Humanity, Energy, Respect & Recognition at #WHLive2023

We used to leave our jobs because the factory closed. Today, we leave jobs because we aren’t being recognised

Ester Perel, the best selling author on modern relationships, was an interesting choice of keynote speaker for the opening day of Workhuman Live 2023. Her research puts her in a good position to look our wider relationships, including the ones we have with work. She told us that we used to leave marriages because we wanted to be happy – now we leave them because we believe we could be happier. She then continued on to the world of work with the quote at the start. 

There has been a change in how, when, where, and why we work. Previously we would have stayed with an organisation for most of our careers, but now we don’t just look for stability, but for different things such as how we are treated, the opportunities that may be available, the connections we build with colleagues and management. Most research that I have seen in recent years has shown that the top reason for joining – and staying – with an organisation is having the opportunity to to grow, develop and learn new skills. We want to be recognised for who we are and what we can achieve. Connection is important, with Ester telling us how relational energy is crucial to unleashing the potential within everyone inside an organisation.

The themes of Workhuman Live 2023 were very much around humanity, energy and respect. Workhuman CEO Eric Mosley opened the conference by talking about bringing humanity back to the workplace. Their research showed almost half of our workforces (43%) feel invisible, unseen, and feel like they don’t matter. Simple regular recognition can make employees 5 times less likely to leave, and 5 times more likely to see growth opportunities. Regular recognition can cut employee turnover in half. Humanity in the workplace also helps improve wellbeing, mental health and resilience. We need to let people bring ‘who they are’ to work and not expect them to leave it at the door.

Recognition also impacts the giver, not just the receiver. Research showed that those who had given recognition in the previous 2 months were more likely to love their job, recommend their company to others, be highly engaged and say they have a positive work experience. After the period of change and uncertainty for individuals and businesses that has followed the Covid pandemic and current global cost of living concerns, it is the stability that leadership can bring which many need. It was concerning to see research that found 43% of employees feeling invisible at work – employees who don’t feel seen, feel like they don’t matter.

Energy was also at the forefront. Speaker Geoff McDonald told us: “Your people aren’t the most important asset.  The energy of your people is your most important asset. We cannot be energised without being healthy, physically and mentally, so why isn’t wellbeing a strategic priority?”. Whilst author Simon Alexander Ong asked us: “Why are you holding your most important meetings on Mondays when we know energy won’t be as high that day?”.

Maybe HR teams can provide the answer – although one of my favourite event quotes, from HR legend Steve Browne, sounded an appropriate word of warning – “If people say “I have to go to HR” you are not part of the company. You’re outside the company

The Workhuman conference itself was as enlightening, motivating and through provoking as ever. And this year I was also able to record 2 podcast interviews in my ‘HR Means Business’ series to dive deeper into the research and analysis around the power of recognition.

What Experience Are Our Employees Getting at Work?

For the last 15 years, Workhuman have produced research on the Evolution of Work. This year I was able to chat with Senior Research & People Data Analyst Isha Vicaria about the latest findings. 

The key points in our conversation are:

  • Importance of recognising employee work preferences
  • Finding flow when mixing office & remote locations
  • The value of Employee Resource Groups
  • The need for psychological safety at work
  • Being human at work
  • Managing stress

Helping Business Leaders to Understand the Power of Recognition

Sometimes one of the most difficult parts of implementing recognition programmes is to get full leadership buy in. For my second podcast I spoke with practice leader Brenda Pohlman about the best way to achieve this. 

The key points from our conversation are:

  • How technology can erode the personal
  • Why recognition needs its own currency
  • The problem with cash awards
  • Specificity of recognition messages
  • Creating recognition experiences
  • Detail matters for real engagement

Hope you enjoy the conversations. There was a committed, energetic, knowledgeable and downright fun group of bloggers, analysts and influencers at Workhuman Live 2023 – not least from the Humareso team! – so make sure you also check out:

Visibility and Intention: Talking about #WHLive2023 (Humareso)

Workhuman Live 2023 Recap (Humareso)

Workhuman Live 2023 Recap (Sarah Morgan)

8 Ways to Improve Hiring and Retention

Almost every piece of research covering the priorities of business leaders and senior HR professionals will conclude that recruiting and retaining the people they need is the top priority and main challenge. Research covering aspirations of employees and jobseekers will usually find opportunities for personal growth and professional development as the main drivers behind the decisions on whether to join a company and if to stay.

Over the last two years – whilst researching the book Exceptional Talent, and collaborating with HR and recruitment technology businesses and suppliers on a range of qualitative and quantitative research projects – myself and co-collaborator Matt Alder have seen how many of the traditional ways we approach hiring, development and retention are being overhauled.

Not by every business, obviously. The lived work and job hunting experiences of most employees can still leave a lot to be desired. However with more jobseekers now basing their application and joining decisions on what they perceive a company is like to work for, how they are treated during the hiring process, and what opportunities they have for growth, it will become increasingly important for every business to look at the way they approach hiring and development.

There are 8 areas that we particularly need to transform:

Workforce planning and skills forecasting

Businesses must know the skills and capabilities they will need. HR and recruitment teams should think like curators of skills, not just acquirers and developers of skills, and to do that they must understand what skills are likely to be needed and when. This calls for a more integrated approach to forecasting and planning with each area of the business encouraged to look at what they will need over future business periods. Without this it will be hard to break away from a reactive, transactional approach to hiring. This will involve looking at potential contingent solutions too — a common observation we hear from procurement and strategic workforce professionals is that HR show little or no interest in this area.

Define what you mean by talent

What makes for a successful person within the business? Forget job descriptions that are no more than lists of skills and duties that someone thought necessary years ago. Find the answers to questions like, what is the job? What will someone do? What support will they have? Is there another way for the role to be covered within the organisation? What is the growth potential?

And then look at what ‘potential’ means within the organisation. Attraction and assessment approaches need to reflect the type of business you are, and be able to identify the people who can grow within the business.

Be a place where people want to work

One thing that recent research has shown us is that over 90% jobseekers look for some form online validation of what you are like to work for. This mainly comes from looking at what employees have said on sites like Glassdoor or more general searching through Google and Facebook. Over half said the main factor in deciding if to apply for role is how the business treats its staff, which ranked higher than any other factor.

This means looking at your employee experience. Are you a place where people want to be? This is more important than engagement initiatives and having an active social scene, it’s how people feel about working for you. Do they feel supported and valued? No employee demographic is hardwired to change jobs on a regular basis. Increasingly though they do want be in organisations that are good companies to work for, and that treat them well.

Improve your recruitment process

Whether the design of your application and interview process was based on the Labours of Hercules or a less violent version of Game of Thrones, it should be a way of identifying potential rather than finding the last person standing.

Lack of feedback, too many steps, and under-prepared or disinterested interviewers all registered highly in recent research on jobseekers’ biggest frustrations. As did a feeling of being undervalued and not having their experience recognised. Three quarters drop out of application processes either because of the way they are treated, or it is too long. How a business hires is the first key component in its approach to employee experience, so design an approach that really reflects the values and culture that the business does.

Integrate effectively

Probably the most important part of the employee cycle is the on-boarding phase. Some find the expression clunky, but whatever you call it, the journey from interested applicant to successful and productive employee is one that businesses are increasingly investing in.

The main reasons why people leave jobs within first 6 to 12 months can all be traced back to how they are on-boarded or integrated. Some of it is quite simple, and again should be the outcome of treating people well rather than trying to test them. Start early, make sure that everyone has all the information they need so they don’t feel either overwhelmed or uninformed when they start, give them clear goals and milestones in their first few months, and make sure managers spend time talking to them and talking through how they are settling in.

The period between accepting a role and starting is often the time when a new hire feels they get the least information, yet it’s also the time when they need most reassurance.

Enable people to grow and develop

Increasingly becoming the most important part of employee experience, 70% of employees say that learning opportunities are essential when choosing where to work and 98% that they’re key in deciding if to stay. Many also say they need more learning to help them do their jobs. And a third don’t think they skills they already have are being utilised properly!  Business leaders are regularly worried about the skills base and knowledge in their organisation, in fact two-thirds say learning is key for business performance, so it stands to reason that supporting employee growth should be a major priority.

One way to help people develop is through internal mobility. The best new hire that one of your teams may make is likely to be someone already in the business. Help the people you already have to find new roles within the business. Futurestep found 87% of companies believing that having a strong internal mobility programme helps with attraction and retention, and OC Tanner’s research showed 3 out of 4 employees who work on special projects, outside their core role and teams, feel they grow in ways that their day to day jobs cannot offer.

Create a learning culture

A learning culture is essential. Employees expect to be able to access information and knowledge as and when they need it, to help them do their jobs well, and reach performance expectations. Make learning available across platforms and at all times – only 1 in 6 favour face to face learning with a tutor. 60% want to learn in company time, at their own direction, and 24% in their own time. Different approaches to performance management are well documented, though its apparent that outside of the case studies, conference presentations and business magazine articles, many organisations still struggle to do this effectively, leaving employees feeling that their employers don’t value employee development. 25% of employees see no value in performance reviews in the format their employers conduct them.

Rethink retention

There are several reasons why retaining relationships with ex-employees makes good sense for the business, but none of them will happen unless we get better at exiting people from the business. If it’s a performance issue then address performance and don’t make it about the person. If we don’t want to lose them then we need to leave the door open rather than sour the relationship.

Ex-employees are validators and ambassadors of the employee experience, advocates for the business itself and part of our extended knowledge network. Alumni networks play a key role in sharing product information and company news, referring and recommending prospective employees and future customers, and may well return to work for us in some capacity again.

Many companies now look to formalise these relationships through what is increasingly known as off-boarding* with tech solutions to support managing the relationship and sharing information.

More than three quarters of employees say the reputation of the company where they work impacts their job satisfaction, and 85% that how they were treated during the application and interview process determines if they decide to accept an offer.

The way you attract, hire and develop people will go a long way to determining if you retain them. Workers believe they need more learning to help them perform their jobs better. This boost to performance will help improve rewards, satisfaction and engagement. Which means they are more likely to stay, and their managers better placed to achieve successful commercial results

(Our two most recent research projects, which provided many of the statistics quoted, were with Kelly Services – involving 14,100 job seekers across 10 European countries – and with Bridge, with whom we researched a population of both HR and Learning & Development professionals, and employees)

*(and yes, I know, if you don’t like the term on-boarding you won’t like this one either)


Under New Management

This weekend sees the start of the new Premier League football season and I, for one, can’t wait. Regular readers will know that I’m an Arsenal fan, who’s been following them home and away since my early teens. But this weekend is a little more unique. For only the 4th time in all my years of watching Arsenal they will be starting the season with a brand new manager. A couple of times they have changed manager during a season, but I have to say that during my years of support they haven’t had that many managers.

I’m not usually one for waxing lyrical about what business/HR/recruitment can learn from sport, but having done some writing and research around leadership and management recently I’m interested in the rituals and actions by which new managers establish their style and vision, and differentiate themselves from their predecessors.

Most people want to work for leaders who are accountable and honest. In the UK we also like them to be decisive. Football managers will always be accountable – to the fans and the Board who hired them. Our new manager seems like an honest guy, and has a decent record of winning at other clubs, so what’s he done so far to make an impression?

He has a plan and strategy.

He knew what had been going wrong. The new managers that I’ve seen have all come in at a time of stagnation. The team hadn’t evolved or developed over the previous few seasons. Earlier glories had not been matched. Outgoing managers hadn’t refreshed the squad, or been coaching existing players to improve performance. Individuals have been allowed to make mistakes, and abandon their responsibilities to others in their team. This summer was no exception.

For the new guy though, it seems he had already done his homework. At his interview he showed a deep knowledge of not just the more senior and experienced players, but also the younger up and coming ones. He had a plan to help experienced players improve their performance and a strategy for developing the less experienced ones. He’s let the group know what he expects from them and how he wants them to achieve it.

Previous new managers haven’t always done this. Maybe this time was a more rigorous approach to interviewing – previous newcomers had their own ideas and style, and maybe there was little focus on how they were going to improve what was already there.

He believes he can coach them and make training fun. Lots of pictures have been shared by the club of training sessions. Players are laughing. The other coaches are joining in. Everyone looks like they’re enjoying themselves. Can’t say that’s been seen in pictures from training sessions over the last few years.

Expectations are raised but not heightened to something that’s unachievable. There haven’t been any ‘statement signings’. A couple of previous new managers have gone out and broken the club’s transfer record before they’ve even managed their first game. If you take over a team, and immediately make a high profile hire – a bigger name than anyone else in the team – then you are setting expectations very high.

And it might not be you that reaps the benefit. Over a ten year period one of those statement hires (Denis Bergkamp) went on to be come one of club’s greatest ever players – but the manager who signed him only lasted a year and barely gets a mention when previous managers are discussed.

In the case of this new manager, expectations are sensible and no supporters are expecting immediate miracles. They know it may well take a couple of years or more to begin to properly move forward. They would be very mistrustful if he had came in and promised immediate results and success. Few managers are able to achieve that.

He acts like he knows what he’s doing. Actions speak louder than words. As I wrote earlier, he looks like he has a plan, and he seems confident. Often with a new manager you hear a lot about what they are going to do – this time around he seems to be just getting on with it. Individuals in the team are making the right noises about how positive they feel.

Of course in the world of football, unlike business, these things can also be short lived, and fans can be fickle. A few poor results – not uncommon with a new manager who wants his team to play differently to how they have before – coupled with some underwhelming individual performances, and I might by holding up my own #EmeryOut banner!

Thoughts From Jobseekers on How Work is Changing

It seems that barely an hour passes on digital communication channels without predictions, opinions and discussions appearing about the future of work. Those last three words alone now appear on bios and as individual specialisms. The battle is often between a dystopian view of the future where AI-powered robots have made all jobs obsolete and a more optimistic view where technology creates huge opportunities to bring more meaning, fulfilment and improved well-being to working lives. And amongst the unknown there are many commentators, bloggers and analysts who see certainty.

But how is work changing now, and what issues do employees face? We need to look more closely at the world of work as it is now and understand the trends, attitudes, and, behaviours that are currently driving change and that will continue to drive change.

To find out more about this reality, and rely less on the myth, Matt Alder and I partnered with Kelly Services to research more than 14,000 jobseekers across 10 European countries, capturing their experiences, hopes and opinions. The findings from this extensive quantitive research will be captured in a series of reports.

The first one has just been published. There were three key topics that jobseekers seem focused on – the quality of their work experience, the capabilities of their leaders, and the opportunity for some flexibility within their work.

A few of our findings:

  • How a company treats their employees is the main factor influencing someone on whether to apply for a job.
  • How they are treated during the application process will impact the decision on whether to join for 86%.
  • The number one thing people are looking for from their employers is the opportunity to learn new skills, which is ranked more important than salary increases.
  • There are no clear cut preferences on flexibility. For some it is location and for others hours. Whilst 58% felt working from home would improve their work/life balance, 48% believe that working from an office helps to keep work and home life separate.
  • The option to work from home wasn’t available to 61% in our survey, although 70% believed they had the technology to enable it.
  • The most important leadership qualities are accountability and honesty (except the UK where its awareness and decisiveness)
  • 53% of respondents had considered self-employment, but only 18% have any plans to become self-employed

One of our main conclusions was that for employees and jobseekers the reality is more about how they do their day to day job, and the ways technology may make their daily routines easier and more engaging whilst offering greater choice over how and where they work. Certainly the way they are treated and supported is much more important to them than working for businesses who embrace the latest fads and trends.

You can download a copy of the report here – hope you find it interesting.

I’ll write about some more findings when the next report is available.

Technology, People, Recruitment and The Tipping Point

The recruitment ecosystem is constantly shifting shapes and dynamics, and ameliorating in new and different ways. Technology is driving much of this. The simple days of agencies, internal and advertising platforms (be they print or digital) have changed. Consolidation and collaboration is now happening on an almost weekly basis. Recruit Holdings can buy Indeed and Glassdoor, and have a significant foothold in the way people search for jobs. Although the search more often than not starts on Google.

How are we responding to jobseeker behaviour? Research I have recently been involved with from 14,000 European jobseekers showed 63% saying that online reviews are influential when deciding to apply for a job, 55% that the main thing they want to know about a company when applying is how it treats its staff, and 24% dropping out of an interview process after the first interview because they saw negative online reviews.

External reviews are now an integral part of the job hunt. So is automation. And after years of debate about whether recruiters should think and act like marketers, or be a part of marketing, how do we now connect and engage with potential candidates? How do we find, develop  and retain the people we need? Will technology replace people in the recruitment process?  And is it conceivable that data will replace people as an organisation’s ‘greatest asset’?

I’m looking forward to finding out more on June 20th when I’ll be co-chairing the first Talent Tipping Point Conference.

Across 8 hours internal talent teams, recruitment agencies, HR, tech suppliers and RPOs will come together from all corners of the Talent Acquisition and Recruitment community, to talk and debate about the impact of technology on talent acquisition. How are we responding, how are we collaborating and how can technology help us to create better talent outcomes for businesses, workers and jobseekers. Opening keynote is from Lord Chris Holmes and during the day we’ll have views and insight from many industry leaders including Robert Walters, Fleur Bothwick, Kelly Griffith, Kevin Blair, Adrian Thomas and Janine Chidlow.

As part of the event preparation, research was conducted across a large range of employers, recruitment agencies, RPOs and hr/recruitment tech companies to gain an overall feel for how they felt about technology, employment models, diversity and whether the future was in collaboration. There were some interesting findings:

  • 44% of in-house recruiters think that technology will become more important than people in recruitment within the next 5 years; for agency recruiters and RPO the figure is 27%
  • Half of all recruiters do not see permanent employment as the default option for workers in future
  • 53% believe technology to be more effective than humans in the unbiased assessment of candidate’s, although only 7% think it more effective for determining culture fit
  • Almost 40% don’t believe that their current recruitment (whether direct, though agency or RPO) is as effective as it should be, with over two thirds believing that recruitment suppliers (tech vendors, agency, RPO) need to be better at collaborating

The pace of digitisation in recruitment is quite varied, governed by size, needs, budget and management capability. Yet cognitive solutions and AI are now being used all the way through the hiring process. With technology becoming increasingly integral to how we live, and the way we consume and do business, its impact on the way we attract, hire, develop and retain our people can’t be denied.

Want to join me at Talent Tipping Point? Recruitment International UK has a limited number of half-price tickets remaining for the event. Simply enter the code RITP when you register to save £250 on the regular price. Order yours today –

Be Courageous, Be Human, #WorkHuman

Do the internal systems and structures within your company work against people reporting harassment or bullying, or are there ‘safe spaces’ or non-judgmental support for those who need to tell their story? Can HR create these? And if not, then is the hard truth that HR are complicit in the pain of people who are subjected to this in the workplace?

I’ve just come back from Globoforce’s 2018 WorkHuman conference, and these  were some of the many questions raised during the #MeToo panel, chaired by Adam Grant, in which Ashley Judd, Tarana Burke and Ronan Farrow were very moving as they shared stories and talked about their various experiences, calling for courage, respect, equality, and dignity in the workplace.

If there is someone in the organisation who is found to be harassing or bullying, then do we ever ask how we came to hire (and probably promote) someone who felt this behaviour was OK? Would an incident such as this trigger a review and overhaul of selection processes?

Some tough questions, but as Ronan Farrow put it “HR professionals are in an incredibly powerful position. You are a formal part of the chain of command. If you say something, it creates an opportunity for others to speak up. Don’t forget how powerful and important your role is

You can’t change policies after the fact. You have to create a culture where that behaviour is not ok” said Tarana Burke

You may have gathered that WorkHuman isn’t your average HR conference, in fact I’m not sure I would call it an HR conference. Its about humanity. Feelings and perceptions, and many personal qualities that aren’t often discussed at business conferences. Sure the attendees, and many speakers, were from the wider HR sector, but the many themes including courage, vulnerability, diversity, unacceptable behaviour, recognition, performance, humanising, happiness and creativity, were of more personal, and human concerns, even if they clearly they fall under the remit of most HR professionals.

Your ego is not your amigo

Leadership was to the fore and opening keynote Cy Wakeman was in no doubt that ego wasn’t part of it. “A leaders role isn’t to change the reality for employees – it is to change the negative energy focused on why we can’t on to how we can”. And as for ego? “Your ego is a filter on reality and corrupts your data. You’re making decisions based on corruptive data. Your ego is like wearing a pair of prescriptive glasses that are the wrong prescription

Ego leads to drama, and drama can be draining and demotivating, taking up too much time in the workplace.

Brene Brown spoke of vulnerability and the need for leaders to embrace it “There is zero evidence that vulnerability is a weakness. It is the courage to show up and be seen when you can’t control the outcome”. She also warned that “If you set up a culture within your organisation where there’s no tolerance for vulnerability, no tolerance for failure, then there’s no room for innovation, productivity, or creativity

She spoke of the importance of leaders showing accountability, which resonated with me – I’ve recently been involved with research conducted amongst 14,000 European jobseekers (published soon) and accountability came out as the top quality they look for in leaders. Maybe Brene knew why when she said “The opposite of accountability is blame. Accountability is a vulnerable process that takes courage and time. Blame is faster

Stop giving feedback, start encouraging people to ask for feedback

David Rock ran two sessions on feedback, particularly in relation to performance management. “Performance management becomes feedback management” he told us. We don’t like receiving feedback when its unsolicited, which too much is. Its also often negative. We need to start getting our people to ask for feedback, when it will be less threatening and more welcome. Ensure people have conversations and make them future focused. Manager capability is key here. They need to minimise the feeling of threat around candid and honest conversations, and help facilitate insights to help people positively embrace change.

In another session, author Shawn Achor said “most praise is just comparison”. And he had a point. When we praise people by comparison to their peers and colleagues, or competitors, we are linking their potential, and their happiness, to others. This can create competition, rather than support and enable personal growth and development. Which I know from my research mentioned earlier, is the main thing people look for when searching for a new role. Maybe there’s a link back here to David Rock’s sessions on feedback – with managers using comparisons (even if unwittingly) rather than focus on each individual’s potential and contribution.

Shawn Achor also talked about his research amongst Harvard students that found social connections were the best predictors of happiness, success, future job roles. The relationship people have to the ecosystem around them. We are often the product of formal and informal networks of relationships and connections. The original Star Wars manuscript showed the famous line as ‘May The Force of Others Be With You’ although this was changed. This flags up a big concern to me though, as it underlines the problems we face with social mobility and finding ways to understand and develop the potential in everyone, irrespective of background, trajectory and networks.

You can’t incentivise performance. You can only incentivise/reward/encourage behaviour

Simon Sinek has spoken before of how the way to influence human behaviour is to inspire it rather than trying to manipulate it. In his keynote session at Workhuman he was looking at business being an ‘infinite game’. He drew the parallel between sport – which is a finite game with a beginning, an end, and rules – and business which is infinite.

Winning and losing is the wrong language in business. It works in sports because you are playing a finite game, but business is an infinite one. Companies that last aren’t the ones that play to win, they’re the ones that play to keep playing”.

Great organisations have a have a fixed just cause and flexible strategy. But he told us that “too many don’t focus enough on the cause, and have an inflexible strategy. So many organisations have a new Just Cause after every offsite meeting.”  Worse yet, they have a fixed strategy.

Leaders ask ‘How do we get the best out of our people’. It sounds like they’re wringing out a towel. The question should beHow do we help our people to do their natural best

Courageous leadership is what business needs. But too often we promote leaders because they deliver on results, even if they are untrustworthy or lack respect from their teams. This can destroy the fabric of a company. As Simon put it “Promoting high performance-low trust team members will destroy your organisational culture. But its easy to identify these people. Ask team who the asshole is and everyone will point to the same person, so this is avoidable

The final takeaway from Simon’s session was that HR should be advancers of people, and not the last line of defence between the people and the executives. He suggested they stop being ‘executors of the executives’.

Ultimately it all comes down to culture. Being human, working human, and helping people to be their natural best requires a culture where ego, drama and blame have no place, and honesty, courage, vulnerability and openness can thrive. Where people feel able to speak up, and to be themselves. And can get the support they need to do the best they can.

And the next time you attend an HR conference and hear a series of sporting metaphors…remember…

Some more blogs on WorkHuman that I recommend you read:

What I Learned at WorkHuman 2018Jane Watson

Work Human 2018: A RecapVictorio Milian

Embracing the Ying and Yang of Human Experience at WorkJason Lauritsen

3 Things about Digital Transformation

October is traditionally HR technology month.  2 major conferences with accompanying expos, and chances to see what new functionalities the major companies have lined up, as well as some of the newer, start-up tech businesses.

For all the bright shiny new things, there are 3 things about digital and back office transformation that I think often get lost in the chatter.

  1. Technology needs to replicate the experiences people have in personal lives. Often mentioned but operationally the intuitive, responsive, convenient and app-like functionality seems harder to find
  2. The need for HR leaders to understand that technology is a change. For workers all new, or remastered technology and processes are an organisational change. They way they do their jobs, and often their responsibilities, change and they need need to be supported.
  3. New technology and working practices might be seen as necessary, and cost effective, but new processes need to be efficient and streamlined, should work seamlessly, produce actionable data, and not be done for the sake of it. There needs to be a purpose.

Here’s me telling the guys at Oracle what I mean…


(Exceptional Talent – the book I co-wrote with Matt Alder – is available now, published by Kogan Page. In it we look at the New Talent Journey and offer examples and case studies of how, and why, businesses are evolving the way they attract, hire, retain and develop the people they need. You can hear me talking about it on this podcast)

Confession Time. I Used to be a Millennial.

I have a confession to make. I was once a millennial. Although when I was, we weren’t called millennials. We were called long-haired layabouts. And nobody could care less what we thought about anything or what we wanted from the workplace. In common with other friends of mine I wanted to be treated with respect and given the chance to learn and develop, and I didn’t want to hang around in a business I didn’t like. But we were told to just put up and shut up.

Which we did. We did because we needed the job. A secure job, and employers reference, was instrumental to getting a decent bank account and a credit card. Plus access to finance – for a car loan (driving around in your mother’s car wasn’t a great look) and to begin saving towards a mortgage deposit.

Today’s millennials/long-haired layabouts do not have such concerns – they get bank accounts when they’re born, credit cards on turning 16, most have little interest in (or need for) buying a car and as for saving for a mortgage….

I sat on a conference panel talking about employee engagement earlier last year. The organisers had arranged for two senior HR professionals, an industry spokesperson, and one of their millennial employees to join me. We had been treated to a keynote session full of millennial myths and future of work warnings. We started the panel by introducing ourselves. The millennial employee said “If I join your company and I don’t like the way you treat me then I’ll leave. I won’t be leaving because I’m a millennial employee who’s hardwired to change jobs every 6 months – I’ll be leaving because you’re a shit company to work for”. Cue much laughter and applause from the audience.

There are two immediate things to draw from this. Firstly one of self-awareness, that whilst shit isn’t the most offensive word in the English language, its not one that I would use from the conference stage. And secondly that the way younger employees are treated in the workplace drives whether they stay with a business, not the need for longer term financial stability and a stable career.

Whilst the conversations around generations aren’t new, I’ve noticed a disturbing trend recently of  events featuring sessions where they are discussed. With the usual lame observations leading to weak analysis and faulty conclusions. At a time when every business conference is embracing Diversity and Inclusion as a key driver of commercial success, the juxtaposition of this message with sessions on generational stereotyping are particularly jarring and unwelcome.

Let us not forget that times are uncertain for under 35s. Geopolitical trends are going against them – the majority of them did not vote for Brexit, nor the current Government in the UK or president in the US.

Meanwhile they are constantly reminded that they’ll be the first generation to be poorer than their parents. And regularly told that they’ll be fighting an army of robots, chatbots and algorithms all hellbent on taking their jobs. They need to be in a constant mode of learning and skill development, whilst this transience and lack of job security becomes glamourised by the language of artistry and aspiration – gigs, portfolios, flexibility and freedom.

If that’s not enough today’s millennials have to cope with an army of consultants, bloggers, analysts and armchair psychologists analysing them, telling them what they are supposed to think and do, and then earning a living telling everyone in HR and business leadership roles how special millennials are and why all business practices have to be redesigned to keep them happy.

Of course, times were uncertain when I was a millennial too – its just there was no army of consultants, bloggers, analysts and armchair psychologists trying to earn money from analysing us…just bosses to tell us to put up, shut up and be thankful we had a job…

On second thoughts…

(Exceptional Talent – the book I co-wrote with Matt Alder – is available now, published by Kogan Page. In it we look at the New Talent Journey and offer examples and case studies of how, and why, businesses are evolving the way they attract, hire, retain and develop the people they need. You can hear me talking about it on this podcast)

3 Ways to Begin Better Hiring

The way we recruit and onboard has to change. A run through of some recent research* tells us that:

  • 85% of HR decision makers admitting that their business had hired someone who proved to be a bad fit for the job
  • 1 in 5 of HR decision makers say that they don’t know how much a bad hire has cost them
  • Up to 25% of new starters leave within their first six months
  • 90% use their first 6 months experience to determine longer term commitment
  • Only 19% see a strong alignment between what their employer says about itself and their actual experience working there
  • 55% would consider changing jobs this year – 74% of them would stay for interesting work, 69% for recognition
  • 70% of unsuccessful senior hires give a poor grasp of how an organisation works as the main reason for their failure
  • Nearly half of experienced hires admit they failed to fully grasp the business model they were joining

Meanwhile qualitative research tells us that new hires are more likely to leave early if they don’t like the job or find that it wasn’t what they expected from the recruitment process. One senior manager from a large hospitality and leisure sector employer recently told me that almost half of their new trainee intake for this year had already left because the job wasn’t what they expected – not in terms of the actual duties but in the hours, dedication and working structures.

We need to get better at how we attract, hire and develop people. This all points towards the need for different approaches to the way that work is organised, employees are managed or directed, how retention is viewed and how we go about hiring. I can think of three ways we can immediately start changing. There are plenty more but these will do for a start…

Firstly, how we market jobs. I use the word market because I think we can accept that recruiters need to think like marketers. Rather than advertise for a perfect fit, or list a series of notional achievements and duties that we want someone to have already achieved, lets start talking to people who might be interested in our company and the type of role we are looking to fill. This requires an understanding of what the role is, the skills and knowledge that would help the role to be performed effectively, and the way that a new hire can grow and develop with us. And some proper market knowledge of how and where to connect potential candidates and of the kind of conversations we should be having with them and the content we should share.

Secondly, how we select the best person. Find out about the real person, what their strengths are, their character, durability and agility. Approaches to learning and development and how they tackle challenges and situations that might be new. This won’t be found by series of Q&A interviews, peppered with set-piece situational questions, trick questions or asking them to run through their CV for the umpteenth time. They all point to a lack of preparation from the hiring manager which can indicate a real lack of commitment to finding the best fit person or understanding of the role and how it can develop.

Thirdly, how we bring someone in to the business. Start the induction early, make them feel part of the organisation with clear objectives and timelines around roles and responsibilities. Make it a social experience, new hires who establish early social connections with their colleagues are more likely to settle quickly and feel part of a team. No one should start doing a new role and be unclear about what the job is, what it will take to be successful, who has input to the role and the formal and informal internal networks that will help support them in getting their work done.

There’s plenty more we can do to make hiring better but these will make a good start.

(* Findings taken from recent research published by REC, Korn Ferry, Egon Zehnder, IBM, Achievers, Weber Shandwick)

Exceptional Talent – the book I co-wrote with Matt Alder – is available now, published by Kogan Page. In it we look at the New Talent Journey and offer examples and case studies of how, and why, businesses are evolving the way they attract, hire, retain and develop the people they need. You can hear me talking about it on this podcast 

Time to Redefine What we Mean by Talent

The way we attract, hire, retain and develop the people our businesses need is changing. And so are the roles we want them to do and the way we operate. Yet too many organisations continue recruit as they always have, reporting skills shortages and costly unfilled vacancies. This needs to change.

Firstly we need to start redefining exactly what we mean by the word ‘talent’ – for too long the most overused and misleading word in the modern labour market. Many HR and recruitment professionals use it to describe a high skilled, high potential candidate who is in some way special. This narrow definition leads to poor recruitment practice, with recruiters chasing mythical candidates who tick all their boxes and seem ready made for their vacancy.

These people rarely exist, nor are they likely to be successful. When they are hired and identified as high potential they can fall into a ‘talent curse trap’, feeling trapped by others’ expectations and feeling a need to prove themselves worthy, attempting to live up to a perception of what a high performer should be like. This is rarely successful.

In an evolving commercial world where new jobs will often require skills that have not been hired before, these narrow definitions also fail to take into account the many ways that employees can develop and use their initiative and capabilities to help companies meet business challenges.

Most successful specialist hires step in to a role that will stretch them and help them grow and realise potential. Everyone has talent. It is finding the people right for the business and the role, irrespective of background and work trajectory, that organisations need to focus on.

Redefining what we mean by ‘talent’ also means we should select people for what they can achieve in the future rather than what they have done in the past. Previous performance is often an unreliable predictor of future potential and nowhere is this more prevalent than when looking at emerging roles and digital skills, which evolve and change at a rapid pace.

Selection processes have to change from a gladiatorial approach that resembles the Labours of Hercules, and seem designed to trip people up and exclude them from selection. These should only be used if they reflect what your culture is really like. Instead we should create opportunities for people to show what they can do and how they can contribute to the organisation’s future success.

Rip up job descriptions based around a previous incumbent’s profile, and stop drawing up wish-lists of ready made capabilities and achievements. Break vacancies down into tasks and rebuild them around what actually needs to be done. Some of these actions can probably be covered by people already in the organisation by either having their own roles re-imagined, or through secondments or stretch assignments.

Internal mobility – often the last resort for recruiters and HR practitioners – should to be the first strategy before trying to fill externally. The opportunities for development and skill enhancement is an important differentiator for talent looking to join, or remain, with a business, so lets start showing what we can offer.

Whilst retaining and retraining existing employees is valuable in helping to diversify the talent pool available, it is a focus on diversity itself when recruiting new people to the organisation that will help businesses really succeed in redefining talent.

Increasing the number of women in the workplace, attracting and supporting people with disabilities, finding a way to capitalise on the talents of neurodiverse people, and giving greater opportunities to graduates, apprentices and ex-offenders, will all help diversify and enrich the talent pool. And overcome those supposed skills gaps.


Exceptional Talent – the book I co-wrote with Matt Alder – is available now, published by Kogan Page. In it we look at the New Talent Journey and offer examples and case studies of how, and why, businesses are evolving the way they attract, hire, retain and develop the people they need.