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Q&A: Janet Man, vice president, global talent management, Schneider Electric

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Vital info: Janet Man discovered her fascination with HR early on in her life. Passion and hard work led her to be part of the talent management team at McDonald’s for seven years before joining Schneider Electric in May this year. In her current role, she focuses on identifying early career potential and building a diverse leadership talent pool to facilitate business growth.

Q. You spent the past seven years working for one of the world’s biggest consumer-facing brands before joining Schneider Electric earlier this year. Does the B2B focus of your current company require a different HR approach?

Talent management challenges are universal; all related to employer branding, talent acquisition, employee development and engagement. There are similarities, yet differences in some aspects.

Take talent acquisition as an example. Undoubtedly, everyone knows McDonald’s as we have experience with them as customers. Some may have a positive impression of the brand while others may not. When it comes to attracting talent, the focus at McDonald’s is to change the perception of “McJob” and share stories about how a McDonald’s career changed peoples’ lives.

The Schneider Electric (SE) brand is less familiar to people although we are a global company running energy management and automation businesses worth 25 billion Euro. For SE, our talent acquisition work is therefore about the fundamentals by telling people what we do as a business and what we stand for as an employer.

Since SE is not a customer-facing brand, we have put in dedicated employer branding efforts to introduce the company to prospective employees.

Q. As employer branding becomes more important in recruitment, HR and marketing have started to overlap. What do you think about this phenomenon?

As I shared in your Futurist column before, the HR profession has evolved tremendously over the years which requires us to be upskilled. One new capability we need to acquire is marketing. Marketing techniques and methodologies such as segmentation, identifying value propositions and creating targeted messages to appeal to different segment groups are extremely relevant to our work on employer branding.

In fact, I reference back to marketing books quite frequently and consult my marketing colleagues a lot when I plan talent management strategies. They are the experts when it comes to attracting targeted prospects and devising strategies to close the deal with them.

At SE, we have an employer brand lead who was originally from the marketing team, but has now become part of the HR organisation. She has a team of 15 specialists who focus solely on employer branding. While many companies are putting effort in this space, we are probably one of the few which draws talent from the functional area and formed a dedicated team leveraging its marketing expertise in HR.

Marketing techniques and methodologies such as segmentation, identifying value propositions and creating targeted messages are extremely relevant to our work.

Q. Do you expect this is something all companies will be moving towards – having a dedicated employer brand function in the HR organisation?

It is well recognised in the HR community that we need to build a new capability around employer branding. Whether it evolves as a standalone HR specialty or as an arm of the marketing function, I am not sure. It really depends on the organisation and the industry it belongs to.

What I am certain though is, the partnership of these two functions needs to be closer than ever because of the interface between the customer brand and the employer brand and the spillover effect they have on each other.

Q. You started at McDonald’s after a six-year career break and then swiftly progressed up the ranks. Has your experience taught you anything about talent management?

I left my HR career in HK and took a six-year break after my family moved to the US in 2003. It was indeed very difficult for a non-local to pursue a HR career without speaking native English and US work experience. However, I never gave up nor did I ever consider switching to an accounting or IT career which most immigrants would choose.

In those years, my passion in HR remained strong. I studied for the HR professional qualifications, went cold-calling to seek HR mentors and read daily online HR news to keep myself abreast of the latest. My first job in the US was an internship with Hewitt Associates (now Aon Hewitt). While people at my age then were already in their mid-career, I was only an intern, yet I could not be more grateful for the opportunity. After Hewitt, I joined McDonald’s, again first as an intern, then took on the role to lead talent management in the Asia Pacific, Middle East and Africa regions … and the rest is history.

Where I think my story interests people is that it shows one’s career is not always a linear path. Besides, I am an example of many women who have valuable skills to contribute, but have to step away from work due to family reasons. I was lucky for not being judged after a long career break because the US is more open and inclusive in this regard. Hong Kong, however, is a different ball game, although companies nowadays are more receptive to returned working women and are more willing to offer flexible work arrangements.

At SE, for instance, we practise a “nomad” office and allow employees to work from home. Technology has enabled us to offer flexibility while still being productive. In fact, employees are more motivated and work effectively as they no longer need to worry about the competing work/life demands. We are about to launch a global family policy which reinforces the leadership commitment to achieving a truly diversified and inclusive workplace.

Q. Speaking of diversity and inclusion, Schneider Electric has a multi-hub strategy. Can you tell us more about that?

Unlike many multinational companies, we have moved away from “one headquarter” to what we call a “multi-hub” model with three hubs located in Hong Kong, Grenoble/Paris, and Boston. Our vision is to create equal opportunities for everyone, everywhere. What we would like to achieve is a truly diversified and inclusive global company with a balanced distribution of global leadership positions in these three hubs. This will enable advancement opportunities for all employees regardless of where they are based.

For a lot of MNCs, employees who are not based in the headquarters usually have less visibility with top management which could become a hurdle for climbing up the career ladder. At SE, we are different with the multi-hub model which we believe will set us apart from others when it comes to attracting talent.

We want to reach the goal of having 80% of the global leadership positions be taken up by local or regional talent.

At each hub we also have the 80-20 talent mix target, in which we want to reach the goal of having 80% of the global leadership positions be taken up by local or regional talent. Both the balanced distribution of global leadership positions in the three hubs as well as an 80-20 talent mix are not easy ambitions to operationalise.

We have just started a study on the talent landscape in each hub. We expect to have an initial analysis by the end of this year, when we will know how far our gaps are and what actions will be needed to bring us to where we want to be.

Q. What are some big challenges in your role right now?

One of my key responsibilities is to identify high potential talent, especially those who are early in their career. Top management has the expectation on me and my team to make an accurate assessment on these early career talent and find our future CEO and other C-suite officers.

Certainly my job is not to provide the absolute 100% sure answer on who that person is, but rather to create a variety of platforms allowing leaders to observe and gather as many data points on our talent, discuss and calibrate so they can reach an educated decision.

Some existing platforms we have include meet and greets with the leadership, talent forums and stretch assignments. We are planning to set up assessment centres and add in cross-functional learning projects.

Another challenge is to simplify talent management work so leaders’ time is least spent on filling out assessment forms, but maximised on quality talent discussions. We are currently looking at digitalising some talent processes.

Besides using technology, there is an opportunity to do more education to change the mindset that talent management is a “HR thing”. Unless it is a business imperative, we will not have the full attention and commitment from leaders even with the simplest digitalised processes in place.

Q. Are you working on anything new within the talent management space at Schneider?

We are an energy management and automation business. With Internet of Things, we need talent who can lead digital transformations. Apart from the usual high potential talent review discussions, the talent team is now defining the “digital disruptor” profile and expanding our horizon to assess this specialised talent segment which are critical to drive our business.

Art Direction: Evisu Yip | Photography: Alfee Cheung @ EPPT

HR Academy from Human Resources magazine: High-level HR strategy training workshops
led by the world's most respected HR thought leaders & strategists.
Review the 2017 programme here »

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