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April - 2009 - issue > Management
Talent-management-in-the-times-of-downturn
Rishi Das
Monday, April 13, 2009
Jack Welch, once famously said – “If you’ve hired the right people, they will want to grow”.

It does not get any more accurate than that – having the right team, is the recipe for success. Today, with the current scenario of global economic meltdown, the lasting differentiator for any organization would be the capabilities they build up while this season lasts. It translates to having the right set of people with right set of skills in the workforce. Depending from where you look at, in a lot of ways, an economic downturn is a big opportunity, slack revenues notwithstanding. A business leader of today needs to leverage next twelve to eighteen months to build scalable and robust platforms which will fuel the next generation of growth cycle for the company. Most of the organizations make the hay while the sun shines but falter on the capability buildup which is essential to keep the momentum when going gets tough.

Attract the best talent

Today, there is no dearth of quality talent available – all it takes is correct talent branding strategy and corporate positioning to attract them. Organizations should objectively look at their talent pool for areas of strengths and weakness in the light of current, midterm and long term business outlook. Once the incumbent talent need is derived, a well thought out strategy for talent acquisition can be worked out. The talent acquisition remains a key function where smart working can help corporations save time of the business teams significantly and thereby their money spend.

But the talent acquisition needs of companies are becoming more and more intricate – which means more focus and effort for proper functioning. Cross-location, multiple skills, blend of technologies and personal attributes makes the hiring process a very involved effort. Thus we are clearly setting ourselves for the outsourcing of recruitment function as it is not a core competence of an organization just like payroll or IT Infrastructure. By outsourcing talent acquisition function, the team can focus on core business issues while they have a reliable framework of talent supply. This is a new emerging paradigm, which is making a lot of companies tread this path. Welcome to the world of Recruitment Process Outsourcing.

Recruitment Process Outsourcing (RPO) refers to an organization outsourcing its recruitment or staffing process to an external service provider to manage the entire recruiting/hiring process from job profiling through the on-boarding of the new hire. The RPO provider is entrusted to bring experts, process, technology, process oversights and stakeholder reporting to deliver the right talent to the organization. The organizations should consider an RPO for the following benefits that it brings:

QUALITY TALENT: Providers of Recruitment Process Outsourcing have the required processes, expertise and an extensive database of resumes and the networking required to source all types of candidates.

COST SAVINGS: RPO is cost-efficient and helps organizations save up-to 20-30% of recruiting costs. It clearly reflects savings in the per-hire cost parameter in the HR budget.

RECRUITING FOCUS: RPO model allows the company's managers and human resources staff to focus their efforts on the company's core business while also ensuring a supply of high-quality staff members for all positions.

SPEED: “Time to hire” is a very critical factor in the recruitment process. A Recruitment Process Outsourcing (RPO) provider will find it much easier to analyze their database and create a pool of candidates that is ready to be interviewed.

ACCOUNTABILITY: The RPO contracts are built on top of tight service levels where the payouts are proportional to the performance of the vendor. This brings accountability and partner approach to talent acquisition, which is essential for the overall success of both the parties.

However RPO does not come in a “one size fits all model” and a clear strategy for talent acquisition is essential for its success. If delivered well, RPO should be able to deliver much more value than simply cost cutting and the potential benefits for an organization far outweigh the potential risks.

RPO is the way forward for the HR community as it is driven around talent acquisition and talent management, and is certainly one of the brightest paths in the TA space.

Workforce optimization

The current industrial scenario expects people to be working at the best to beat the otherwise downward trends. Companies, sometimes also find themselves with more resources than the business delivery pipeline. Both of them are very serious corporate issues with significant ramifications.

There are times when, organizations remain oblivious to their human capital assets that are performing at a subpar level – thereby dragging the overall efficiencies of a system. When the good times are rolling, a lot of bottom performers get camouflaged creating flab in the organization. Of course, it is a vital issue, which gets noticed when the operational efficiencies and productivity become the topics of prime interest of the top management.

The underperforming talent in the company should be identified and should be addressed under a different program – which means investment, both of time and money to help organization create additional value from the existing resources. The best practices to manage this talent pool include the well-accepted concepts of counseling and retraining. It is essential to make the resource understand that there are performance issues associated with their work deliverables. The communication from the goal setting during the objective setting can be used as a platform to showcase obvious gap areas. It is necessary that the HR and the leadership go deep with the resource in question to identify the root cause of the performance differential. A lot of these issues can be resolved through counseling and showing the resource their career paths. Some of these issues can find their way through an up-skilling and retraining exercise to help bring resource to speed.

However, these actions warrant time spend and can also result in additional bills and thus should be taken up judiciously. The resources should also be monitored closely after the “career rehabilitation” and it is of utmost importance that their deliveries are closely monitored till they regain the manager’s confidence.

In other scenario, as we are witnessing all around us, a company may plan to right size their workforce for corporate sustenance. This is one of the most difficult decisions which a business leader has to take, but is a reality in today’s world. A lot of resources affected in this scenario are affected irrespective of their performance metrics. It is therefore essential that the employee transition process is done in humane way and with utmost care. Increasingly companies are seeking external help for their affected staff to get over the difficult transition in their career. It helps both the organization and the individual from the following aspects.

Transition: Ensure smooth transition and soft landing for all notified resources. It makes for easier transition from the current role to the next one

Employee experience: Individual attention is paid to the affected employees. This results in tempering of their disappointment associated with notification and helps them with their next career move

Rapid closure: Swiftly present new career opportunities based on skill sets of the affected employees

Corporate responsibility: Helps corporate in carrying out their responsibility of employee welfare and maintaining an image consistent with the company values and brand.


All in all, now is time to show some cautious optimism and gear up the organization to ensure that we are ready to deliver at the best of our capability when the gates open. But it will take more than a hard look at the current state of affairs to ensure the next threshold jump. It is possible – as they often say that “In every adversity lies an opportunity”.

All we need to do is find ours!

The author is the co-founder and CEO of CareerNet Consulting
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