When we talk of brain drain in India, we mean the exodus of highly-educated engineers and scientists. In the West they never faced this problem. Today, however, non-resident Indians (NRIs) and non-resident Chinese are heading back home. The diaspora is on the move and though it might take a decade or more for there to be some visible impact, there are treacherous waters ahead for Corporate America. In a new usage, the “brain drain” is hitting companies of all hues, but the larger ones in particular.
Enough has been written about the causes of this reverse migration. The key question: what can you do about the impact on your company?
One solution that is being tried out now is to take succession planning further down the ranks. Every CEO and his direct reports should have clearly identified successors or at least one of two people from whom the choice will be made. This is one way of retaining talent in the company. The negative is that once the choice is made, the other person will leave. In today’s world, you cannot afford to bleed talent. Some groups have alternative slots; sometimes that works. Others are in a position to offer foreign postings. The MNCs have an advantage here: if you can’t get India, they can try and woo you with country head Nigeria.
All this is old hat. What is important today is that succession planning is going down the line. In theory, it is perfectly sensible. But a large organisation can easily tie itself in knots trying to handle the numbers.
“You also have to decide when to start,” says Mumbai-based HR manager D. Singh. “Theory says that you start the identification process when the person joins. It has always been done on an informal basis. How often have we heard people say: ‘Watch out for X. He’s the coming man.’ But after a year you discover a fatal flaw.”
A second issue, according to Singh, is how much of your analysis should you communicate. The purpose of the analysis is two-fold. First, it builds up an inventory of the organisation’s talents. Second, it creates an incentive to carry on with the organisation. On the other hand, communicating this information to a still-green behind-the-ears executive could give him a swollen head.
Marshall Goldsmith, author of What Got You Here Won’t Get You There and an executive educator and coach, has the following prescription for succession planning success:
• Change the name of the process from Succession Planning to Succession Development. People must feel that it is designed to help you grow.
• Measure outcomes, not process. Executives pay attention to what gets measured and what gets rewarded.
• Keep it simple. That is a fairly universal bromide.
• Stay realistic. Don’t put the sales officer through an executive education course and expect him to be ready to step into the CEOs shoes.
HR managers say that none of this works without the top brass getting involved. But in attrition-prone industries, that takes up too much management time. At Infosys, 25,826 quit in 2011-12. That was before the company fell into a crisis. The pay freeze it has ushered in is likely to spur even more departures. But if the CEO were to interface with all of them, he would be meeting 70-80 people a day. Besides, meeting so many people is a useless exercise.
Moving succession planning down the line in good times can help. But when jobs are aplenty — as they are in India, despite all the Cassandras — there is very little you can do in the Age of the Itinerant Employee, Guarding the henhouse, regardless of how few chickens you save, is mandatory.
CATCH THEM YOUNG
A new challenge for HR managers
Traditionally, succession planning focused on an orderly transition at the top of the company. Today, it is going much lower down the line.
Study the demographics of the company: Early in the process, it is important to analyse the current workforce. Is “brain drain” going to present a significant problem for the company and, if so, when and in what areas or jobs?
Link strategic goals with human capital needs: Identify the talent, skills, and experience the company will need over the next 5 to 10 years in order to achieve goals and continue to be successful.
Let senior management play a role: Armed with demographic information and information on the talent, skills, and experience the company will need over the next 5 to 10 years, HR managers need to involve senior managers in the planning process so that succession planning and the development of employees are adopted as strategic goals.