HK companies moving away from the 'just do what I tell you' leadership mentality to give staff greater autonomy Talent management, a concept in human resources that emerged in the 1990s in reference to processes that companies adopt to track and manage their workforce, is evolving as businesses pursue their quest for performance. According to Brian Wilkerson, Denver-based global director for talent management at consulting firm Watson Wyatt, this evolution is changing the fundamental way companies view talent management. 'Traditionally, talent management has been a practice owned by human resources,' he said. The concept is based on the premise that it is the talent and skills of a company's workforce which drive business success. Companies which practise talent management make strategic moves in how they source, attract, train, develop, retain, promote and move employees through an organisation. They do so through managing salaries to make sure they are competitive, providing training and development opportunities to promising workers, measuring performance and following up with communication and action (performance management), initiate programmes to improve employee retention rates, and plan promotions and job transitions. Many of these practices are widely practised by large corporations. '[Now] we find the companies which are thriving have their line managers managing talent. These managers are those who see the new role as part of their job,' said Mr Wilkerson, based on the firm's annual surveys conducted worldwide with more than 230 companies. 'Asking questions like how we select, and how we choose the right people are some of the more effective means, instead of solely trying to map out the best practices,' he said. 'The idea is making the processes simpler, yet more powerful. Companies which are more rigorous in the analysis of their statistics also better meet their long-term needs, and the process enhances the cost structure in managing staff.' Among the emerging trends in talent management, companies are also looking at the links between compensation and business metrics, of which the performance of the firm is gauged and consequently how employees can be suitably rewarded. At the same time, the delivery of the company brand to customers, and how to closely link products and services with the employment brand are ways that companies can use to attract and retain workers. As the competition for talent with Macau and the mainland intensifies, companies are also looking at retention as a two-way proposition between employers and workers. Organisations must understand what their employees want, and provide them with this. This is in addition to what most organisations are doing when they make sure employees have an understanding of what they are expected to do. Other tactics gaining ground include recruiting full operative teams to raise efficiency, rather than hiring single individuals. The management of staff is based on talent segmentation - the recognition of the different values that the various employee groups bring - is another increasingly popular approach. 'There is an extremely high level of interest in talent management today,' said Romy Serfaty head of marketing and communications at Watson Wyatt. 'Many firms are actively investing in human resources from workforce planning and strategic recruitment, through to succession planning. 'From limited polling conducted in our briefing session, it seems like many organisations in Hong Kong are starting to adopt best practices in talent management. The trend towards rising turnover and increased worker scarcity will drive more companies to adopt the principle, as they more fully understand the potential financial returns from good people management practices.' The Watson Wyatt findings differ from traditional practices in three fundamental ways. The ownership of talent management shifts from the human resources team to line management. There is the bringing of additional analyses, disciplines and processes, and the implementation of different management strategies to target the different parts of a company's workforce. 'To accelerate the process of talent integration, companies must understand the talent decisions that they want to make,' Ms Serfaty said. 'They need leaders to demonstrate that they value talent and talent management, and implement technology solutions that can make talent management more effective.' Similar to many other Asian countries, Hong Kong business is looking globally at the best practices in talent management. However, rather than rubber-stamping what works elsewhere, the market is seeking the best of what has been done elsewhere - there is the tailoring of strategy to address a specific environment. Mr Wilkerson said: 'In the US and Europe, a tendency is to stick to the tried and tested methods. In Hong Kong, China and Japan, the companies are more likely to say: 'We're going to do it our own way', or they will overlay new ideas on traditional management principles.' The Watson Wyatt team realises that Hong Kong companies are trying to move away from the 'Just do what I tell you' management mentality to giving staff greater autonomy. Mr Wilkerson believes that workers are being asked to be more creative and innovative in the way they do things. 'They are expected to make decisions, rather than just waiting to be told,' he said. 'The traditional Hong Kong business mentality has tended to be 'work hard, work long - but not necessarily working smart'. To [change], people usually need to be coached into a new way of thinking and working. This presents challenges to businesses in their strategic recruitment, performance management and learning management areas.' Is China's emerging market set to take the lead in talent management? The potential certainly exists. As China looks to the successes and failures of other companies locally and overseas, it has a great chance to excel. An area where this could take place lies in China's brand-conscious culture. By emphasising the link of company brands with employment brands, the mainland could end up creating leading-edge practices in the field. Retaining talent is also a key aspect in planning for the next generation of companies. To achieve this, companies should better understand the motivations and desires of the workforce they are targeting and how to address it. They should gain a clearer view of future needs, know how to optimise their teams, and invest by building strong management skills in their line managers. They could also look at innovative ways to restructure the organisation and management of staff, and measure the results of talent management effort and prove their value. What if you are looking ahead, wishing to move to a new job? Mr Wilkerson offers this advice. 'When you evaluate a company that you are thinking of joining, look beyond the position on hand,' he said. 'What is the management philosophy and approach of the company? How do they manage people? You want to hear your potential employer to speak on the subject. You also want to be in control of your career. Build your skills. The more competent you are, the more desirable you are in the market.'