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Talent Management By the Numbers - 5 Ideas to Jumpstart Your 2011

By Nikki Dy-Liacco

On the last working day of the calendar year, we typically have a small gathering in the office pantry to celebrate and reminisce on the year that was. As a fan of the musical Rent, I added the song Seasons of Love to our year-end ritual.

525,600 minutes, five hundred twenty-five thousand moments so dear
525,600 minutes, how do you measure, measure a year?
In daylights, in sunsets, in midnights, in cups of coffee
In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife

In 525,600 minutes
How do you measure a year in the life?

While I can measure my 2010 in client events, boarding passes and loads of laundry, I could just as easily measure it in the number of times I heard “cautious optimism”; read another article on managing generational differences in the workforce; or received an invitation to a free Webinar on how to leverage social media tools. While I may or may not have had 525,600 interesting thoughts, allow me to share my five observations on the workforce from the last 12 months, that I suspect will stick around.

1. An Alphabet of Generations. You know of X, Y and Z, but there’s yet another generation ready to wreck havoc on the workplace: Generation C for the 24/7 Connected Generation. I’m somewhere in between X and Y based on my birth year—I have a lot of strong characteristics associated with both—but if I read through the checklist of Gen C’s traits, I could be one too! Generational differences make up but one part of the puzzle, which also includes differences in culture, gender, personality, work styles, zodiac signs (you get the picture…). At the risk of creating a bowl of alphabet soup, the time has come to focus on Gen “I”—for each Individual. While there are many suggested tactics to manage the different generations in the workplace, leaders cannot take a cookie-cutter approach to managing people. A leadership style that motivates and inspires one individual may plunge another into poor performance. By better meeting the needs of Gen I, leaders will create higher levels of engagement and organizational results.

2. A Home for Third Culture Kids. If you’ve ever struggled with the question “Where are you from?” or have spent a significant portion of your growing-up years in a foreign country, chances are you’re a Third Culture Kid or a TCK. According to, an online site dedicated to this unique group, TCKs “are the citizens of the future. [They] possess the globalized views and diverse experiences that are necessary in an ever-shrinking world. [They] will be the leaders of tomorrow, and will help others navigate this globalized society.” I had the good fortune of meeting Ruth Van Reken who co-wrote the book Third Culture Kids: The Experience of Growing Up Among Worlds which helped to popularize the term TCKs after writing a blog post. Together with other adult TCKs here in Singapore, we discussed how today’s world is much more of a home for us global nomads than it was decades ago. Companies need more leaders with TCK qualities such as adaptability, cultural sensitivity and resilience who can help to expand and globalize. While you can’t make someone into a TCK, you can develop global leaders.

3. One Skill to Rule Them All. While Tolkien’s One Ring promised great power, there is One Skill that could overrule all other skills. Mr. Lim Swee Say, Minister of the Prime Minister’s Office of Singapore and Secretary-General of the National Trades Union Congress, was part of the closing plenary session The World in 2020 at the Singapore Human Capital Summit 2010. Given the looming reality of structural unemployment or the mismatch of current skills becoming obsolete with the requirements of the future, he shared that the most important skill to develop today is adaptability. While some may argue that it is difficult to develop, the Minister emphasized that the only solution is to build adaptable workers and to provide opportunities for continuous learning. While it’s not as easy to learn as riding a bicycle, there are practical ways to build one’s capacity to embrace change:

  • Gain confidence in unstructured, unpredictable situations like task forces or projects that require you to adapt to different issues and people. Seek an assignment in a new environment or department.
  • Get to know people throughout the organization, developing a network that you can depend upon during times of uncertainty and change. Join a cross-functional team that requires you to work with a variety of people.
  • Ask your manager to help you identify situations when you have responded negatively to change and identify alternative behaviors that would result in a more positive reaction.
  • When working with others, observe how they react to changes in tasks, deadlines, etc. Note effective behaviors and seek coaching from your manager on how you can model those behaviors. 

4. All Eyes and Ears on Asia. Galileo never claimed that Asia was the center of the universe, but it sometimes feels that way now that all eyes are fixed on Asia for business opportunities. At a panel dialogue on Leadership Capabilities for Success in Asia at the Singapore Human Capital Summit 2010, Mr. Gerald Lema, Corporate Vice President and Asia Pacific President for Baxter International shared how operations in Asia cannot expect all the answers from corporate headquarters. In fact, it seems that Asia is the new World Headquarters for most global firms. While their physical corporate office may not necessarily sit in the region, most head offices based in North America or Europe are looking towards their operations in China, India, and other fast-developing markets for direction, for answers and of course, for growth. Cordelia Chung, Regional General Manager for IBM-ASEAN, also shared her thoughts on how to lead in Asia. She stressed the need to increase communication, to speak up and to be more assertive. Now that the world is watching, leaders in Asia need to step up and be heard more than before--the rest of the world is listening!

5. You, Me, Five Bucks and Good Conversation. Do you remember that line from the movie Reality Bites? (I did mention earlier that I’m a Gen Xer, right?) I did after a conversation I had with my manager on a recent study on Boosting Productivity among Knowledge Workers from McKinsey Quarterly. The key to higher productivity is to identify and address the barriers they face in their daily interactions (and pay them more than five bucks, of course). Compensation and setting performance metrics are important, but because knowledge workers spend half their time on interactions, it’s the quality of their day-to-day interactions with their peers and managers that ultimately count. And what is an effective interaction but good one-on-one two-way conversation about an upcoming project, recent performance, career aspirations, or your last holiday?

A few months later I had a chance to hear CEO and President of Bersin & Associates Josh Bersin on upcoming talent management trends. One stood out which echoed the McKinsey study: all of talent management comes back down to the individual manager. While HR provides the necessary systems and tools, talent management is really about each manager taking the organization’s needs and the individual’s aspirations, and having a conversation to ensure alignment, engagement and success. The way I see it, the pressure is on for all managers. A selection system will fail if the hiring manager can’t excite the applicant with why-I-love-this-job stories. If managers can’t carry a decent conversation and workers feel “blah” after talking to their boss, I guarantee they will look for their “five bucks” somewhere else.

I hope these points can jumpstart your 2011—enough to generate your own list for your year-ender reflection to the tune of (sing with me now) 525,600 minutes... how do you measure a year in the life?

Nikki Dy-Liacco is DDI’s Marketing Manager for South East Asia. She’s proud to be Gen I Third Culture Kid, and is committed to being adaptable and loves to sing along to the Rent OST after a productive workday of good conversations

Posted: 12 Jan, 2011,
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