The talent matchmakers

The talent matchmakers

Andrew Warren Smith, managing director of India and director of Affiliate Operations at Development Dimensions International (DDI), a talent management company, tells us how to close the gap between where corporates would like to take their businesses and talent required for the same


Founded in 1970, US-based DDI, a talent management company, helps organisations close the gap between today’s talent capability and future talent needs. Its expertise lies in designing and implementing selection systems, and identifying and developing front-line to executive leadership talent. With more than 1,000 associates in 75 offices in 26 countries, the firm advises on areas such as succession management, high potential identification and assessment, accelerated development for managers and senior leadership, performance management systems, and competency models linked to business strategy. Till date, it has helped several fortune 500 companies re-shape their future from a people perspective.

In this interview, Andrew Warren Smith, who travels the world and engages with HR and organisational leaders in a variety of sectors and markets including Asian countries, New Zealand, South Africa, Chile and Turkey, shares his knowledge on what it takes to close the gap between where a business needs to go and the talent it requires, to take it there.

What do companies in India have to do, to close this gap? 

Firstly, organisations have to be clear about what their corporate goals are, especially on two fronts: strategic business priorities and cultural priorities. While it’s important to know what you want to achieve in terms of pure business matrix, if you are in a people intensive business, it also matters how you get there. Secondly, organizations need to have clarity on what will determine their successes in the future. Then, they have to think about building systems and processes, especially the people component.  At an early stage itself, they have to map talent against priorities. Once they are able to judge that, accelerating people, building the bench strength they require, and implementing development programs and succession programs when required will become follow-through steps.

The biggest challenge frontline leaders’ face today is promotion through technical competency. They get elevated to the next level because they are good technical managers and not necessarily equipped with the leadership skills they require.

Thirdly, they should invest wisely in the right areas. Finding avenues where they can source new talent is vital. India is a very talent scarce market, particularly, given that various organisations will be looking at a similar talent capacity.  Fourthly, once they’ve attracted the talent into the organisation, they need to retain and develop them. Hence, bringing them in early, having a very systematic way of developing them and giving them career growth in their organisation will help widen the retention span.

How important is succession management for corporates? What processes should a company adopt to ensure a smooth transition? 

The pace of growth of the economy and various organisations has effectively left a huge gap in leadership experiences. Hence, there remain several leaders, operating at a higher level, with very little opportunity to apply the skills they have learnt.

Being succession management ready is the biggest issue facing Indian organisations today. They often tend to mix-up a multitude of processes. Take the case of performance readiness and potential. First of all, companies need to have a clear description of what success looks like, by way of competency, or success profile. This is the key to having a thorough succession plan. Then, for someone to succeed to the next level, they have to demonstrate the same level of past performance. So, we look at how they face performance issues, assess if they can step up to the next level, identify their potential to move to a higher role and, lastly, evaluate their preparedness.

What are the main challenges faced by frontline leaders today? What are your suggestions to resolve these issues?   

One of the key challenges frontline leaders face today is promotion through technical competency. They get elevated to the next level because they are good technical managers and not necessarily equipped with the leadership skills they require. In such a circumstance, as these technical experts take up their next level role, they will not only have to confront their worst fears of having to suddenly lead other people, but also have to lead people who were their peers.

Where do you see DDI India over the next five years? What are the various factors that helped you formulate the India strategy? 

India is quite unchartered and uncertain at this point, but we believe that there is tremendous potential here for servicing organisation around peoples’ needs. There is lot to be done around succession and leadership development, and I believe the demand for Indian talent around the world is what makes it very promising. Though there are regulatory and legislative challenges, we are excited about two things, which we bring to the bay: developing world-class leaders and developing world-class organisations, which adapt to that talent. We are also enthusiastic about coming to India with the right product mix of services and right pricing. India is a price centric market, hence, the offering has to make the right mark and product-pricing strategy has to be targeted.

What did you have to unlearn and learn to engage with corporates in India? 

What works in other markets does not necessarily work in India. One must be open minded about ‘what’ and ‘how’ services will be consumed and ‘who’ the target audience will be. As much as people understand this basic principle, it is often easy to believe that small adaptations to global products and services will suffice. Not only do products and services need to change but so do the business and pricing models.

Even when compared to other emerging markets, concept of quality and value is not synonymous with other markets. There is a level of frugality to procuring services in India and this is often influenced by a preference for lower cost over higher quality.

Having said that, these are some of the key lessons I learned, to engage corporate leaders in India

Understanding the unique dynamics of the local market and the key drivers of economy

Why and how decisions are made

Critical role government plays in creating a stable and predictable business

Adaptation of services to the Indian market

Talent – there is a dearth of ‘ready-now’ leaders across companies, yet organisations continue to invest in developing technical capabilities and advancing people into more senior roles based on technical expertise rather than ability to create value through leading others. Helping organisations realise the benefit of developing strong leaders is paramount to long-term success.


Start small and simple

Define a competency framework, call it a people framework on which you could build your business

Build HR systems around competency frameworks:  selection, succession, development and performance management

Focus on quality of these systems: Making it a vital part of your strategy and aligning them aptly to the future of the business is of paramount importance

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