Top Talent Challenges

Retention, penetration of leadership, and productivity are some of the top talent challenges on the minds of talent practitioners in the Southeast Asia region.

“Being in the pharma industry, the biggest talent challenge is retention, with an industry attrition rate of about 25%,” said Shazmi Ali, director of HR at Pfizer Malaysia, who sat on a panel at the inaugural edition of Talent Management Asia. 

In his opinion, another challenge that companies in Asia face is a mindset issue: “There are 2 billion people in Asia, I’m sure we can find someone for the job.”

That is not the case, he pointed out, saying that the individuals that your company would want to hire are likely to be the very same people that all your competitors want to hire.

“The war for talent is limited to very few people who everyone wants to poach and retaining those individuals and keeping them energised in your organisation becomes a major challenge,” he added.

Joining him on the panel were Anubhav Shrivastava (global talent architect at Accenture), global leadership development specialist Louis Carter, and strategic HR solutions guru Dr John Sullivan, moderated by Human Resources’ Aditi Sharma Kalra.

Earlier in the day, Sullivan presented a case for data-driven HR, proving that employees are most likely to quit an organisation close to the time of their work anniversary.

Carter agreed, saying that in this part of the world, retention can be particularly challenging around the time of the Chinese New Year.

“That’s when they start thinking about what they would like to do in that year, if they are being compensated appropriately for what they’re doing, and how they are connected to the purpose of the organisation,” he said.

He affirmed that ‘purpose’ plays a key role in enabling employee engagement and retention.

“We all are the same – we just need to connect to our purpose, know that we are at the right place, be able to work within that context, and have a metric associated with that job that shows that we can perform well there.”

Sullivan, having travelled far and wide for his work, was of the view that no matter the region and country, the problems HR faces are fundamentally the same, ranging from recruitment to retention to talent pipeline, with some changes in their order.

His top concern was productivity, as he explained, “Any resource, be it human or capital, is about productivity. I wonder why no one has a productivity function.”

“HR’s role is very simple – you increase the productivity of the workforce, the output they produce, and its value. Revenue per employee is one implication, but you need to focus on productivity.

“You do that by motivating, hiring and keeping good people. But the end goal is not all this smoke; it’s the fire, which is productivity,” he added.

Accenture’s Anubhav Shrivastava disagreed with Sullivan, stating that there are key differences in the problems that APAC faces, compared to Europe. Retention is just one among them, with an average rate of 14% in APAC, compared to the 6% in Europe.

One reason for this, he said, was low penetration of leadership in this region. In many cases, he said, leaders choose to be in Singapore, rather than other countries in the region.

Explained Shrivastava, “Organisations have to think of how they can spread leadership across all of the countries and start building local markets.”