Telma Viale, Director Human Resources of the International Labour Organisation in Geneva, Switzerland says ILO’s decent work agenda seems to be very appealing to talented people worldwide, and especially to the younger generation.
The ILO is the international organisation responsible for drawing up and overseeing international labour standards. It is the only ‘tripartite’ United Nations agency that brings together representatives of governments, employers and workers to jointly shape policies and programmes promoting decent work for all. This unique arrangement gives the ILO an edge in incorporating ‘real world’ knowledge about employment and work. Following are excerpts of the interview:
By Dinesh Weerakkody
Q: In an era of ever-intensifying competition for talent, Institutions that can appeal to and retain different kinds of workers are more likely to succeed. What has ILO’s experience been on this front?
A: ILO has a good record of attraction and retention. Attrition is very low. Yet, in the competition for talent, financial packages are not as interesting as those offered by other public or private sector institutions.
However, we focus in attracting talented individuals who care about ILO values for social justice, want to make a difference, and are ready to invest themselves in the complex challenges of a tripartite institution like ours. Contribution to the ILO’s decent work agenda seems to be very appealing to talented people worldwide, and especially to the younger generation.
Q: Despite the financial crisis, the talent challenges facing companies around the world have only become harder to manage. Knowledge workers are ever more crucial to corporate success. In developed economies, baby boomers are beginning to retire and the new generation workers prefer to work from home rather than commute to work daily. Are these work pattern changes affecting your resourcing strategy globally?
A: Even within the generation of late baby boomers we see a trend where many of them want some form of flexible arrangements in working hours and telecommuting. In 1981, ILO adopted the Convention on Workers with Family Responsibilities, which sets the tone for a work-life agenda for many workers in the world. This has also influenced the ILO culture that grew very supportive of work-life balance issues.
There is still much to be done since balancing such two demanding agendas is always complex and challenging. In fact, working towards an enabling environment is one of the four pillars of our current HR strategy.
Q: HR has become more strategic than ever before. The concept of attracting and retaining quality staff seemed to be readily accepted as being a priority by Boards/CEO’s. I think this has also helped the profile of HR as being a strategic partner. Where are we heading next?
A: In order for HR to truly fulfil its role as strategic partner, I see a further need to adapt the individual orientation in the HR towards the notion of organisation development. In light of the demographic challenges ahead, workforce planning has never been more essential to ensure sustainability of competitive human capital.
The question is not so much around attracting and retaining quality staff but around which staff, when, for how long and in what setting. Empowering senior managers to become key players in the architecture of the workforce is also a priority in our leadership development plans. HR has a key role in partnering with the managers in building the right organisational setting and building the right environment for results.
Q: In my experience, we still have a long way to go for HR to be universally accepted by the Global Corporate World as being critical to business performance. The recent removal of many HR staff from business during the current economic downturn is evidence of that. How does it work in the ILO?
A: For over a decade ILO has invested in building strategic human resources. Nonetheless, the financial pressures of the external environment have strengthened the concept of doing more with less, and ensure organisational development. That factor has driven the urgency of becoming better HR professionals and invests in the resources inside HR.
An HR transformation programme began last year and the question of what to do more of, less of, or not at all, is very present as we re-charge ourselves and re-imagine to meet the current and new challenges.
Q: I really believe in one of the principles of HRM as improving institutional performance. As HR professionals, we have an opportunity to make a significant and lasting difference to the whole organisation. There is nothing more satisfying than watching an initiative championed by HR developed from scratch to benefit the business and the personal careers of employees. Tell us how your HR group is making that difference in the ILO?
A: We invest big in talent management and also to build a strong culture of accountability across the organisation. Having those two elements as priorities in our HR strategy gives us a sense of direction as to how we will improve organisational capability and performance.
A new performance management system has been launched in 2010, the system is results-based and it aims to introduce a culture of communication, focusing on the ability of all staff to take and give positive or negative feedback. HR is making a difference by investing in these important yet at times difficult conversations, but also in keeping an eye on the links that these practices have with organisational performance and development.
Q: HR professionals responsible for redefining work in their firms need to figure out how to make technology viable and a productive part of their work setting. How has technology helped ILO HR to change the flow and use of information and service offering to staff?
A: We still have a long way to make technology work for HR. Traditionally, IT systems have been finance-based; it has been very much the case for the ILO. We see a great potential for systems to better manage data flows, communication, reduce HR transactional costs and to improve overall HR service delivery. Also, we see e-HR as a vehicle to shift critical HR resources from transactional work to more strategic work in HR.
Q: How does the ILO build internal bench strength and also ensure it has the talent depth to build a robust pipeline of rising talent capable and available to fill key positions anywhere in the organisation?
A: The ILO has raised the bar for recruitment and selection with a view to strengthen the pipeline for capable talent. At the same time, by making most promotions subject to internal and external competition, the ILO is building an internal benchmark. The message is that winning from inside confirms market value anywhere in the world.
On top of that we are strengthening the talent pipeline by having a clear focus on building capability by institutionalising a robust performance management system. The system proactively links performance and development in a manner that allows us to grow talent through a wide range of learning methods. As the system is relatively newly implemented, we are still in the process of exploring its full potential. But one of the key elements is a just-in-time talent approach, where development is closely linked to specific outputs.
As with most other organisations our environment is changing all the time, and predicting our future talent needs is a big challenge. Therefore, by adapting a just-in-time approach to talent development, we obtain a high return on investment in the training area and nurture the learning agility among our staff.
Q: As a final question what is the ILO doing globally to build an era of social justice on a foundation of decent work?
A: The main thrust of ILO work is to balance social justice with economic growth. The discussions within our research teams focus on the search for equity, which supports economic prosperity and vice-versa, economic growth that also supports equity goals. At the global level, ILO advocates well-designed social protection, i.e. a set of policies which at the same time protects people and provides incentives for people to work; invest and prosper.
Likewise, in 2009 we agreed on a Global Jobs Pact, i.e. a package of measures to support employment as well as the victims of the global crisis, while at the same time promoting economic recovery. A most recent example is the G20, where ILO promotes a growth process, which is socially inclusive and avoids too much inequality. The gains from economic growth continue to be shared unevenly in too many countries; as a result income inequalities have intensified and is leading to social unrest.