How NetApp uses talent management to navigate business change

Hiring employees who are resilient in the face of change has been one of three keys to the commercial success of multinational data management and storage company NetApp, according to its managing director (ANZ), Glenn McPherson.

Change is a constant in the environment in which NetApp operates, said McPherson, who explained that it is important that employees be comfortable with managing change.

“We hire with the resilience of our employees in mind, not just to the pace of our business, but also in the face of constant market volatility,” he explained.

To help employees and the broader business manage this change, McPherson said that “planning well ahead” can help navigate the uncertainties of change.

“A clear vision for the future helps bring much-needed unity amidst constant disruption,” he said.

“That vision has altered from time to time, but keeping it farsighted means that adjusting is never a drastic process.”

Having a diverse workforce has also helped in navigating change at NetApp, which employs some 10,700 people globally and generated US$5.54 billion ($7.07 billion) in revenues last financial year.

“You simply cannot build a cohesive, successful business in today’s marketplace without a variety of ideas and experiences feeding into your strategy,” said McPherson.

“You need to hire talent who fit your culture, of course, but that doesn’t equate to hiring carbon-copy employees,” he explained.

“Groupthink is the antithesis of innovation, which is why we focus especially hard on bringing as many perspectives to the table as we can within our cultural guidelines.”

“HR can’t afford to be a roadblock to any organisation, not when competition for talent is so fierce”

Strong talent management has made a difference in NetApp’s business, according to McPherson, who explained that making hard decisions often defines the strength of a talent strategy.

“For example, at one point we replaced a sales manager who was very popular within the business, with someone else who was still supportive but brought greater discipline and rigour to the team structure.

“That market had been struggling to grow, but after the change, we saw more than 30 per cent growth within two years,” he said.

“The right decisions aren’t always popular but if you prove you have your teams’ best interests at heart, they’ll come to respect if not always agree with your management practice.”

HR also plays a key role in this process, and McPherson said there are a number of ways in which the function realises commercial value in the business.

“HR can’t afford to be a roadblock to any organisation, not when competition for talent is so fierce,” he said.

“Unfortunately, HR practitioners have a reputation for being more focused on strict rules and regulations than bringing out the best in people – although that’s changing fast.”

McPherson explained that NetApp’s HR strategy is closely aligned to corporate goals and commercial results, while also acting as the guardian of unique culture and business values.

“That means not only building a strong management team – out of both new and, wherever possible, internal hires – but also investing deeply in developing every employee we take on, no matter their level of seniority,” he said.

We lose a lot less people – and incur far less costs as a result”

“At the same time, we have to be ready to make tough decisions at times – particularly when faced with non-performance or conflict with our values.

“It’s difficult when it involves people you’ve invested in, but if you can get that right then almost everything else falls into place.”

HR and good people management have contributed to a number of hard outcomes in NetApp – one being lower turnover in the business.

“We lose a lot less people – and incur far less costs as a result,” said McPherson, who said NetApp’s voluntary attrition is low compared to other companies in the IT industry.

NetApp, which recently ranked within the top ten of the Best Places to Work Study for the tenth year in a row, uses surveys like Great Place to Work’s to gauge internal sentiment and address employees’ needs and goals, said McPherson.

“After all, two-thirds of those rankings come from internal feedback,” he said.

Another measure of the above is that 40 per cent of all jobs are filled by internal candidates.

“This is a direct result of strong succession planning in my opinion,” said McPherson.

“It shows that we’re able to map out our employees’ career aspirations and skills, then effectively match them to opportunities when they arise,” he said.

“More internal hires mean greater longevity of culture, more fulfilled employees – and of course far lower costs of hiring and training new people.”

“We take no nonsense when it comes to breaches of our values”

McPherson believes that there are a number of reasons why NetApp is consistently recognised as a great place to work – all of which come from its commitment to culture.

The Best Places to Work study is used as a benchmark every year, and it helps inform the business as to how it goes about improving its strategy based on what employees really say.

“Striking the balance between top-down direction and employee-led feedback plays a critical role in making this a great place to work,” said McPherson.

“We take no nonsense when it comes to breaches of our values, but at the same time we encourage honesty and accountability more than trying to police everyone with our own singular interpretation of said values.”

McPherson also said NetApp proactively tries to put its values into practice – rewarding productive and helpful actions with monetary incentives as well as recognition throughout the business.

“On a more strategic level, succession planning at the leadership role has been essential to keeping our culture consistent and well-supported throughout the years,” he said.

“It’s easy to be recognised as a great workplace once or twice, but to rank highly ten years in a row takes commitment at all levels.

“Our HR team help to facilitate this, but it’s our people who really get behind our culture and make it work.”

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