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Apr 21, 2016 2016-04 Accountancy

Lyceum – Claudia Saran, KPMG

by Tom Hanlon

Managing People and Change

We live in a time of rapid change. What was new yesterday is old tomorrow. Corporations that do not keep up with those changes will be left behind. Claudia Saran, a partner for KPMG, has spent 26 years helping organizations manage people and change in the areas of organizational and cultural transformation, change management, organizational design, HR function optimization, and leadership and talent management. Saran, who graduated in 1990 from the University of Illinois with a degree in finance (she later received an MBA from Northwestern), closed the spring 2016 accountancy lyceum series by sharing her experience in the aforementioned areas with students. TALENT MANAGEMENT NEEDS MORE ATTENTION “Talent management is indeed critical to business results today,” she said. “Yet while our clients focus significant time and effort on measuring and managing finance risk, and operational risk, when it gets to the people side of things, they may talk about employee turnover, or employee satisfaction and morale, and that’s about it. So you have all this substance and focus on the financial and the operational aspects and just a ”fly-by” on the people and organizational side. It doesn’t seem well balanced.” Saran spends her days bringing balance to clients. In doing so, she and her team address a wide array of talent management challenges.  As one example, she helps organizations bridge the skill and experience gap between the senior level and the next levels down—a gap that if not tended to will inhibit the growth and sustainability of those organizations. “You have to bridge those leadership gaps and bridge them quickly,” she said. “While training is one element of the solution, in order to truly accelerate talent development, organizations need to look at their recruiting, onboarding, performance management, career pathing, and succession management processes as well.  The approach should be holistic to really drive change. ” THE 5 C’S OF TALENT MANAGEMENT Connection

One way to bridge that leadership gap is with one of the “5 C’s” of looking at talent, as explained by Saran: Connection. Companies need to examine how they connect talent across geographies, functions, and generations.

“If you’re an organization that espouses “knowledge sharing” but you don’t have a good infrastructure to do that, you’ll have a disconnect,” she said. “The whole idea of connecting people across generations, across levels, is critical. Can people at mid-level reach out to someone from a mentorship perspective to someone at a senior level?”

Some companies who have three or four generations of workers see that spread as a problem, but Saran helps them to see it as an opportunity to cross pollinate, and to come out a higher performing organization.

Organizations that are strong in the connection area not only are better equipped to bridge that leadership gap; they also are better able to espouse their corporate values and brand on a global basis, she added.

Cost and Compliance

As for the other “C’s,” Saran noted that, relatively speaking, many companies are proactively measuring and reviewing cost and compliance. “Many companies have performed analytics on key measures such as the cost of recruiting an employee and/or the cost of losing an employee,” she said. “On the compliance side, most organizations are well aware of the importance of compliance and have resources in place to manage this area. .”


Capacity tends to present a bigger challenge. “Capacity gets you to look at your succession planning process and think about ‘Do I have the depth in the critical areas? Do I have the bench depth that I need?’” she said.


The final “C” is capability. Saran gave an example of KPMG’s work with a global client to illustrate the importance of knowing what your capability is.

“When you look at a competency model, it’s  fundamental to an organization. It’s a set of skills and competencies that represent what an organization values and needs,” Saran said. “Our client hadn’t “blown the dust off” its competency model in over 15 years. Imagine how much that organization has strategically changed over those 15 years—yet they held on to the same set of skills and competencies. Those fed the kind of people they were recruiting, the kind of talent and development programs they had, even how they were evaluating their people.”

Among the 5 C’s, KPMG research showed that capacity and capability are the issues that tend to concern clients the most. They want to not only hire the right people, but retain and develop them and make sure all the critical roles the company needs are adequately filled.

“We ask our clients if they are looking at these areas,” Saran said. “We’re trying to get our clients to approach talent risk much more holistically.”

BRINGING YOUR EMPLOYEE VALUE PROPOSITION TO LIFE Saran also engages clients in considering their employee value proposition. “What sort of brand are you putting out there for talent in the marketplace?” she said. “How are you attracting talent? If as a recruit, you are drawn to an organization for the culture it claimed to have, but find things like your onboarding experience, or your performance management experience inconsistent with that culture - - what are the chances you will stay? So as an organization, how do you make your true employee experience consistent with the employee value proposition you espouse? ?” That synching is facilitated by having empathy for employees—thinking about their key organizational experiences from the employees’ vantage point. Saran said she works with clients to redesign those processes that can make a lasting (and hopefully positive) impression on employees. HIGHER SENSE OF PURPOSE If companies are assuming that a paycheck alone makes employees stay and be happy to be there, they’re wrong, Saran said.  People want a sense of purpose and the feeling that they’re connected to something larger than their paychecks. “Employees need to be engaged, motivated, and nurtured,” she explained. “Consultants in my practice move from one engagement to another and are always asking: ‘What is this engagement doing for my professional development? What skills and competencies am I building? Am I interacting with diverse teams? Am I able to collaborate and share my ideas?’” Organizations can leverage all of their talent management processes to help reinforce the higher sense of purpose, connectivity, etc. that their employees crave. CHANGING STYLES IN PERFORMANCE MANAGEMENT Many companies are steering away from the age-old formula of annual evaluations and numeric rating systems, opting to give more frequent substantive feedback instead. “We’ve found great cultural receptivity to this notion,” Saran noted. “It puts the onus on performance management to make sure that feedback is still shared and that high performers are still recognized and valued.” Companies also have to thoughtfully consider how they are going to give this feedback on a more continual basis, which is an increasing employee expectation, she added.
Quick Thoughts from Claudia Saran Claudia Saran shared her thoughts and experiences on a number of topics. Here are a few of those thoughts from Saran… On what recruiters are looking for:
  • “We’re looking for a broad spectrum of academic backgrounds. Regardless of your major, can you talk about your ability to problem solve, build relationships, lead teams, etc.?”
On the ability to listen and navigate conversations:
  • “You have to be able to listen to a client and hear their version of a problem. Sometimes they will even tell you ‘Here’s the problem and here’s how I want you to solve it,’ and you have to navigate that conversation and say ‘I hear you, but have you considered this line of thinking? We may want to think about the approach or the solution a little differently.’”
On the increasing number of specializations:
  • “Not everyone employed in a partnership necessarily aspires to be a partner. Some may want to “double down” on a technical competence and take a specialist track. There are an increasing number of opportunities to do that now.”
On the importance of buy-in:
  • “A lot of us are “Type A” personalities -- we develop our plan and we want to just go out and execute it—but often we first need to step back and figure out whose influence and buy-in is important, and what’s our strategy to engage with them?.”
On the need for self-awareness, humility, and a sense of urgency in prospective employees:
  • “What I like to see is self-awareness and a bit of humility. I’ve been a consultant for 26 years. You can always be learning! You can always enhance both your technical skills and your leadership skills. So I love to see someone, who despite their academic and professional pedigree, has a humility about them and a genuine interest in learning and developing.”
  • “A sense of urgency with regard to our work is big, too. One week in on an engagement, we have to show progress. We have to produce. Having an innate sense of urgency will go a long way..”
On the need to have an “eyes wide open” approach with clients:
  • When we parachute in, we have to be eyes wide open to what’s going on with that organization. All clients are different in their culture and preferred work style with consultants. Some want to be collaborative, whereas some want you to lead with your point of view and then debate the topic. That can be a good chemistry and rapport-building thing. You have to quickly pick up on their preference. You can’t just bring “your wonderful aura” to the client! Your work style has to mesh with theirs.”