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The Challenges of Growth – Perspectives from Shanghai

April 11th, 2013 by Janine Carlson
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I was fortunate enough to recently spend time in Shanghai, China meeting with clients and participating in a Learning and Development conference Forum sponsored. In speaking with senior L&D, HR and business leaders from multinational corporations across a variety of industries, I was struck by the similarities in their key challenges, concerns and areas of focus.  Here are just a few observations.

Talent Shortages are Widespread

The continued pace of growth in China leaves most organisations – from hotels to pharmaceutical companies to insurance companies – struggling to find enough external local talent to fill open positions with individuals possessing the knowledge and skills to perform immediately. This has increased the pressure on HR and L&D to build development programs to close skill gaps and create talent pipelines internally—but this takes time, the right systems and discipline to build. This issue is exacerbated in many organisations because they have only limited succession planning and many key leaders are still not from inland China.

Skill Gaps Can Feel Like Chasms

As businesses focus on growth and innovation—key business drivers among many with whom we spoke—skills gaps become more pronounced. These gaps were fairly common across all industries and included strategic thinking, innovation, leadership/people management skills, coaching, change management and problem solving. There is recognition that beyond a focus on imparting specific knowledge and skills, closing the gaps will require creating climates that hold people accountable and are more creative, strategic and innovative.

The Pitfalls of the Fast Track

Because of the talent shortages, employees in China expect fast career growth and a highly accelerated career advancement curve is often necessary to retain talent. Career path systems must have different requirements to align with the local talent expectations of advancing in 15 months to a new role with a new title and more income. Additionally, individuals in leadership roles often are very young in comparison to the developed markets, often accelerating so quickly into their roles they can lack significant market experience, training and the strong management practices needed to retain employees, develop their own talent from “within,” and drive productivity, growth and innovation.

What can organisations do to start addressing these challenges?

  • Ask yourself if your talent management and L&D strategies are linked to the broader business objectives? If not, working toward this alignment will ensure efforts are placed where they can address the most urgent issues.
  • Map career paths and competencies – it will help you attract, retain and grow talent.
  • Evaluate your leadership bench strength and align it to your business objectives. This Point of View article or our quick Leadership Assessment might help with that process.
  • Remember that training is only one piece of closing knowledge and skill gaps. Focus on sustaining behaviour change for true impact.  You may want to check out our Behaviour Change Handbook for ideas and resources in this area.

How do these issues align with what your organisation is facing in China or the rest of the world? What are you doing to overcome them?

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Based in Singapore, Janine is Forum's Marketing Director and key member of the Asia Pacific leadership team. She sets the overall marketing strategy for Forum's Asia Pacific operations and ensures its effective implementation, as well as guides global marketing efforts. Passionate about helping organisations and individuals thrive, Janine brings perspectives on leadership from her time in advertising agencies and professional development/training organisations, in the US and Asia.

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