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A one-size-fits-all approach to managing your talent will chase your people to your competitors. By Mapula Wanjau
Policy-governed human resources management is a relic of the past. Today, it’s almost impossible to have profitability without HR policies and practices that work with people to help them realise their own career growth ambitions.

“Our people are our most important asset,” is a harried business phrase. Company after company intones it both internally and externally. Yet precious few businesses walk their ‘our most important asset’ talk, and what goes on behind most closed Human Resources doors makes it clear that people continue to be standardised, categorised and herded in the workplace.

The career journey is no longer linear. It’s entrepreneurial, lateral and full of detours. People are now a lot more corporate street-savvy. Vocational growth comes through risk-taking, innovation and agility. It’s defined by competition both within the working environment and from outside. It must be tempered by compliance, though. It’s ring-fenced by business strategy, and its reward is experience.

For HR practitioners, this is a challenging environment … but rich rewards beckon for those who get it right.

In any workplace, there are likely to be as many demands placed on employers as there are people who fill the jobs. Everybody is an individual. Everybody is differently motivated and everybody wants different rewards and incentives. Think of a young working mother versus a recent graduate whose biggest concern is paying off the car he’s just bought. These people may have identical job descriptions, yet their personal circumstances mean the employer must create a working environment that keeps them both committed, loyal, productive and motivated. When businesses overly standardise their human resources policies and practices, they run the risk of alienating and losing staff. This however does not imply that labour laws of the country should not be observed, but that the context for a multi-generational workforce should be considered.

Finding and retaining good people – people who will work alongside you to grow your business – remains as challenging as ever. Lose your star performers, and you cut to the heart of business growth ambitions. You haemorrhage experience and you send a detractor out into a competitor business. You put your business back in the starting blocks; needing to on-board replacement staffers, instill company culture and persuade people to stay in spite of your one-size-fits-all approach to leading people.

The function of HR is two-fold:
1. unlock people potential for profitability; and
2. work with individuals to realise career ambitions.

It’s almost impossible to have one without the other. Now, more than ever, businesses do battle with each other for good people. The digital environment (with numerous career networking sites) has spurred an environment in which networking for career growth is a mouse click away. It’s put HR at the heart of delivering on business growth strategy. The HR team needs not only to perform for the business. It must also perform for the people who work there.

At Diageo, we are clear: we invest in individuals. We are in partnership with every staff member for their own career growth because we believe everyone has potential. Diageo is a global organisation (the local business demerged from Brandhouse about 15 months ago). There is huge opportunity to leverage our global resources, footprint and experience while we continue to build our corporate brand locally. So the business competes for excellent people with a number of other consumer brands. These brands are better known, and apparently more attractive employers. It demands more of our HR function. It means we need to tailor attractive alternatives to the standard cookie cutter job offer.

The role of the HR practitioner is not so much to fill vacancies, manage KPAs and announce promotions and resignations through blanket ‘all staff’ emails. It’s to break barriers and to build a web of relationships that reward people for who they are, for their contribution to the bottom line and for their hunger to grow.

HR must partner with corporate leadership to help define, and deliver on, the culture the business wants to create. The partnership must embrace diversity, and put people at the centre of it all. Management and employees must create business strategy together. They must create the business culture strategy together, and they must create the corporate engagement strategy together. If they don’t, they will simply co-exist in the same corporate structure.

Mapula Wanjau is the HR Director at Diageo SA, www.diageo.com.

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