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  • Esther Er

Talent Management: There are times when it is not sunny!

Singapore weather


I used to share this joke with my European counterparts that Singapore has four seasons as well: Summer, Summer, Summer, and Summer! My European friends often tell me that the Singapore weather is dull. It’s just hot and humid. I told them that I lived in Paradise, where I can wear my 3S’s all year long: Singlet, Shorts, and Slippers! I shared with them that we have reached a six-sigma level, consistency in our weather!



On Saturday, 14 Dec 2019, I headed off for my monthly fishing trip off Sembawang Boat Club. The temperature was around 24 C, and it was raining “cats and dogs”. The weather was just generally lousy the entire day, dark and gloomy. The sea was choppy! What happened to consistency?


Much like how we gauge our employees at work, we need to be extra careful! If you looked closely at Singapore’s weather, there are periods of terrible weather. During the Northeast Monsoon period from December to early March, you practically cannot get away without owning an umbrella in Singapore. There are some days in Singapore where it just rains the entire week!

Everyone is a Talent


Your greatest assets are your employees. I said this recently at the Vietnam HR Awards, “you can buy the best AI machines and systems, but you cannot buy people”. At least 100% of your people cannot be “manufactured”! You need a lot of love and care to set aside to help your employees to grow and adapt to our changing world that is moving at breakneck speed.


All employees must be treated as “talent”. When you have decided to hire this individual into your organization, they start being a “talent” the first day. I often hear the word “talent” reserved for people that have demonstrated strong potential or have critical skills. That’s nothing wrong with that except that you need to galvanize the entire organization to deliver results!


A good talent management organization is one that offers relatively 80% of the learning opportunities to every employee, without discrimination. The remaining 20% reserved for employees that are either consistently performing well or poorly.


“I will never leave a fallen comrade” is one of the U.S. soldiers’ creed. Organizations should have an unwritten creed of “never leave an employee who is consistently performing badly” alone. We must also put in the effort of helping them to make a recovery as they belong to the talent pool as well.


Be Careful about Branding your Talent


Let’s assumed that you are a tourist who happened to be in Singapore for the first time and going out fishing on 14 Dec 2019, and the next day you had to fly out of Singapore. When you get back to Europe, you might describe Singapore’s weather as dark, gloomy, cold and just lots of rain! You might disagree with someone who will tell you that Singapore’s weather is hot, humid with 95% sunshine all year long!


Sometimes when we are not careful, we as HR professionals are also a culprit to the wrong branding of our talents. We need to be cautious as our inputs are required during talent management review.


Worse, we go around communicating to others that “he is like that” when only 5% of the time, that behavior was demonstrated! What we have inadvertently done is branding the person in the wrong light! Perhaps we should all hold the mirror to our faces and asked ourselves, “what is 5% of the time when our own behavior is not picture perfect”? Would we think it was fair for others to brand us for that 5% of the time?


John, the Operations Manager


Take, for example, John, a Manager in the Operations Department. 95% of the time, John would be a highly engaging manager, he coaches, inspires, jokes, and have a genuine care for his people. He will take his people out for meals and drinks, and more often than not, on his account.


Employees who worked under John knows that under his leadership, there is never a “dull moment”. John always challenged his people to try new innovative and creative ways of doing things. They admire John because he is an excellent operation strategist, and they have extreme confidence in his ability to propel the organization forward for the years to come.


Employees are used to seeing John setting his personal time aside to do coaching with his people. Everyone knows that the time set aside by John does not benefit him but them. He can choose to be like the rest of the other leaders who just focused purely on meeting their personal goals. Instead, he makes time for his people because of his genuine care of people. John is always concern about his people’s employability.


When things go wrong, when it is something that never happened before, John would be with his people down in the trenches to learn what when wrong and how to fix it. John has no hesitation in giving an earful to his people when the same mistakes are made and not learning from it.


When he sees one of his people over a period of time not delivering to their potential, he will intervene. He does so because he sees a need to “unfreeze” their years of not being guided by people who could have helped them reach their maximum potential.


John is also very committed to the company. When he sees individuals, irrespective of his seniors, peers, or subordinates being toxic to the company, he will not have any hesitation to address the issues. When his people are being bullied or being disrespectful by other departments, you can expect John to not “turn a blind eye”.


If we are not careful, we will brand John as a ruthless and cold Manager, and he should be considered not aligned with the company’s values. What John needs is “special needs” of the 10% set aside to work on some of his weaknesses. I have heard too many organizational stories where leaders like John had to leave the organization because the organization expects them to be 100% sunny weather all year long.


I have also worked with HR practitioners who failed to see the wholesome of the individuals, and take that 5% the time to describe the individual as “dark, gloomy, cold and just lots of rain”!


Relationship that Matters!


Protecting your talents is like a relationship. I just returned home from Malaysia after celebrating with my mum her 87th birthday. A day before her birthday, my mum shared with me about her relationship with my dad up until the day he passed away ten years ago.


She shared with me that generally 95% of the time, the relationship with my dad was “picture perfect”. There are times along their 47 years of marriage when there had disagreements 5% of the time. Those were dark thunderstorms. In the heat of the moment, some words and actions should have left unsaid.


My mum told me that 95% of the time, my dad was her “best friend”, and that’s the essential thing that kept their relationship going. She told me that when you lived with someone, it is a permanent lifetime of “work-in-progress” as you will never achieve perfection. She shared that if you have achieved perfection, life would be very dull.


She shared with me that she faced some challenges when she wanted to marry my dad. There were more objections, but she knew in her heart that my dad was the right person for her. What you must remember she told me is that it is worth the lifetime if your partner is your “best friend”. To my mum, my dad was her “best friend”. To me, my dad was a “beacon of light” for me.


We must treat our employees as “best friends”. We don’t give up on them the moment the “sky turned black”. We provide much-needed support to the individual to help him to work on their weaknesses. Everyone has flaws, irrespective of what levels you are in the organization. To err is human, to forgive is divine.

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