Study Examines Challenges of Managing People in a 'Two-Speed World'

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At the start of 2013 the global economy has two speeds: sluggish growth in the developed economies of Western Europe and North America and rapid economic expansion in developing nations. These two economic speeds are creating myriad challenges for business leaders and human resource practitioners as they seek to find the right mix of talent to remain competitive and adapt to the highly volatile global marketplace.

To identify and better understand the top challenges and most critical trends in HR management, the World Federation of People Management Associations (WFPMA) and Boston Consulting Group (BCG) conducted a global study of 22 key aspects of managing people. The study’s results were released on Jan. 10, 2013, in the report Creating People Advantage 2012: Mastering HR Challenges in a Two-Speed World. The Society for Human Resource Management contributed to this examination of 102 countries and markets by collecting data in the United States.

The nearly 4,300 executives surveyed identified “managing talent” as the most critical or urgent challenge their organizations face. The other critical challenges survey respondents mentioned were “improving leadership development” and “strategic workforce planning.” These top three issues were the same as reported in a similar global survey that the WFPMA and BCG conducted in 2010.

The survey results appear to indicate that the uncertain global economy is motivating many business leaders to focus on, and attempt to improve, their organizations’ people-management skills. Just how companies are handling these management skills appears to be a matter of perception, depending on the executives’ roles in their organizations. Among the respondents to the online survey, 88 percent were HR executives, and 12 percent represented other organizational functions.

When asked about certain HR-related skills, the HR professionals tended to respond differently from the other executives, especially in three critical areas: “transforming HR into a strategic partner,” “delivering on recruiting” and “mastering HR processes.” In each area the HR respondents tended to report stronger success rates.

While some of these reported discrepancies can be attributed to perception and familiarity with certain issues, the recruiting response stood out because the survey respondents reported overwhelmingly that finding and retaining talent was a top priority for their organization. The disparity in the perceptions of HR issues remained fairly constant when compared with the results of the 2010 survey.

Addressing a Global Talent Shortage

The survey results clearly demonstrate that businesses around the world face tough challenges in finding well-qualified applicants to fill critical roles. The survey found that most employers are concentrating on isolated methods to tackle the talent shortage, such as focusing largely on social media as a recruitment tool. The report recommends that employers take a more holistic approach in finding solutions to this problem.

“We advocate that companies take an integrated approach to managing people sourcing amid all the complexities of today’s dynamic, fast-changing environment,” the report stated. “Put simply, this approach addresses the entirety of activities needed to acquire and keep top talent.”

Building Up Critical Assets

The global talent shortage presents a huge challenge as many businesses struggle to identify, attract and keep the best talent possible. That survey respondents identify “managing talent” as the No. 1 critical issue clearly demonstrates that most businesses are well aware of it.

The report recommends that organizations take the following steps to build and sustain a talent advantage over their competitors:

  • Develop talent strategies that align with market conditions and business needs.
  • Have a leadership model in place that conforms to the business realities of the 21st century, such as being highly adaptive and leveraging technology to prepare for and manage constant change.
  • Fine-tune talent sourcing to ensure workforce diversity—not only cultural and gender diversity but diversity in thinking and working styles.
  • Focus on talent-development acceleration through training and work-experience programs that develop skills and competencies internally.
  • Establish a culture of employee engagement. Compensation and benefits must be competitive, and leaders must focus on ways to promote stronger performance and collaboration among workers.

Organizations that put these five elements in place will create a “talent magnet culture,” according to the report.

As a company’s governance of its talent, employer brand and other components of corporate culture steadily improves, the report concluded, “the company will increasingly attract the very talent it desires, gaining a powerful advantage as an employer and a business.”

Bill Leonard is senior writer for SHRM. To read the original article on, please click here.