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The Missing Link In People Strategies

By Kit Cooper, Hispanic Teleservices Corporation


One of the greatest impacts from the technological advances of the last 15 years is the leveling of the playing field among competitors and new entrants in virtually every industry. Market barriers that are based on an ability to access information, reach customers or purchase equipment no longer exist. Scale still matters; yet with significantly reduced market barriers in these other domains, the ability of a company to gain scale in the first place is greatly enhanced by these changes.

In the twenty-first century, what differentiates the great companies from their peers is their ability to hire, develop and retain the best people for their respective industries. This is not news; the increasing awareness of executives of the importance of effective people strategies is undisputable. However, what is useful to discuss is why a precious few companies are successful in their people strategies while the majority are not.

In the second section of this article, we will examine how this applies to the BPO services industry, and the related task of conducting due diligence in this important area.

Many executives now understand the following critical elements of a people strategy.

Identify the values system that leadership genuinely emulates. A company must identify behaviors that senior management truly believe in and can naturally emulate on a daily basis. A company's culture is derived from these stated values, and can be of worth only if they present an authentic reflection of the leadership's behaviors. The greatest business minds of our time could come up with a list of the most effective organizational behaviors a company can have in a vacuum; but unless these cultural traits are a true reflection of company leadership, then instituting such values would have the opposite intended effect.

Recruit and hire according to those values. A company must have a stringent approach to hiring only people that emulate the established company culture and meet the professional requirements. While this statement may seem obvious, it requires more than just an added awareness but superior execution capabilities to reap the benefits of this component. Managers must be continuously involved in evaluating potential employees and applying a stringent approach, even when the pressure is on to fill positions quickly. Regular emphasis must come from the top of the organization on the importance of a stringent hiring process and proper cultural fit to mitigate the prospects of undermining company culture by settling on candidates who do not embody the core organizational behaviors. Managers in today's busy work environments will need a constant reminder that their participation in choosing the right people who fit the job and the company culture is always a priority.

Continuously develop employees. A company must be committed to continuously developing employees' soft skills reflective of the company culture, function-specific development and general management principles. Leadership must have an innate and true appreciation for human development. Companies truly committed to development go beyond teaching professional skills and even soft skills. The most competitive organizations today are those that institute a genuine learning environment that fosters intellectual curiosity and self-improvement. Similar to the point about organizational values, to institute a highly effective people strategy, this component cannot be faked. Decisions on what to do in the area of employee development should be based more on the senior management's true commitment and passion about the initiatives rather than what seem to be the best off-the-shelf development strategy.

The most sophisticated companies have come to realize that you have to 'be real' on the first requirement (identifying values). If a CEO cares only about the bottom line and genuinely is not interested in developing people, every stakeholder is better off if the company culture is built around a focus on the bottom line and not development or employee care. Companies are beginning to understand the consequences of organizational dissonance ' a misalignment between the company leadership's real values the company's stated values.

Many companies have implemented the third requirement, developing employees, in creating corporate universities that focus not only on professional development but also teaching soft skills to reinforce sought-after behaviors and elements of company culture. Results-oriented managers want their employees to develop in an environment in which information is shared, ideas are challenged and continuous improvements are made.

The second requirement, having a stringent approach to hiring, is where most companies fall short. Because of this failure, these companies' overall people strategies fall short and their overall ability to compete in their industry is weakened.

The Missing Link
Here is the missing link to be added: As a company, you cannot afford to have only a stringent hiring process in finding people who embody your culture and professional requirements. To be the best, you need to have a brutally stringent and highly disciplined hiring process. That is the only way to ensure that you have the right people working for you.

To illustrate, we all know that people are motivated to achieve progress for their companies when they feel valued and respected by their organization. If a company has an authentic culture and a thriving development program but is letting people into their company who do not truly embody their company values, it is only natural that such employees will diminish the strength of the company's culture and people strategy. It is easier for a manager to motivate an employee who embodies the values he/she believes so strongly in.

What does a brutally stringent and excruciatingly disciplined hiring process look like? In addition to the normal interview process, it could have an assessment session during which candidates must interact, engage in discussion on a topic or perform certain tasks. Here, the potential new hires are seen in action, observed by their would-be managers and supervisors as well as HR staff. Whether through this type of session or by other means, companies must institute mechanisms and selection steps during which behaviors and values can be observed to be able to gauge whether the candidate is a good fit for the organization.

Creating and implementing this level of intensity in the selection process requires creativity and investment of resources. However, the investment will pay for itself several times over by generating greater productivity per employee through a high energy organization where ideas flow, things get done and people thrive on the company culture.

Measuring BPO Providers' Competence At Maximizing People Assets
When it comes to choosing business partners, how does a company measure the strength of an organization's people strategy? In the BPO industry, the most effective way to calibrate the effectiveness of a company's people strategy is, of course, to visit the sites to meet the management and front-line staff at the specific facility in which the business would be handled. By walking the floor and interacting with staff at all levels, experienced BPO managers can determine which facility is staffed with the best people to do the job. One can feel the energy on the floor and measure the strength of company culture by witnessing the interaction between staff at different levels of the organization. The site visit allows one to see first-hand how satisfied and motivated the employees are; a natural byproduct of an effective people strategy.

Herein lies a challenge. While companies can effectively perform this 'due diligence' at the site visit phase, are they optimally measuring companies' people strategies at the earlier stage in due diligence, when the short list is determined for site visits? To do so, the optimized due diligence process will gather information at RFP and earlier stages to provide data on which of the many companies that may look similar on paper are, in fact, benefiting from the most effective people strategies and running the most productive service organizations. The BPO industry is highly competitive, and many companies are effective at using the written medium to highlight their strengths, diminish their weaknesses and make a case to be a part of the site visit process. As a result, it is critical that companies gather information beyond traditional functional competence to better understand, at an early stage, which companies may excel at getting the most out of their people strategies.

Here are some questions that companies can use for evaluation purposes to gain a keener understanding of how well companies are deploying effective people strategies at the specific facilities proposed:

' What are your company values or similar information describing your corporate culture?

' Please describe any processes your company has for ensuring adherence to company values. Are adherence to these values/behaviors discussed and calibrated in performance evaluations or 360- degree reviews?

' How many managers have left the company in the last three years and what has been the average baseline headcount in this group during this period? These figures must include any employee with the title of 'manager' or higher.

' How many cases have you experienced in the last three years in which an employee left your company and returned within six months?

' Starting with the fourth month of service (post ramp-up), and without disclosing client names, what has been the volume processed growth rates for all programs handled in the facility proposed for this work? Please define how you are calculating.

Today, competitive advantage is less about corporate strategy and more about instituting the most effective people strategy in your industry. Without effectively managing the 'soft side' of the business, there is no base from which to effectively implement corporate strategy and day-to-day initiatives. Execution of all three areas illustrated above is absolutely critical to a healthy organizational culture in which employees buy into the company vision and are passionate about contributing to the success of its customers. CIS

Kit Cooper serves as president of Hispanic Teleservices Corporation (www.htc.to), a provider of outsourced customer support for the Hispanic market.

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