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HCM Platform Aids Succession Planning, Retention at Alfa Corporativo

The Mexico-based Alfa Corporativo has a lot going on.

October 12, 2007
Related Topics: Performance Management

The Mexico-based Alfa Corporativo has a lot going on. The conglomerate has four business groups: Alpek (petrochemicals), Nemak (aluminum auto components), Sigma (refrigerated food) and Onexa (telecommunications). It runs production facilities in 16 countries in the Americas, Europe and Asia, and it markets products in more than 40 countries.

Recently, the company merged its four autonomous entities under one Softscape human capital management platform to facilitate succession planning efforts. Alfa Human Capital Projects Manager Veronica Elizondo Ortiz said she hopes the consolidation will not only elevate the company’s view of the HR function but also enable the seamless, effortless movement of talent around the organization.

“We have the unique opportunity to have different markets train our people to have transferable abilities,” she said. “The leaders of the conglomerate want to play chess with our human capital to their best advantage. For that, you need to be able to see your playing field. If you’re not able to see the good and bad parts of everyone in the company, it’s very hard to plan succession.”

Before implementing the new platform, Ortiz said Alfa lost a lot of management-level talent, and unable to find a growth opportunity within their current company, many employees left the organization.

Now, it’s far more common for employees to jump from one company to another, expanding their experience level and skill set via promotion without leaving the organization. Ultimately, this will provide Alfa with a cache of more skilled leaders at the top.

By the time the platform is rolled out in every company, which Ortiz said should happen by the end of next year, Alfa will be able to gather data to build company objectives for the new year, gain a clear, nine-box rating picture of the key players and what kind of development they need.

“We want to use that mining of information to create new training programs specifically for leadership or organizational skills,” Ortiz said. “We recognize that becoming a leader does not happen overnight — we’re used to someone going up the company ladder. You become your boss’ direct report and occupy his space, but we never ask ourselves if what we’re teaching the people behind us is the correct thing to do. It’s what we learned to do, but is it the correct way to lead? We’re not sure if that person has the right skills or ever knew how to lead an organization, or if that just got cascaded down.”

The platform, called Tao, which stands for “talent overview,” will collect enterprisewide data and provide a different, aggregated perspective using information in competency or leadership reviews. Essentially, Ortiz said it will help steer people in the direction the company wants to go.

“We are very used to — especially in Latin America — using human resources as a staff function,” she explained. “It’s the function that hires people and makes sure they have their benefits, that kind of stuff. HR should actually be a key player in the strategic direction the company wants to take. For instance, this year, we want to buy a new plant and grow our sales by 20 percent. We need to enlist HR and ask how we’re going to get that through the human capital that we have. We need to motivate people to move that way. It’s like the till on the boat — this platform is going to steer us in a way that will always be the best practice.”

HR trends move fast, and Ortiz said Alfa can’t afford to waste time programming new modules or having developers do this or that. The HCM platform will give the company a level of certainty that everyone is conducting the same process. There won’t be any independent systems or opportunities to stray from one standard and lose that valuable basis for talent comparison.

“When I want to cross-compare people who are in different companies, if their evaluations are very different, there’s no way to compare apples and oranges — this way we’ll have one catalog of organizational competencies, one way of evaluating people,” Ortiz said. “We have one form and one process where we do a leadership review and succession planning, the process by which each person nominates successors. All of that is the same in each company.”

This process standardization was done six months before the platform’s implementation and provided quite a few bumps and bruises as Alfa battled through different company cultural issues, negotiated with various managers, acclimated them to the incoming change, established best practices and even adapted the Softscape tool for the Latin American business culture.

“It’s like any process of change,” Ortiz said. “It’s going to draw some blood, but I am convinced, in the end, this is going to be a better, more objective way to allow the enterprise to grow and give us a path to mature as a company, as a culture, into practices that will benefit the employee more. That is what I’m looking for — something that will let us grow into better work practices in the next century.”

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