“Nurturing talent is not an activity delegated to a particular group - managers are to be encouraged to feel that it is each one’s obligation to develop talent.”
ON ‘NURTURING TALENT’ WITH DR. NARGES MAHALUXMIVALA
Narges Mahaluxmivala is a physician with a postgraduate qualification in Physiology. During her tenure of almost three decades in the Indian pharmaceutical industry, beginning in 1969, she held positions of increasing responsibility including Board membership in a major pharmaceutical company.
Narges joined Quintiles India at its inception in 1997. Pioneering clinical development research in an environment in which awareness of GCP (Good Clinical Practice) was minimal, she led Clinical Operations over a period of 10 years up the credibility and capability curve. During that period her changing designations reflected her increasing responsibilities, the last being President, Clinical Operations, Quintiles India. She has contributed meaningfully, not only to the organization’s increasingly important role in clinical research in India but also to shaping the growth, in India, of the industry as a whole.
Narges is a member of FERCI (Federation of Ethics Review Committees in India) and currently, co chair of the clinical research committee of FICCI. She remains associated with Quintiles India as Consultant.
Over the years Narges has been instrumental in spotting talent early and nurturing them to rise to their full potential. She has groomed many individuals who are today senior leaders in the Pharmaceutical and Clinical Research domain. Empowering Times spoke to her on ‘Nurturing Talent’, a subject very close to her heart.
ET: Talent today is a ‘competitive advantage’. What does ‘Talent’ mean to an organization? How do you identify talent?
NM: I think your first question has two interpretations – 1) what ‘having’ talent means to an organization and 2) how the organization understands the word. Having talent in an organization confers, as you have also stated, a competitive advantage, as talent can be unique and non-copyable. The word ‘talent’ describes a special aptitude or capability which one individual has to a degree greater than others with similar academic backgrounds or similar technological knowledge. In addition, an individual who has high energy levels and an overall high intelligence with good analytical and social skills will also be considered talented. Talent needs to be defined for an organization and all in that organization should have the same understanding of what is being looked for. It should not be forgotten that though talent may be easily recognizable, it is often dormant, awaiting an empathetic manager to uncover it.
Identifying talent begins with an understanding of what is being looked for at the specific position level. With that in mind, recruiting and assessing managers look at different facets of the individual to make a judgment. I ask myself several questions in this regard. Some examples are: 1) does the individual ‘shine’ ? By that I mean, is he or she alert, with a positive outlook and wide and varied interests? 2) Do school, college and past work experiences indicate leadership roles in sport, committees, teams? And most important to me, 3) does the individual reveal passion and ambition when describing goals?
When assessing talent at senior cadres, there are additional attributes to look for. Chief among them are the following: 1) does the individual have the ability to look at a question in a multidimensional manner? 2) Does the individual care for people and importantly, 3) is the individual able to establish relationships and also achieve results?
ET: What are the success-factors for running an institutionalized system for identifying, developing and retaining talent?
NM: Of importance is generating a talent mindset in the organization. This is most effective if championed by senior leadership. Nurturing talent is not an activity delegated to a particular group - managers are to be encouraged to feel that it is each one’s obligation to develop talent. Training of the managers (who are carefully selected) in coaching, mentoring and empowering is essential. Talented people will continue with an organization and give of their best if they are in a ‘winning’ organization and they have managers whom they respect and in whom they have confidence. A ‘winning’ organization would have in place, besides market-matching salaries, appropriate financial and non- financial incentives, provide opportunities for continuous learning and to excel and demonstrate tangible appreciation of work well done and of work-life balance. It helps if push and pull factors are identified particularly for critical, must-retain individuals and these factors specifically dealt with.
ET: Juggling between motherhood and work is never easy and many young mothers opt to stay at home. How can organizations help talented women to maintain this balance?
NM: I am not comfortable with the word ‘juggling’ used in this context, though I am aware it is commonly employed by women who work. Though the word ‘juggling’ indicates the handling of more than one responsibility at the same time, it also implies that two or more aspects are not just balanced but balanced precariously. And the latter is not desirable for the organization or the home.
Mothers work for several reasons. Economic necessity is an easy to understand factor, especially by society in India, but women work even when that reason is not compelling. It is less easy for society to understand that women may feel the need to establish a sense of identity as individuals and realize the satisfaction that comes with achievement. Having said that, however, ‘modern’ in outlook the nuclear family is, housework and children’s homework continue to be considered a woman’s responsibility. Physical and emotional stress takes its toll and women either opt out of the work force or seek jobs that they can conduct from home often at lower remuneration.
The organization that looks at talented women as valued ‘assets’ will endeavor to create an environment which would provide meaning to their lives and create a marked ‘pull’ towards the organization. Realizing that stress and fatigue discourage high productivity, the ideal organization will take a multipronged approach – consider policies which manage energy levels of its women workers – avoiding unrealistic workloads and unreasonably long hours, provide rest rooms that are conducive to rest, may introduce flexible timings, allow work sharing if possible to allow part time attendance, working from home or if needed, child care facilities. Understanding mentors in the workplace build relationships and increase a sense of belonging. I have to remind that such policies need regular reassessment as women’s needs change with time. Also, and this must be emphasized, employee needs are to be balanced against productivity and the latter must never be neglected.
ET: What is your advice to young female professionals who are constantly juggling issues and desperately seeking work-life balance?
NM: I have already made known my views on the word ‘juggling’, but would like to comment on the other term used here – ‘desperately-seeking’ If a talented woman is ‘desperately’ seeking work-life balance, I cannot but feel that a) her understanding of the phrase work-life balance is not quite correct and b) she is not experiencing either achievement or enjoyment. I would ask her that she dispassionately reviews her reasons for working and as important, who at home is affected by it. If there is no serious compulsion to work and if the children are affected by her absence from the home or if there are other pressures like an aged, ailing parent who needs constant attention, I would suggest that she temporarily gives up work. Talented women are re-employable
(though seniority may be lost) and can return to the workplace when circumstances in the home change. I know a number of women who have done this and they indeed have a sense of fulfillment. I want to use a quotation here which is originally about fathers, but I am modifying it to apply to women – “Not every successful woman is a good mother, but every good mother is a successful woman”.
Your question also mentions the much-used phrase, work-life balance, which I would like to comment on. First of all, the word ‘life’ which indicates enjoyment of life, does not necessarily begin solely when work ends. Also, the word ‘balance’ used in this context is commonly understood to be equal balance, an either-or concept. Such understanding allows the belief that if one of the two sides increase, the other should reduce. Consequently, the phrase is often considered to represent the number of hours spent in the office and outside it. In actual fact, the term work-life balance takes into account the achievement AND the enjoyment experienced by the woman and is therefore never constant. It varies because each of us has different priorities at different times of life and under different circumstances. For example, the single woman and the woman with small children will think of work-life balance differently. Essential is the fact that in each case, a balance needs to be struck for that particular woman between work and home.
Such balance is contributed to immensely if the organization provides congenial conditions in the work place. These have been referred to earlier. Enlightened organizations will develop strategies to maintain work-life balance for its talented women, but often overlooked in discussions is what the employee can do for herself which contributes to work-life balance. Working women who are successful at work and who enjoy life, prioritize, plan and schedule not just at work but also at home. They make efforts to keep weekends free from work and consciously develop new interests. These women have a wide circle of friends. Most important, these women are not afraid of hard work. Such women have control over their lives and when satisfaction in a woman’s personal life is balanced with satisfaction at her job, it benefits the woman and the organization.
ET: Having nurtured talent over your career, could you please share 3 of your success secrets?
NM: I have certain principles, which I believe in, but they are not secrets and every person in an organization committed to talent management will practice them. My personal emphasis is on the following:
1) Be genuinely interested in people and in their personal and professional development – help people to develop to their fullest potential
2) Always strive to be fair and never go back on your word
3) Find ways to motivate people and demonstrate to them that they are respected and valued employees