How an industrial products (IP) company hires, uses and even thinks about talent is key to its ability to build growth.
There are many ways to unlock business value, particularly in the Transformative Age, with its emerging technologies and new levels of connectivity. But there is one area where the rethinking of 21st century business may not have fully caught up: talent. And one of the biggest inhibitors is that companies tend to think of talent as “headcount.”
This is particularly true in the chemicals industry, where companies think of themselves as manufacturers of molecules, with cut-and-dried organizational structures and job descriptions — and a limited window for long-term success. That’s why “talent” is more than the individuals you hire and the skills they bring to the table. Talent is a continuum.
You hire to meet immediate needs, of course. But you should consider who you’ll hire next to help plan and drive future initiatives. And consider the “elasticity” of current employees as you think about up-skilling and enabling lateral moves.
There are three basic perspectives on what we call the “talent value chain” — that continuum from assessing need, to hiring for where your company is headed — and the opportunities to gain competitive advantage from how you manage it.
1. Think outside the sector
For the new business models you’re pursuing, you need people with experience in customer-centric programs. You need digital talent and people who are current on all the latest IP-relevant technologies — robotic process automation, machine learning, artificial intelligence and 3D printing.
So, stop hiring only engineers. Invest in other expertise and perspectives. Look beyond the usual schools and hiring resources. Since new and digital technologies are driving so much transformation, look for people at hi-tech companies: they know how to get the most out of a new technology and they know what’s coming next. Or hire from your customers: they’re familiar with your industry but are probably closer to the end-customer and come from a less risk-averse culture. Or don’t “hire” at all: the burgeoning “gig economy” offers a wealth of project-based talent, allowing you to fill immediate talent gaps and “test drive” prospective permanent employees.
Also consider hiring groups of people, rather than multiple individuals. They’re already used to working together and can be tightly targeted toward a new process/technology/market they already know. The acquisition of small specialized or specialty companies is a time-tested approach to adding talent that can hit the ground running.
2. Reinvent how you appear in the talent marketplace
From filling entirely new executive positions to restocking entry-level talent, your pitch needs to evolve to fit the times, challenges and opportunities. You’re not hiring to fill a job description — you’re offering an opportunity to reinvent an industry. That’s an effective lure, particularly for the disrupters you need to hire: those people who get the path you’re trying to take and want to make it happen.
Make sure every prospect and hiring channel knows you’re creating cross-disciplinary teams from outside the sector. You need the talent value chain upstream to understand you’re doing things differently. Then change the metrics for bonuses and start rewarding the new, more desirable behaviors, including collaborating and taking calculated risks. Implement more progressive employment policies, such as work/life balancing and digital engagement, to appeal to prospective new hires and to help with current-employee retention.
3. Use your existing people differently
Some of your talent value chain is already in-house. Start providing new rotation and development opportunities. It can reveal untapped resources and also give them a sense of a possible future after a downsizing, which often follows in the wake of automation and other technology initiatives.
Then change the way they view their position. Encourage true collaboration across functions. Experiment with different work modes and styles. Create dedicated “SWAT teams” to address a target function, using people who will bring different perspectives to problem-solving.
To compete in today’s increasingly volatile marketplace, you need to take some measured risks — and your approach to talent is a good place to start. It’s more than just having HR fill a chair with the right resume. Talent is now a strategic enabler that should be leveraged to create the business you want to become. Leadership needs to ask: What are the new skills, cultures and approaches to problem-solving we must acquire?
You also need to find ways of incubating the new people so they can flourish; but balance incubation with integration. If you can’t blend their work into your operations and ultimately evolve to the new models/processes/cultures they devise, you won’t derive the full benefit of their efforts. It is imperative that the entire organization understands and ultimately embraces the changes.
IP companies have traditionally spent more time thinking about their assets on the ground than their assets at a desk. But in today’s IP marketplace, the new levels of value — and growth — are captured by leveraging talent differently.