Bolstering the Human Side

By eweek  |  Posted 2003-03-10

Bolstering the Human Side

Building a top-notch enterprise architecture isnt just about getting networks, servers and other technical resources to mesh. Its also about developing the human resources—the knowledge, experience, skills and perspective—needed to execute a strategy. eWeek Executive Managing Editor/Features Jeff Moad recently spoke with Garry Griffiths, executive vice president and chief human resources officer at American Management Systems Inc., about how the global IT and business consulting provider is enhancing the human side of its enterprise architecture.

eWeek: In the current economic environment, many organizations seem to feel its acceptable to cut back on training, recruiting and management development. Does that make sense to you?

Griffiths: I take the opposite view. I think its during a down market that you need to regard training as an investment, not a cost, difficult though it is. Its during a down market that you need to take the opportunity of a breathing space where you create an employer-of-choice brand both inside and outside so that youre ahead of the curve of economic growth that is inevitable.

You need to do the following things: First, you need to make sure the executive team fully understands that the investment is about providing career development opportunities, moving people around so that they feel they get stretch and personal and professional growth. Second, you need to prioritize training to make sure that there is appropriate training. Through a new performance management system, we are able to find out from the relationship between the line manager and the managed who needs particular training. In order to help the line, I have now taken all training costs central so that the line has no [ability] to say, "I cant afford it."

On [career] development ... we want to develop a succession plan internally. ... [We will] build a top talent pool of 200 people AMS-wide, who will be senior executives in the future, to give genuine hope to the people who are already here.

eWeek: How do you go about evaluating the companys return-on-training investment, and how do you go about helping senior management understand the value of that investment?

Griffiths: First, the executive management of AMS fully understands. ... I dont have to prove it to them. In fact, they are putting pressure on me to say, "Deliver more development and training; make it more e-learning so that we have to take fewer people away from their day-to-day work." So theres no ideological debate.

In real economic terms, I can prove [return-on-training investment] in the following way: First, on the actual skills training, its easy to prove return on investment both in terms of the shorter duration of programs and the applicability with actual work with the client.

Second, we have an emerging leaders program, which is a form of management training. Its a bit harder to specify a quick return on that. But we obviously have the normal evaluation that says, "Was the training worthwhile?" But over time, were also going to test with the line manager to say, "Why did you send so-and-so on the program? Did that person come back? And did that person do better over the next few months because theyd been in that training?"

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eWeek: How do you go about establishing yourself as an employer of choice when, like many organizations, youre reducing the number of employees in the company?

Griffiths: What weve done is to say that each business unit must look at its business plan, look at its resources and look at the market within which it operates and try to forecast what different skills it needs. So, yes, we have lost people, but its not what used to happen—a companywide layoff scheme. Its much more granular and matched with a particular geography and marketplace. ... Weve brought in about 700 people this year as well.

eWeek: What types of skills are going to be critical during the next year or two for a company like AMS?

Griffiths: We need to do more product development, as we need to modernize some of the products we have—our billing systems, our credit systems—to support the banks and the financial services sector as well as, obviously, the core business we have in the public sector. More and more, we recognize that a lot of our clients come to AMS because we have a formidable reputation for our technical know-how, so we need more technical people who can look at the next wave and figure out the software engineering side.

The last two types of skills [we will need] are solution selling and development capability—in other words, a merger of the management consultancy with the technical side. And, lastly, project managers. Project managers who have some experience of what it is to sell in a professional services organization.

eWeek: On the technical side, are there specific skill sets that youll be looking for?

Griffiths: No. I think generally were trying to avoid narrowing the skill sets down. Part of the problem generally in the previous few years was that people became too narrowly focused. The only limitation I would put on the technical skills is [we want] people who have experience with different technical solutions and people who have the imagination and the creativity to look into the future and dream new dreams.

eWeek: So how would you recommend that IT professionals go about preparing themselves to advance their careers during the next couple of years?

Griffiths: Unhesitatingly, I would say that they must be business-focused first. Its not difficult to get narrow, specific technical people. Its not difficult to get MBAs. What is difficult to get is people with business and political savvy who can fly by the seats of their pants, who can make a decision after theyve got 40 percent of the facts rather than 70 or 80 or 90. More and more, were going to live in a world where we have to manage ambiguity in an age of uncertainty.

eWeek: Lately, its been a buyers market for IT talent. What are your expectations on that going forward?

Griffiths: I think the market is going to change drastically from the second half of 2003 and beyond. I think at the moment people are available because of the economic situation. In certain sectors—and our industry is one of them—things are going to change, but not necessarily in terms of money. I think people, particularly at the senior level, understand that we are never going to return to those crazy [dot-com] days.

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