Insights on Talent Management by Ajay Bhatia, Innodata


In conversation with Ajay Bhatia (Innodata) on Identifying & Retaining Top Talent

How do you identify a talented employee from among the many employees of your organization?

For me, Talent is a recurring pattern of individual behavior, coupled with ability, which can be productively applied to achieve excellence. Being only competent, is not enough to be a talent. The competent person should be committed to the causes and goals of the organization, and should be able and willing to contribute to the future success of the organization.

Past performance should not be the only criteria to select top talent (hi-potential) employees. In fact research shows that only 1 in 7 top performers is a Top Talent as well. So besides performance, organizations must look at other distinguishing factors like, Career Focus, Potential Leader tenets, People Manager tenets (if applicable), etc. Some questions that need to be answered are “Has the individual been investing in his/her development and owns that piece, is he /she a quick Learner, does he/she deliver beyond the requirements of the current role, does the individual know his/her gaps and aspires to overcome them. Similarly other factors are important, like “Is individual able to deal creatively and effectively with Problems & difficulties, able to prioritize, innovate, demonstrates critical thinking, collaborate, develop teams around him/her, aligned with Company values, etc.

Like EWS (Early Warning Signals) for attrition, what can be some of the early signals shown by an employee that can define his success in a role?

Some early signals could be:

  • Demonstrating ability to adapt to the changing needs in his/her business environment through personal resilience.
  • Reaching out to different members of the team/outside the team, to work together in an collaborative environment to meet common goals.
  • Demonstrates accountability by meeting deadlines and delivering as per commitment.
  • Demonstrates consistency in words and actions.
  • Able to manage adhoc or ambiguous situations/ issues at the workplace, without getting too much hassled.

What measures do you deploy to retain your top talent (hi-potential) employees?

Organization has to have a concerted Talent Strategy in place to identify, develop and retain high potential employees. While doing so it is important to ensure that such differentiation is not seen negatively by those who are not part of the program. There can be no standard list of measures that organizations can use to develop/retain their top talent employees.

Some pointers while creating any such program-

  • What’s in it for the organization (i.e. who are the right leaders for the organization and how do they impact the business results),
  • What’s in it for the individual top talent (i.e. how does he/she stand to benefit both personally and professionally, fast track his career advancement and get wholesome rewarding experience)

In an endeavor to provide a differentiated employment experience, some of the steps could include, providing them higher-level support through coaching/mentoring, help them evolve their career paths that meets both their and organizational needs, providing them challenging assignments that continuously stretches their skills/competencies, differentiating their rewards as per contributions, creating tailor-made development programs that meet their needs and keeping them engaged through high-level connect program.

What are some of the challenges HR faces while implementing talent management & development framework in an organization? How can those be handled?

Some of the challenges HR faces could be:

  • Dilemma of how much differentiation could be made in the organization, since a High potential program generally does not cover more than 2-3% of the total population.
  • How to ward off pressure from influential line managers who want to nominate their favourite team members irrespective of the criteria?
  • How much of the organizational budgets should be earmarked for this program and demonstrate ROI? Should the focus be on short-term achievements or long-term outcomes?
  • How do we enlist the voluntary support of senior stakeholders in the system and make the program participative?
  • How to structure the program such that Top Talent do not take it as a burden and “yet another activity to be tick-marked”, etc.


To manage these challenges, it is important that such talent management programs are driven from the to and:

  • clear talent strategy is in place which has been adequately socialized
  • demonstrate leadership commitment on the program along with joint ownership of the talent pool among senior leadership team
  • continuous managerial support and co-ownership of the individual career plans
  • prior clarity on the budgets and resources to be leveraged to make the program successful, extensive and
  • continuous communication, and effective monitoring is the key to achieve the enshrined objectives.

What are the unique/differentiating competencies required in a successful Talent Management professional?

Some of the key skills/competencies that a successful Talent management professional should have, are:

  • Good understanding of the business, L&D and OD
  • Relationship builder, in order to leverage support of all stakeholders in the organization
  • Planned, tactical and calculated approach
  • Ability to innovate and strike a balance between organizational needs and individual aspirations
  • Good program management skills
  • Outcome focused rather than transactional mind-set
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