employee, one would observe that most employees in this group would be in the categories of Esteem and Self-Actualisation. Hence their mindsets and motivations are very different compared to others in the organisation. This is a group of personnel that is highly engaged with the company, operationally and in terms of vision; hence HR managers need to be active in communicating with this tier of talent to understand what drives them and what they seek from their roles. And such engagement has to be a continuous dialogue which offers clarity on the company’s and the employee’s expectations.

I believe retention packages should be tailored, and not generic. It is critical to groom managers who can nurture talent that reports to them and also be able to identify and further nurture future leaders. Given the current trends in the workspace, almost 85 per cent of the staff could be working from their homes in the next few years. HR managers need to stay abreast of such trends and think ahead for strategies of retention in such scenarios.

(Core Integra is a Mumbai-based recruiting, staffing and compliance company.)

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