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The Power of Calling in Effective Talent Management
CUHK research highlights a highly focused strategic HR system can promote positive work behaviours among employees through building a sense of calling
By Jaymee Ng, Principal Writer, China Business Knowledge@CUHK
Talent management aims to help companies hire, manage, develop and retain their best employees and is crucial to success because people are the most valuable assets of any organisation. However, even in a day and age when talent management is widely recognised as a key competitive advantage, its practice is far from universal. For example, a recent survey in the UK found that only three out of five businesses take a strategic approach to talent management.
It is against this context that a new study argues that implementing a specialised human resources system to identify organisational needs and direct resources to where they can benefit the most can help companies to achieve their strategic goals. Specifically, it looks at how such a talent management system can encourage employee behaviour that benefits the organisation, by helping them to find their professional “calling,” whether that be in the form of meaning, purpose or passion.
“Strategic talent management and intensive investment in talent will be the major trend for any businesses that want to succeed.” – Prof. David Ahlstrom
“Every talent is different. Some may want more money while others may want more flexibility at work. Just like other business plans, you also need to strategise your talent management planning,” says David Ahlstrom, Professor and Chairman in the Department of Management at The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) Business School.
Prof. Ahlstrom’s research paper – Strategic Talent Management Systems and Employee Behaviours: the Mediating Effect of Calling, was co-written with Prof. Chen Shu-Yuan at the National United University and Prof. Amber Lee Yun-Ping at the National University of Tainan in Taiwan. The researchers invited HR managers from 45 companies and 234 executives (who were considered by their organisation as “talent”) from various top-performing companies in Taiwan to participate in the study.
They asked the HR managers to fill out questionnaires about their company’s talent management practices and asked the talent a range of questions about their workplace behaviour and attitudes. They analysed the results collected and concluded that as opposed to a generic HR system, a strategic talent management system is more effective in motivating talent to achieve the business goals of a company.
‘Strategic’ Talent Management
A strategic talent management system is a highly focused HR system that provides resources and invests in talent, based on the value and uniqueness of their skills. Using this type of talent management system, companies could identify and position talent according to their organisational goals. On the other hand, a traditional HR system tends to be more focused on solving employee problems and managing workplace relations instead of focusing on developing ways to help employees to reach the company’s various goals.
Strategic talent management appears in many different forms. For example, Google uses its famous data-driven approach – called people analytics – to identify and groom talent. Meanwhile, networking giant CISCO developed an internal application called Talent Cloud that gives managers transparency into the skills and experiences of its employees. It allows managers to put together teams with the right skills to complete specific projects, and employees the opportunity and tools to learn by working on projects that meet their career goals.
Prof. Ahlstrom explains that a strategic talent management system can help organisations succeed because on an employee level, it allows talent to make changes to their work routines through a concept called “job crafting” as well as developing their professional calling.
Job Crafting and Calling
Job crafting refers to an HR technique that allows employees to have control over how they shape and execute their job tasks. For example, an accountant can create innovative ways to file taxes to make his or her job less repetitive. It can also alter the way workers see the nature of their jobs. For instance, it may allow a cleaner to look at their work as a way to give back to society rather than just the sum of their tasks. All in all, job crafting is said to be able to build a greater sense of meaningfulness among employees toward their jobs. Prof. Ahlstrom explains that when employees see their jobs as meaningful, these job crafters can develop a sense of calling towards their jobs, which can make them perform even better in their companies.
Meanwhile, calling usually refers to a strong inner drive towards a particular profession. The study explains that calling can have a remarkable effect on how an employee evaluates his or her work in terms of purpose and meaning, which prompts them to take charge in their workplace in order to achieve the goals and expectations of their work.
The study results show that employees with a higher level of calling tend to develop entrepreneurial behaviour and are more likely to voice out their opinions to make constructive changes for their companies.
“What we see is that employees essentially become ‘job crafters’ and, by extension, masters of their craft. It helps them to develop a sense of calling through their jobs, and could lead to an alignment so that they have the company’s best interest at heart,” Prof. Ahlstrom adds.
Challenging the Status Quo
Entrepreneurial behaviour, by definition, involves a significant amount of effort and willingness to develop certain new opportunities. Employees who exhibit a high level of entrepreneurial behaviour often tend to present more creative solutions when faced with problems and can constantly improve the effectiveness of their firms.
On the other hand, employees that voice their opinions proactively challenge the status quo at their existing firms and all too often lead to productive suggestions. Prof. Ahlstrom highlights that such behaviour is often not required by companies and it highly depends on the individual employee’s ability to detect problems and his or her motivation to actively solve the problem.
Overall, the study found strategic talent management provides opportunities for employees to feel recognised and valuable within their companies, which then motivates them to make constructive changes at work. Employees are encouraged to speak up and they would not be intimidated even when their opinions are the minority.
Overall, a strategic talent management system can help employees to like their jobs more and find meaning in their work, he adds.
Prof. Ahlstrom and his co-authors urge companies to incorporate strategic talent management into their human resources practices to build a sense of calling in their staff in order to further develop positive energy at work. Companies should also consider allocating resources on implementing a more directed and strategy-oriented HR system with a special focus on talent. For HR managers with a strategic mindset, the researchers said it is important for them to understand how to satisfy the needs of their talent and develop positive mentalities among their staff.
“Strategic talent management and intensive investment in talent will be the major trend for any businesses that want to succeed,” Prof. Ahlstrom says. “Our study shows that companies can use this approach to forge positive mindsets, such as the sense of calling, among their employees. This is key to building a bright future for your company.”