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Morphing Talent Management into Talent Edge!

Part 1 - What is Talent Edge?

By Henry Kwok

Part 1- what is talent edge


We keep hearing and reading that changes are occurring not only at an increasingly dizzying pace, but that they are becoming much more complex and chaotic. The bottom line: it will be very challenging to prepare for such an extremely unpredictable and uncertain future.

Singapore is well on the way of making Singapore is well on the way of making the transition from an industrial economy to a knowledge economy. The scale of economies will be changing exponentially. During the last century, breathless talk revolved around millionaires; during the last decades stories discussed billionaires as being at the top of the economic heap; in the near future, we will be discussing trillionaires in the making. Forty per cent of the top jobs predicted in 2020 are very likely to be based on technologies that do not even exist now. Looking forward, we will be searching for knowledge not yet created to solve problems that are still imaginary today! In such a setting, how do we prepare talented employees for jobs and responsibilities that are barely being formulated at the time of writing this article? No amount of paper certification will prove to be sufficient. Organisations must look ahead to start the process of continually upgrading and refining the skills of their personnel.

‘People are our greatest asset!' is a cliché that-despite being a cliché-contains a great truth. With the right talent, a company will succeed; with inappropriate talent, it will be guaranteed to sink. Now more than ever, businesses need to create the right talent pool to succeed in the hyper-competitive and unpredictable business landscape within our complex global economy. Having a competitive edge, customer loyalty and customer service par excellence-all these distinctions can be reduced to nothing without the employees having the right qualities and attitude; in order to attain this, it is mandatory to have a training programme in place so as to give these employees the spot-on competencies and commitments needed to deliver a confident future.

Many enterprises had succeeded against all odds, only to have to struggle again. In the late 1970s, Chrysler Corporation lost millions, recalling vehicles to rectify manufacturing defects, and was on the verge of going out of business. Chrysler hired Lee Iacocca, who rebuilt the company from the ground up: laying off workers, selling Chrysler's loss-making European division and bringing in former associates from Ford. Two decades later, Daimler-Chrysler encountered the same problem yet again, losing millions through vehicle recalls. How did Chrysler not learn their lesson? How did Daimler, so renowned for quality, fall down this slippery slope?

Time and again, enterprises rely on efficient quick fixes which do not necessarily provide effective long-term solutions. They think they are doing things right by hiring fresh, outside talent to help them revitalise their business. Very often however, these new hires are unable to fit culturally into the organisation; it is important to note that this kind of ‘soft' factor can put an ugly strain on organisations in the long run. These companies failed to do the right thing by developing an effective talent pool from within the company.

We can take some invaluable lessons from the caterpillar. It may not know that it will change into a beautiful butterfly at a later stage in life. It instinctively chomps away on its leaf. When the time is right, it spins itself into a cocoon and begins the magic transformation into a butterfly. The caterpillar undergoes the metamorphosis strictly through its own-albeit unwitting-efforts. Outwardly it has changed into a perfectly winged butterfly, but this transformation would not have been made possible without it first changing its structures internally! (This metaphor really doesn't work, because the caterpillar doesn't know it's going to become a butterfly, whereby companies need to be aware that they are doing the right stuff, for the right reasons. Just something to think about.)

What is Talent Edge? In its traditional form, talent management no longer works. It must be transformed from a caterpillar into a butterfly-but, unlike the oblivious butterfly, people must be aware that talent and organisations can make the dramatic transformation. (how's that?) Talent management must have a fresh outlook to meet the challenges of a fast-changing, competitive marketplace. Strategically, HR professionals must recruit, develop, promote, and retain the right pool of people to meet their organisational needs as the organisation aligns itself to its long-term vision and mission. Talent Management should systemically close the gap between the human assets the organisation currently has and what it will need in the future. It should create competencies so that its personnel can adeptly and flexibly meet the challenges posed by rapidly changing market conditions. Ultimately it should have the long-term aims to develop strategically a talent pool with such depth and breadth that it will create The Talent Edge for the enterprise.

I have the good fortune of working for a company which has opened my eyes to the art of Strategic Talent Management. Everyone-even management trainees-in the company must go through four basic core models that focus not on ‘hard' functional or technical skills but on ‘soft' management thinking skills. In the past, I learnt to strategically trade commodities. My company then had a turnover of more than US$2 billion, yet with a gross profit of a meagre 1%. Some thirty years later, while visiting my old boss, I chanced upon this company's latest annual report. The turnover has increased to US$85 billion, but what is more astonishing is that its gross margin has increased to 3%! I did not believe this would be impossible, but my old company was able to take that long and hard journey thirty years ago to develop the breadth and depth in talent they required to push their business to new and higher levels.

So what does it take to be great in Talent Management? We will discuss this in part two of this article.


Henry Kwok
is a business developer and entrepreneur. He is a Global Partner with Haines Centre for Strategic Management for the Asia-Pacific Region, based in Singapore. The objective of his consultancy business is to help organisations, both private and public, to be more strategic and to achieve excellence consistently by sharing the experiences he has acquired over the years.