Tag Archives: talent

The one with the peer’s pressure

It’s very easy (in my opinion) to admire Baroness Martha Lane-Fox. She created a successful business (lastminute.com), she’s given her time and energy to public service (as UK Digital Champion), she put money into the pleasure of bad singing (Lucky Voice), she’s overcome adversity (a significant car accident) and most importantly she replies to my tweets! The only thing I struggle with is she’s only a year older than me which has me thinking what I’ve been wasting my time doing!!


In celebration of the 25th Anniversary of the World Wide Web she lead a debate in the House of Lords yesterday and having seen her tweets and a piece on the BBC News I ended up reading the full text of her speech that you can find here. As a brief aside another Peer Lord Jim Knight crowd sourced his speech from social media and whilst I am still recovering from the blow of my input not being included it does make me marvel at how the world has changed.

Whilst there is lots of interest in the speech the line that got me thinking was this one:

“only 4 ftse 100 businesses have a cto or digital executive on their plc boards and yet all of these businesses are facing potential upheaval.”

You don’t have to look hard to find a blog in support or challenge of the so-called Social HR movement and how we are apparently embracing social technologies to improve the way we deliver our roles. You would be hard pressed to avoid a blog citing yammer, jive or some other community and the impact it’s having on collaboration or community within organisations. The reason Baroness L-Fs quote got me thinking was that there isn’t much discussion about digital and/or social capability in senior managers, leaders or board directors.

Sure there’s stats about CEOs that tweet etc but they are usually in pursuit of brand, customer or staff and increasing the transparency or accessibility of the leader. But what about those CEOs who really understand the impact that the pace of technological evolution is and will continue to have on their organisations? How many CTOs are lying awake at night obsessing about the disruptive impact of technology rather than the go-live of the new data warehouse or the cost of SAP support?

Yesterday morning, by chance, I had breakfast with my first proper boss (from waaaaay back when) who ran a publishing company. I found myself saying how hindsight was a wonderful thing and referencing a conversation I’d had with him and my then manager about our under investment in the web and the impact I thought it was having on the business. It was a salutary tale about the dangers of trying to influence people with a beer in your hand but it remains true the only 20/20 business vision is hindsight!

If HR are truly the custodians or challengers of talent in the organisation is it not incumbent on us to not just play with the latest shiny and count our retweets but to actually challenge the leaders of our organisations to ensure that they are equipped to lead in a world where the rules of the game are being reinvented monthly rather than once a decade?

If you could picture having breakfast with one of your team in 15 years time what would be your hindsight observation about what you would have done differently to ensure the business was fit for the technology challenge? It certainly wouldn’t be how many twitter followers you had although it may include the fact that Baroness Lane-Fox replied to your tweets!!



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The one with the quality job

I’m not sure who first said “better, faster, cheaper – pick any two” but it does seem to be enduringly true.

I was recently invited to be part of a judging panel on the “In-House Recruitment Awards” (thanks Mark & Simon) and was assigned a few categories to do the initial judging prior to a bun fight round table with my fellow judges. There was a great deal of enthusiasm evident in most of the submissions but I must confess having read through the 9 or so entries I was disappointed at what seemed to be the focus for those entering as the best…

I first worked in recruitment as a consultant and then in the 2000s moved in-house at a time when recruitment was a burgeoning speciality and the role was still mostly completed by generalists. At the time, from my perspective the focus seemed to be on process (HR professionals to focus on process?! NO!) and not enough on either of the key stakeholders in the relationship – the hiring manager and the candidate.

I was encouraged as my career developed in recruitment to see some of the great facets of agency recruiters – proactivity, service focus, relationship management, were becoming evident in those who were taking in-house roles but for the fight was always about getting the right person in the right role at the right cost/time (in that order). The budget was something to be managed not something that managed me and line manager expectations were to be soothed as me/my team beavered away to try to find the right person.

What made me slightly nervous in reading the award entries that success (and the subsequent definition of best) was largely driven by time and cost – faster and cheaper with little or no attention paid to the quality of the candidate. There didn’t seem to be any mention of any post induction measurement, performance, retention or in its broadest sense talent.

If you ask the board of an organisation what they need from their recruitment function I imagine (and I have asked) their focus will be about increasing the capability of the organisation, about hiring people with potential and about the future prospects of the business. Whilst compliance with budget and efficiency of hire are of course important (especially to the line manager and the finance director) they do not in the true sense add value to the organisation past the day the new employee starts.

I think the recruitment profession as it now seems to want to distinguish itself from the remainder of the HR, needs to take a step back and think about what represents true value to the business, what it really wants to be known for and if in the list of better, faster, cheaper it may be about choosing the first and one other…

Just as a small post script I received an in-mail on Linkedin this afternoon from a recruiter working for one organisation but on site and in the name of another. The ‘host’ organisation is one that likely has a tough retention challenge and who’s wider brand has taken a hammering in the last few years. This was her missive:

Dear Rob,

Hope you are well.

I am currently recruiting for a Senior OE Specialist. I came across your cv. Pleae could you let me know your current situation? Are you available. Alternatively please pass my contact details to anyone you know that may be interested in this role.

Better? Faster? Cheaper?


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The one without the silver bullet

You know those breakfast briefings you get invited to? They usually start at o’my god o’clock and are somewhere in London? This is about one of those. The thing that distinguished this session from most was it opened with one of the speakers saying “what we’re going to tell is not a golden bullet if that’s what you were hoping for”. My interest was piqued

This particular session was hosted by Wickland Westcott with their client the Co-operative Group. For those of you that aren’t aware of WW (which may be many as they are one of the best kept secrets in HR consulting) they are a small/boutique firm with offices in Macclesfield & London. I must confess now that I’ve done a fair amount of work with WW and rate them highly so may not be at my most objective in what follows.

The session was co-presented by the consultant who’d led the work, Keith McCambridge and the HRD for Talent from The Co-operative, Jackie Lanham. That was the first difference – it wasn’t a consultancy saying ‘this is how we saved our client’ and it wasn’t a practitioner saying ‘this is what we did….oh and they helped’. It was Keith who said the golden bullet line (I think he meant silver bullet) and what followed was not a review of process and procedure but rather a narrative of the shared experience of delivering a succession plan to the Co-operative.

Some of the key points shared in the session were:

Fear is a great motivator

Rather than using an argument based on the logic of “we really really should have a succession plan you know”, the motivator behind getting the work done was – look at M&S and Vodafone, they didn’t have robust succession and look at how much trouble it caused them. Not sexy, not sweet but effective!

Focus on the people who want it

The succession process at the Co-operative wasn’t an obligatory/everyone must fit in a box process but rather focussed on the people who demonstrated desire to want to advance. This sparked an interesting debate about the fact that driven people are not always competent to move forward and the competent people sometimes don’t want to move forward.

Don’t hide from the Well Poisoners

A well poisoner is a term I first heard attributed to Walt Disney and describes those people who are not only negative towards your change/initiative but actively work against your change. In this case these people were involved early on and some were included in the steering group for the project.

Process is a turn off – hide it!

As with a lot of projects of this nature, there is a lot of process involved in making it actually land. However, for the participants and the leadership this is not the element that will engage or excite them – hide as much as you can.

Context is key

The Co-operative is a high growth acquisitive organisation that means new and challenging roles will be created and drive the need for succession. This context means the appetite you create by engaging in succession planning can be satisfied by the organisation but being aware of the context in your organisation is important before embarking.

I really enjoyed the session (and the breakfast) and it was good to hear of an organisation focussing on and more importantly embracing succession planning not just as a paper exercise but as something that becomes part of the strategic development of the organisation. Jackie did share the fact that 2 executive appointments had been made internally that previously would have required external search – more than paying for the process – clear ROI, nice!

I await my next briefing….but in the meantime, Keith – cash no cheques and Jackie if I could direct you here

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The one with influencing chess

There is a lot of talk both on and offline about influencing CEOs with regard to the talent agenda. Whether that be the (so called) War for Talent, the need to invest and retain, developing better leaders etc, etc

What’s interesting to me (at least) is the focus is always influencing the CEO and I must confess that given the number of things the average CEO has to think about the idea that the focus is influencing them and not about even getting a meeting with them….

Earlier in my career, my influencing style was described (in a performance review) as that of a petulant 5 year old cheating at draughts. It’s quite a ballsy comment but I had a good relationship with my boss which allowed conversations of this direct nature but good relationships aside even I coloured a little at this comparison.

If you think of the rules of draughts, every piece carries equal value, has a limited ability to move and until a king is formed can only move forwards.

What she went on to describe was my influencing style as go into a conversation/meeting present at a given (or taken) opportunity my idea/solution and wait for everyone else to agree with me. When they didn’t I would metaphorically (or in one case literally) pout, take my toys and retreat to my private sand pit to sulk and think of mean names to call those involved.

Returning to drafts she likened it to the 5 year picking up one piece, moving it straight down the middle of the board and shouting “King me!” When a King was refused, moving the piece back and refusing to play anymore.

What she described to me was that building influence within an organisation was more akin to playing chess. You needed to build your position through thoughtful positioning with people in different parts of the organisation who could influence those at the top of the business who ultimately made decisions.

If you think of the rules of chess, it is by nature far more strategic, different pieces have different abilities and perceived value are more or less useful in building to an eventual checkmate.

She then coached me through a process in attempting to land a major change we were both working on. Both of us knew we would have little support from the certain teams (who were effected most by the change, let’s call them operations), finance would be behind us as it saved money, but the commercial and marketing leads could go either way.

Working up to a crunch meeting I worked with a senior member of the finance team to ensure the case was attractive and airtight. I worked with senior players in both commercial and marketing to build cases for its attractiveness to our customers and was even given the opportunity to speak to a couple of them. I worked with senior members of the (mythical of course) Operations team who, as it turned out, were grudgingly supportive of the outcome if not the process but I better understood their objections and could craft rebuttals and work arounds for most of them.

4 weeks later the crunch meeting came, I delivered the slide deck (including all my supporting evidence), took the questions, offered the rebuttals and sat waiting for the jury to deliver its verdict. 5 minutes of chatter, beard stroking, calculator pounding and conjecture followed but without input from the CEO who had sat watchful at the other end of the table. I must confess I feared the worst until in minute 6 the CEO uttered a phrase that made my day, week, month and bonus “Well….we’re going to do it, right?”

I was a converted Chess player from then on and although it has taken me some time (and on occasion I still fail) to control the rush of blood to the head when the objections fly, I think that conversation in that performance review probably had more of an impact on my career than most others.

So to bring this back to where it started, maybe people need to stop asking how to influence the CEO but rather ask how to influence the people who influence the CEO and how to influence those the CEO turns to when they want to validate something.

In the meantime, bishop to queen’s rook 7


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The one with finite talent

Forewarned is forearmed: this post contains more references to the rugby world cup. Any complaints should be sent by pigeon to “I warned you, c/o its right here at the top”…

I am Welsh. I was born in Wales, I was raised in Wales, my secondary education was in Wales but no I don’t speak Welsh (although I can tell you I don’t like coffee which is fortunately true). I have lived “up England” since 1994 and as one of my former colleagues put it I now sound more “toff than taff” but if there’s one thing that makes me sound very Welsh it’s shouting at the TV during a rugby match.

The Rugby World Cup started in New Zealand last week which brings teams from all over the world to compete in a knock out style tournament to be the World Champions. The current holders are South Africa. Depending on the track record and form of the team will be where perception of their ability to actually win the whole thing, make the last eight, get out of the groups, put up a valiant effort or just have a load of fun with it.

If we park the rugby for a moment (but we will return)…

Neil Usher (@theatreacle) tweeted some statistics this morning from an article he was reading in the Economist. The one that caught my attention was this one:

“Manpower survey – only 27% of businesses feel they have the talent needed to implement their business strategy”

With tongue firmly placed in cheek I responded thus:

“Or is there business strategy just unrealistic and only developed to keep the share price buoyant?”

Banter ensued and we all went about our mornings….but it planted a seed in my mind and having spent around 5 hours in the car today that seed had plenty of time to put down roots.

If you take the Welsh team as an example of any international rugby team they have finite resource. There are rules and regulations (which attempts have been made to circumvent) as to who qualifies to be able to legally play for Wales. Therefore if you are Warren Gatland (the current Welsh coach) there are a fixed number of players you can select for your team.

Mr Gatland cannot:

  • Poach a great player from another team
  • Hope against hope that some player will mystically apply for his team and turn his fortunes around

He has to make the best of what he’s got and whilst there are clubs that the individual players are contracted to, he can only field a team from the players that can legally play for the national team. Therefore his strategy and the expectations he manages around it (and trust me there is a lot of expectation) have to be on the realistic prospects of the talent he has available. He has significant resources for training and that activity is also supported through the clubs.

Mr Gatland may make a determination based on the talent available that his strategy and expectation will be to make the final 8 of the tournament whilst I believe Graham Henry (who coaches New Zealand) will need to emigrate if his strategy is not winning the whole thing!


Rather than saying they don’t have the talent needed to implement their strategy would the 73% of respondent organisations to the survey quoted in the Economist not be better served by taking a different view and saying “these are the people we have, this is the best we can do with them and that can inform the strategy”

I know this is a simple view to a complex situation and the illustration only served me to provoke a shift in perspective that may make organisations think differently before running off to poach the star player.

Incidentally if Wales are expecting “to win the whole thing” I think we’ve got some expectations to manage and quick….England however…HUGE expectation 😉


Note: this post was edited following the comment from @alexhens below


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The one with the internal stock market

During a meeting this morning I used the phrase (and I don’t know if I need to credit it) the internal stock market, to describe how people are perceived and how talent is managed within an organisation. The person I was meeting expressed some enthusiasm for the phrase and in the time since the meeting the idea has been turning over in my brain and here’s where I’ve got to so far…

Stocks are valued on a perception of future performance, based on cashflow projections derived from strategy validated by track record. Is this how we perceive employees and does this point to the perennial debate about performance vs. potential?

Companies present to the market on a regular basis their projections, strategy and review their track record.  Is this your performance review or the update to the board? Is this your chance to position your internal stock within the business?

Analysts crunch numbers and make recommendations. They provide the models to value the stock. They produce numbers and recommendations but eventually it’s investors who buy or sell. So are HR the analysts? Providing the model for the investors (the line management or business leadership) to make investment decisions?

Some investors are after long term value, some dabble and some are relatively small. Is this akin to support to develop potential or the need for quick performance to remain credible? Does the size of the investor align to the influence and power of whoever is rating you or sponsoring you?

According to the New York Stock Exchange a blue chip stock is a stock with a “reputation for quality, reliability and the ability to operate profitably in good times and bad”. Does this relate to those employees are just known to get it done. Whatever happens whatever the circumstances they just deliver? But will their value increase dramatically?

I haven’t finished thinking about this yet but thought the analogy may be improved by sharing it and challenging it. Also I am sure there’s something about bull & bear markets and where does organisational politics meet shorting stock?

Anyway, that’s as much as I’ve got so far….anyone else got anything?


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The one with a battle not a war

For at least the past decade discussion has abounded about the war for talent. When I first interviewed for an HR job a friend who is a Senior HR practitioner told me to avoid using the phrase as it would sound like meaningless jargon. I followed her advice then (and got the job) but continue to see the phrase in print (online and offline) and featuring on many conference programmes.

It appears with my limited perspective that the biggest focus in the war for talent, or least in the discussions I see is the acquisition of talent (recruitment in normal language). Whilst ensuring an organisation hires great people is absolutely key in ensuring the health and effectiveness of the organisation – it is only a battle, it is NOT the war.

The other major battle is termed by some talent development (Learning & Development in my language but to my Dad I work in training) and I promise this post isn’t another one all about L&D. But it is about Talent, and what seems to now be termed talent mapping/planning (succession planning in old skool language)

In the past few weeks I have been talking to people in several different contexts about my views on talent. When the subject of succession planning rears its head, as it inevitably does, it amazes me how much focus is given firstly to the operation of the exercise (the project management elements) and secondly the administration of the process (the tools or system used). What appears to be given little attention is the actual content of said plan…

What largely seems to happen is that line managers are asked to assess their teams and fill in some form of document or chart with an indication of what roles that individual will do in a specified amount of time. Now I accept there are some organisations that do this very well but it appears most do something rudimentary.

So let’s have a look at the pitfalls associated with a basic or rudimentary process:

  • It’s largely based on the subjective opinion of the line management
  • The investment in objective measurement of either performance or potential is often limited
  • It is often married to a evolving or flawed performance management system
  • The balance between current performance and individual potential often skews to assessment being made on performance
  • It often doesn’t consider options wider than the current function an individual is working in
  • It is often subjugated to ‘business as usual’ and becomes a compliance exercise rather than attention being paid to individual and organisational potential

This list could go on and on and as previously stated isn’t a view on the best practice that exists in some organisations but my perception on what happens in some organisations that maybe haven’t seen (or been influenced to) the value of investing in their succession plan.

Views abound on many parts of this subject and an interesting view from the other side of the fence can be found in this post  from Katie McNab.

People don’t appear on a balance sheet. If they did you would have to depreciate them, give information on their expected life span and what investments are being made to ensure that life is achieved or exceeded. Whilst a machine in a factory receives planned and preventative maintenance and effort is put into the next generation of upgrades, additions, capacity extensions and ensuring that machine runs as efficiently as possible. Due to the lack of objective (and for that read financial) measures around people it appears they don’t receive the level of attention they would benefit from.

So why did I write this? Firstly because the thought has been bouncing around my head but probably more to ask that the next time you hear/use the phrase the war for talent you think about all the battles on all the fronts and how important your existing employees are to the future success of your business.

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