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Stuart Lauchlan

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Talent Management in practice: WDS seeks global alignment for talent

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WDS is part of the wider Xerox Company and positions itself as a provider of customer experience management expertise to the wireless industry, helping both service providers and end-users get the most from their wireless products and services.

Its approach is to focus attention away from ‘managing’ customer experience problems and towards resolving the cause of an issue, and by sharing business critical intelligence through a common platform. 

It has – as might be imagined from that description – a highly diverse workforce, ranging from call centre operatives through to technical solutions expert. "We’ve got about 1100 in our company globally, of which more than half are call centre agents," says David Bowes, Chief People Officer for the firm. "They don’t themselves have specialist technical knowledge, although we can obviously provide training in key areas for them. 
 
"But because of our business model we do need people who can analyse data, test devices, train end users, develop software and so on. We need people who can consult and manage change in some of our customer organisations. In order to realise the value of the solutions, our customers may need to change their business processes so we need people who can lead that change. It’s in those kind of roles that we see the need for more technical knowledge and broad variety of skills and competences."
 
The organisation has undergone an overhaul of its HCM systems with a  focus on performing as a global company. "We have seven different operations in six countries and we needed to pull together and be able to access and develop talent globally," explains Bowes.
 
"We are in the fortunate position that demand for what we do when we do it right means that we don’t have problems in getting customers. Where we do have a problem is in scaling to meet that demand. The challenge is to develop sufficient levels of talent to the standard that we want and to keep that aligned globally. Scale and alignment – the two challenges." 
 
Out to market
 
Those two drivers were in part what sent WDS out into the market to seek a global technology solution that would support their needs. "We were very immature, but fortunate – we muddled through," recalls Bowes.
 
"We had simple PC-based HR-type systems, but these were very tactical. If I wanted to get a headcount total I could just about get it, but there was a lack of consistency between systems. Jobs were called by different titles, for example, and there was no insight that we could derive from our data."
 
But it wasn’t just WDS that was immature; so too was the market three years ago, although this turned out to be serendipitous. "We went out to look and realised that there wasn’t a solution out there that would fit," says Bowes. "But we also realised at that time that we weren’t actually ready anyway."
 
Bowes explains that it’s necessary to do preparatory work before embarking on such a transformation programme. "You’ve got to understand your organisation and know how it all hangs together," he says. "What does your talent look like? You’ve got to have that clear in your mind and have standards defined so that you can incorporate that into your system selection. Otherwise you’ll end up with a system that takes you down paths you don’t want to go down.
 
"One of our great moments of insight was the realisation that we hadn’t done our homework. We hadn’t defined how we wanted our organisation to function," he adds. "So we spent a year doing that and going through our content to get it all straight in our minds."
 
This inward contemplation was conducted internally without use of external advisers or consultants. "We knew what we wanted to do. You need to know what questions you need to have answers to. We needed to know our own organisation so we didn’t want consultant coming in from outside," says Bowes. 
 
"We spent 2010 and 2011 just getting to grips with what our vision is. We had a very clear business strategy so we needed to work out what sort of organisation was needed to deliver that business strategy. We almost redesigned our business and what our core values were and we did all that collaboratively internally."
 
Blessing in disguise
 
This delay turned out to be blessing as by the time WDS was ready to go back out to the market, the solutions on offer had moved on with more appropriate functionality incorporated. 
 
WDS had some very specific requirements. "We wanted a full service solution," says Bowes. "We didn’t want disparate systems, we wanted a common system globally. We wanted something that would map on to our full recruitment solution."
 
The chosen solution came from SuccessFactors, now part of SAP and a pioneer in Software as a Service (SaaS) HCM applications which had added to its performance management capabilities and enhanced its Employee Central offering to provide added functionality. 
 
WDS primary focus is on internal talent management, although external considerations inevitably come into play as well. "One of the things we have learned is that we are quite a complex organisation," explains Bowes. "We take a lot of getting used to. We have a lot of ways of working that are complex. We’ve found that bringing people on from within and developing taken internally tends to be more successful than bringing in people externally. 
 
"For example, if we were to bring in someone in a senior role, we still wouldn’t let him or her near a customer for six to nine months just because there is so much for newcomers to immerse themselves in. We’d need people who are open minded and have patience because it does take time and investment.
 
"So one of our goals is to fill the vasty majority of our internal vacancies from internal sources. So we are very much an internal focus on who has taken, who has the right mind set, how can we build on that from within the organisation. Of course we do need to complement that with external appointments some times, but we are now able to have far better conversations with people externally."
 
One reason for that is the emergence of social media networks such as LinkedIn and Facebook which enable the WDS brand to reach out into the wider world. "Social media helps people to know more about us so when we do have a need for talent from outside, we do get some interesting applicants," says Bowes. "Internally we use social media tools to build communities and levels of collaboration so that we can share ideas and validate talent."
 
With the SuccessFactors implementation now complete, WDS is moving forward with systems in place to support its strategic talent objectives, critical perhaps at a time of economic uncertainty, although Bowes makes the point that talent always thrives.
 
"If people are good then they are good and will be in demand whether the economy is good or slow," he says. "We have a lot potential in front of us and we are creating opportunities for that talent to grow."
 
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