Investment In Knowledge Pays The Best Interest
Developing Effective Talent Management Strategies


Prof. Harshada Kshire
Lecturer (HRM & OB)
Vivekanand Education Society's
Institute of Management Studies & Research
Chembur, Mumbai
E-mail: /

Nearly everything about business seemed easier during the boom years of the late 1990s, including talent management. Strong results made every hire seem like a great hire, and in the glow of the bull market, every mid-level executive looked like CEO material.

Welcome back to reality.

Today's challenging business environment is a stark reminder to corporate leaders that talent management, wherein employees' skills and personalities are appropriately deployed to optimize performance, is a critical and difficult task. Furthermore, identifying and developing executives who have leadership potential, like every other vital strategic function, is a demanding process that is equal parts art and science. But now more than ever, businesses rise or fall on the strength of their people. And the responsibility to build and nurture this strength is on Boards of Directors and senior-level management. To carry out this mission well is to fully appreciate the wide range of competencies necessary to have effective leadership teams that can withstand the test of time and market ups and downs. Operating excellence, technical competence, marketing savvy, passion, energy and drive are always important, but today's knowledge- and talent-intensive organizations also require the "soft" people skills that facilitate execution across functions, departments, regions, and operating units.


Understanding the importance of all these skills is one thing; being able to put this understanding into practice is another. How many corporate leaders today can say with Confidence Company forward? How many are certain that their executives are deployed where and when they can put their specific talents to the best and highest strategic use? And when a leadership need arises, how many can accurately discern whether it's time to promote an individual or if that executive needs further development?  Until they gain strong insight into the talent in place within their organizations, senior managers are essentially flying blind when it comes to talent strategy, whether the task is to determine current needs or to prepare for tomorrow's management challenges through succession planning. Compounding the difficulty is the sheer size and complexity of many contemporary business organizations, which make it no simple undertaking to gather the information that will enable senior leadership to craft a winning talent strategy.    And without robust information and analysis, leaders have little basis for deciding when and who to develop internally.


One information-gathering tool that many corporate leaders are finding useful is the executive assessment, which evaluates and measures an organization's management talent in three key dimensions: against the organization's current and future strategic needs; against the competition; and against the overall talent marketplace. Properly performed, such assessments can help form the foundation of a winning talent strategy. They can produce the information that corporate leaders need to put the right people in the right positions at the right time, and they invariably clarify the processes that monitor performance and develop capabilities. Corporations can use executive assessments to build a database to model the skills and competencies that their business strategies demand, and to help them determine whether they have talent in-house to match their needs and the level of professional development that may be needed. Assessments also allow companies to maximize the value of executive education programs, creating custom-fit learning strategies for their next generation of corporate leaders. Most importantly, by partnering with a third-party expert to conduct executive assessments, senior managers can counteract the "in-house" bias that all too often leads to sub-optimal decision-making. By approaching talent management in this manner, companies can better target retention, career development, and succession planning efforts on their stars of the future.. Executives to be assessed should be identified, informed and scheduled for their in-depth and structured competency-based interview conducted by consultants who have been rigorously trained and have assessed many executives in the client company's industry or functional area. It is essential to assess an executive's ability to learn, think creatively, envision, engage and execute – the competencies most closely linked to optimum performance.  Interview results should be combined with feedback from professional and objective 360-degree referencing —including customers and other key constituents — again conducted by experienced consultants. The outcome is a meaningful evaluation of competencies, strengths, and areas for professional development. Executive assessments yield a rich trove of information that companies can put to work in a variety of ways. They can be especially useful in developing the capabilities of less experienced executives who may have earned their positions on the virtues of long hours, specialized expertise, and individual accomplishment. For all their talent and promise, many high achievers lack the softer skills required in leaders of contemporary corporations. Their communications, change management, people and persuasion skills may need development. They know how to drive themselves hard in pursuit of a goal, but may have insufficient experience motivating and guiding teams. They may not have been able to take the time to cultivate the relationships needed to manage large, complex organizations, nor develop skills that keep a bewildering array of stakeholders confident in the future of the company. And their very ability to focus on discrete elements of the business may have inhibited their ability to think across the enterprise. Therefore, assessments enable boards and/or senior management to intervene in promising careers and craft development plans that address both the needs of the executive and of the company.


In the 21st century, organizations will not survive, much less grow, unless they evolve from a collection of insular, isolated business units into cooperative, collaborative, synchronized enterprises. Such massive change efforts require new skills and competencies of their leaders, yes, but also something more. Change demands a new vision of the organization, one that recognizes talent as a vital component of strategy, on an equal footing with technology, finance, and marketing. Talent management takes on a new dimension in today's competitive marketplace. It requires an understanding of corporate strategic goals and of the role that talent plays in reaching them. And it requires a nimble organization with the expertise and resources to identify talent needs and quickly decide whether to meet them from within or draw them from outside. Indeed, it is not an exaggeration to say that the future belongs to businesses that can weave talent and strategy into a seamless whole, and in the process build an organization with not only optimized performance but also with a significant competitive advantage as well.


Mukesh Ambani's valedictory address on "Building Value Through Talent Management" at National Conference on HR on October 5, 2002 – Mumbai focuses on Application of Talent Management practices in giant organizations like Reliance.

"Shri Dhirubhai Ambani. believed that a company is what its people make it. His HR philosophy can be put in three words: Trust your people. These are simple words pregnant with profound significance. He translated this philosophy into action and built Reliance from scratch to a Fortune Global 500 company.

He had an unflinching faith in the destiny of India as an economic super power. For him, it was a conviction. An integral part of his being. He motivated the entire Reliance family to work towards that goal. The term 'Reliance Family' does not mean his kith and kin. All our managers, workers, investors and other stakeholders are part of the Reliance Family. He had faith that the Reliance family would take his mission forward. Thousands of us are inheritors of this legacy and are committed to enrich it.

Dhirubhai believed that our professionals are next to none in the world. All that was needed is to give them a proper environment and unfettered opportunity. He exhorted hundreds of managers to place trust in people. He encouraged thousands of employees to make the impossible possible. He energised millions of middle class Indians to democratise the creation of wealth. He enthused over a billion Indians to aspire and achieve.

Shri Dhirubhai Ambani always insisted that we must aim to be better than the best. That the progressive Indian enterprise must be at the cutting edge of technology, must aspire to be a global player and must be committed to serve the consumer better than anyone else. On these simple principles he bought together the Indian consumer, investor and professionals together.

Reliance imbibed this 'beat the world' spirit and built an array of businesses that are driven by the larger opportunities in the market place - from materials, energy, infrastructure, financial services, engineering, construction, information technology, communication, retailing to life sciences.

Competencies for these businesses were built with unbridled passion. Starting from scratch, 45,000 people with diverse skill sets and competencies were nurtured. About half of these 45,000 people are professionals. About two thirds are less than 40 years of age. There are 7,000 ex-armed force personnel. This not only makes Reliance the largest employer of ex-armed force personnel in the country, but also infuses diligence and discipline into work ethics.

Also there is formidable breadth, depth, young blood and discipline in this human resource edifice of Reliance. No other organisation in the world has seen an infusion of talent to such an extent in just two decades.

Collectively, these 45,000 people represent three unique competencies.

The first competency is in building world class assets at very aggressive costs and operating them at high productivity. To illustrate, the world's largest green field refinery complex at Jamnagar, with an investment of $5bn, was built in a record 36 months at a capital cost that is 30 to 50% lower than similar refineries in other parts of the world. It was commissioned in 90 days as against the international norm of 6 to 18 months. It has consistently operated above its name plate capacity.

The second competency is in coming up with innovative solutions in virtually every aspect of a business - technology, finance, accounts, legal and marketing and so on. Reliance managers are experts in coming up with solutions.

The third competency is in providing services. Reliance has traditionally engaged customers in the industrial domain with a very strong value proposition.

Today, Reliance is leveraging these three competencies to create explosive value in new initiatives - infocom, petroleum retailing and life sciences. Complex project management capabilities are coming into play in building a world class information and communication backbone for India. Chemical engineering abilities are being banked upon to scale up research protocols to commercial manufacture in the life sciences domain. Service provision capabilites are being honed to delight customers in the infocom and petroleum retailing businesses. These businesses will touch millions of customers. It is unlike anything that India has seen before.

As Reliance builds these imposing businesses, it has the imperative of scaling up on people at a rate of 3,000 additions every quarter. This ramp up of talent is unparalleled in Indian corporate history. It is also a pointer to what India has to do to bring about an economic revolution by bridging the global talent gap.

Ownership and empowerment are important. Reliance endeavours to put every employee in a owner-manager mould. To illustrate, the Jamnagar project was implemented by institutionalising a concept of system wise ownership. The project was broken into eight major sections, 42 different units and thousands of systems. Each system head was empowered with ownership - for project execution, assets and people. In the process, HR became integral to business.

Thus, Reliance's talent management philosophy ignites the cylinders of its people by setting a challenging horizon, providing several sectoral landscapes, bringing technology into play and striking an emotive chord. The powerhouse of Reliance's people's creative energy resides in the spirit: 'Let's beat the world'.

The testimony of Reliance's philosophy is in a very low rate of attrition. In the 200 odd strong top management leadership team, who are crucial to Reliance's strategy formulation and implementation, the attrition is virtually zero.

This also speaks eloquently for the quality of leadership of HR at Reliance. One person symbolizes the Reliance philosophy and has lived it: Mr. V.V. Bhat. He has seen Reliance search for the right mix of policies and perspectives and applied them on the ground. He is also a living example of my father's eye for people with competence and loyalty."


Most large companies have implemented an integrated set of administrative human capital management applications. Now, these companies are turning their attention to strategic talent management applications to get more value from their investments in people. Companies historically have supplemented their administrative HR applications (personnel, payroll and benefits) with niche talent management applications. They want fewer, more integrated solutions to support more-strategic human capital management. Today, talent management application suites have started to emerge as an alternative to niche solutions, and to suppliers of administrative HR applications for strategic HCM capabilities.


    1. The Talent Management Handbook: Creating Organizational Excellence by Identifying, Developing and Positioning Your Best People: Edited by Lance A. Berger& Dorrothy R.Berger, Tata McGraw Hill Companies 2004.

    2. Human Resource in the 21st Century: Edited by Marc Effron, Robert Gandossy & Marshall Goldsmith, John Wiley and Sons, 2003.

    3. Keeping the People Who Keep You in Business: 24 Ways to Hang on to Your Most Valuable Talent by F Leigh Branham, American Management Association, 2001.

    4. Successful Talent Strategies: Achieving Superior Business Results Through Market-Focused Staffing by David Sears, American Management Association, 2003.

Prof. Harshada Kshire
Lecturer (HRM & OB)
Vivekanand Education Society's
Institute of Management Studies & Research
Chembur, Mumbai
E-mail: /

Source: E-mail December 3, 2005


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