A professional who has excelled at a global company is not necessarily the right talent for your organisation. How can you spot the right ones, attract and retain them? Amy Ting, Global Human Resources Director at LingoAce provided some answers at PeopleSearch’s recent event, ‘Winning the Post-Covid Talent War’.
Past experience was certainly a key factor in hiring before the pandemic. However, ask any HR practitioner and they’ll tell you that the prolonged uncertainty in the business environment today calls for a different type of talent.
“The pandemic has made it such that you can’t even plan next year’s budget. The fluid business environment calls for flexible planning. Travel restrictions are constantly changing. There are virus variants to look out for as well,” says Amy Ting, Global Human Resources Director at LingoAce, a Singapore-headquartered global education technology start-up and leading Mandarin Chinese language learning platform.
The unprecedented degree to which planning has been rendered challenging means that professionals who excelled in relevant job positions before the pandemic may not necessarily do so today or in the future.
“Today, past experience isn’t really relevant. Instead, companies need people who are agile enough to learn and adapt, people who can foresee trends in the industry before anyone else and act fast. We usually look at a person’s attitude, ability and aptitude. Can they help the company grow in the next two to three years amid uncertainty?” she adds.
“Ultimately, it comes down to knowing what your business needs today and in the future.”
‘THE BEST TALENT’ VERSUS ‘THE RIGHT TALENT FOR YOU’
However, acquiring the right talent remains a challenge.
It’s no secret that talent shortages have been plaguing the tech space for some time. The acceleration of digital transformation in the past two years has exacerbated the shortage of professionals with the requisite hard skills. Add to that, the soft skills required in a volatile business landscape, and it becomes clear that companies are facing a formidable challenge.
Companies are often tempted to vie for candidates who are considered the best by conventional standards – professionals who have excelled in large and successful global companies.
But conventional definitions of ‘the best talent’ are irrelevant today.
As head of HR at a global start-up that has been growing exponentially and aims to continue doing so, Amy is acutely attuned to spotting unconventional individuals who can thrive in a start-up environment.
“Large global companies would have already established their clientele base, have a stable P&L, policies and processes in place and an army of people supporting you,” she explains.
“On the other hand, in a start-up environment, you need people who can do things from scratch, learn fast, act fast, be versatile in terms of the tasks they can take on, understand industry trends and have the acumen and foresight to anticipate what the business will need to grow.”
Against this backdrop, credentials from a top company can only go so far in terms of helping a candidate succeed.
“Candidates may say, “I love challenges and excitement”, but if they’ve never been in a start-up, they might not be familiar with the pace and function of work. The reality sets in after the first two weeks. They may have the core expertise for the job but are unable to adapt to a start-up environment.”
To separate the right talent from the best, companies need to define the traits required and put candidates through appropriate scenario-based interviews and exercises to test their mettle.
“Talent definition is about what you need in your company. It’s about who can survive and thrive in your company and who can help your company thrive.”
THROWING MONEY AT THE PROBLEM IS NOT THE ANSWER
To attract such individuals, companies have been beefing up their compensation packages, but talent attraction must go beyond money.
“It’s about growing your brand. Based on numerous surveys, compensation is still one of the key factors, but flexible work arrangements, work-life balance and culture are equally, if not, more important,” says Amy.
“Flexible work arrangements are a must today because many of those who have had a taste of working from home want to continue doing so for various reasons. It can take many forms. You may want to let employees work remotely on certain days of the week and in the office on other days. Some could be allowed to work remotely and only come into the office for key meetings,” she adds.
LingoAce takes the approach of allowing employees to work from anywhere. Some teams work in the office, while others work remotely from various locations. Yet others opt for a hybrid arrangement.
“With this policy, staff can be seated anywhere globally as long as they are able to connect, collaborate, and deliver results. We are also open to staff relocating temporarily to other countries if they would like to do so. For example, they could be working for the HQ in Singapore from Australia. If you have such processes in place, the talent crunch would be easier to manage as one’s physical office location ceases to matter. Companies can tap on remote talent and widen their talent pool as a result.”
WALK THE TALK AND SEND THE RIGHT SIGNALS
However, in order to be truly meaningful, flexible and remote work arrangements must be accompanied by work-life balance initiatives.
Many employees have pointed out that work-from-home arrangements have made the workday seem interminable.
“For example, people could be stuck in virtual meetings all day. True talent retention lies in putting in place policies that show you care about your employees’ well-being and are willing to do whatever it takes to prevent burnout.”
At LingoAce, leaders are encouraged to walk the talk.
“Senior leaders need to set an out-of-office message at a reasonable time. You might still answer urgent messages, but an out-of-office message provides comfort to employees. Since their manager has logged off, they feel safe to do so as well. It sends out the right signals.”
Other measures include ensuring meetings are never scheduled on weekends or after work hours on weekdays unless absolutely necessary. Staff are also reminded to block off meal and break times during the workday.
In tandem, performance management processes must be carefully calibrated.
“Companies must be comfortable with and put in place a structure, frameworks and processes to help manage employees’ performance without needing to see them. This is a skill that must be strengthened among leaders company-wide. Put in place an appraisal evaluation process that centres on outcomes and not just face time.”
In a volatile and unpredictable business environment, goal-setting exercises and appraisals also have to be scheduled vastly differently from before. Once-a-year sessions are no longer meaningful.
“Break it up into quarters. LingoAce has quarterly strategy meetings. We can’t forecast what might happen in the next few months due to the volatile business environment, but what we can do is chunk the planning strategy and help employees understand how it relates to them directly in terms of responsibilities and performance. At the same time, we make sure employees know how their own goals and outcomes align with organisational goals and business outcomes.”
DROP HIGHFALUTIN LANGUAGE – KEEP IT SIMPLE
Amy emphasises that these initiatives reflect LingoAce’s corporate culture in powerful ways and help employees better internalise the organisation’s values, vision and mission.
“Take stock and think about what type of organisation you want to build. Always remember that your people are a vital part of it.”
This means your values need to resonate with your people. Highfalutin language only goes so far. Instead, listen to your employees and take meaningful steps.
“Ultimately, your employees must understand what it means to help the company meet its goals while sustaining their job security and career success. The company’s proposition is to show them you are worth their commitment, just as you expect them to show their commitment to the job.”