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The first speaker at the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) Foundation Thought Leaders Retreat was no longer an HR professional. And no wonder: Padma Thiruvengadam, a vice president of operations at Pfizer Oncology, used an extensive background in human resources to help lead the drug manufacturer’s oncology integration activities during a merger with Wyeth. Then, she moved on. She now drives performance of Pfizer’s oncology business units in the Asia-Pacific and Canada regions, and she offered strong words to HR professionals:

“How well is the business plan cascaded into your company? How is the business operating? People make or break businesses. Who best to work with business platforms than HR?” she demanded of HR leaders attending the Oct. 5-6, 2010, event.

The retreat—for businesspeople and academics—was held prior to the SHRM Strategy Conference in San Antonio.

Every company needs to test its strategy every one to three years, Thiruvengadam advised. “We look at systems and processes. We look at HR redesign, trying to make HR more efficient, and we look at how well the processes are meshed with strategy.

“To me, the sum of strategy, process and people drives how we conduct business. It is the operating culture of the company.”

‘New Normal’

Thomas W. Belker, SPHR, GPHR, managing director of corporate human resources for OBI Group Holding, warned attendees about the devastating aftermath of the financial crises in Europe. In “the ‘new normal,’ crises have become chronic,” he said, estimating the cost of financial crises for the world economy at $10.5 trillion at the end of 2009.

“While washing away money, we’re washing away trust,” he said, leaving many workers with a collective sense of alienation and homelessness. Belker’s employer, a Germany-based home-improvement retailer with 38,500 employees and 550 stores in 13 countries, has annual revenue of about $7.7 billion.

“In 2008, our CEO said, ‘The recession asks for clear yes or no. There is no budget for talent management,’ ” Belker said. “What do you do in a situation like that? We looked at the coming paradigm shift in management as no longer a linear extension of the present into the future. Formerly, we looked for people who had similarities to those who worked in our organization. We wanted them and educated them to reflect the existing culture, the old culture. For our CEO’s answer, we had to look forward,” he said.

“We don’t need a budget for mind-set, and talent management is a mind-set. Talent management does not have to be expensive, but more-targeted.” These days, he concluded, “Talent management needs to be talent empowerment.”

Belker sees two kinds of talents emerging among younger workers: Change managers and specialists, often “the solo traveler” with little loyalty to employers. As a result, he predicted, retaining talent will soon come to mean merely “keeping talent in your organizational network, not necessarily keeping them employed.”

Nancy Davis is editor of HR Magazine.