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Emerging markets disposals lead RSA to rethink talent management

Insurance firm RSA is disposing of several of its emerging markets businesses, meaning it needs to rethink its talent management strategy, its senior HR team have told HR magazine.

Group director of talent and organisational effectiveness Jeremy Phillips-Powell said as the company has changed its strategy to focus on consolidation in more established markets, it has to “be smarter” about developing talent.

“In the old days you could send someone high potential off to an emerging market to run it,” he said. “They could make mistakes without the world watching them. It was safe.”

“You could earn your stripes and make your mistakes quickly,” agreed group HR director Vanessa Evans. “We have lost the ability to do that so we have got to think differently about how we grow talent.”

Now that RSA is focusing on fewer consolidated markets, Phillips-Powell said the required capabilities are different.

“We are looking to change how we develop people internally,” he said. “It’s about succession planning: what are the roles that still exist and that give people the right amount of stretch and experience?"

An example, he said, is giving high potential talent large teams to manage as a stretch assignment to help them scale up to leadership.

He said: “We have got roles where 500 people report in to you, so it’s about seeing those as a chance to give people leadership skills you just don’t get in an underwriting job, for example. It’s repositioning some of the opportunities we have got and attracting people to them.

Evans added: “Career paths will change. You will need to step sideways to do a people leadership or head office job.”

RSA group corporate centre HR director Melanie Steel said HR needs to think about “horizontal and vertical” career paths as businesses change. She advised HR directors at companies going through transformation to “exploit the change situation” as a chance to give high potential talent the opportunity to stretch themselves.

RSA has experienced difficulties over recent years, issuing three profit warnings during 2013’s storm payouts, and suffering accounting irregularities at its Irish division, which left a £200 million black hole in its finances and resulted in the dismissal of senior executives. It is now focusing on culture change and transformation.