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)


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.

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.

The Talent Challenges for HR

Attracting, hiring, developing and retaining the right people has always been a crucial part of any organisation’s success. The methods of doing so successfully, however, are evolving fast.

With growing skills gaps, uncertain trading conditions and rapid changes in technology driving new preferences and expectations in consumer behaviour, businesses need agile, curious and committed workforces. Our current and future employees have expectations of a more seamless and immersive experience when they apply for a role or join a new business. They also now have more choices over where they work and how they work, and look for companies that will offer them the opportunity to grow, develop and reach their potential.

For the HR profession the technological developments, behavioural changes and shifts in expectations and preferences that are impacting how businesses operate and grow, present unique challenges. The workplace analysts who believe that all processes should be redesigned to accommodate and attract Millennials have a powerful voice in both the digital business media and at industry conferences, yet the HR team that looks around their companies will see a more varied mix of people and interests to be catered for.

Workforces are embracing similar influences, but at a different pace and in a variety of ways. Not all employees want company-issued technology that requires them to check e-mails 24/7, or to have a constant digital presence. The modern HR team has to cater for all expectations and preferences, in a way that is both diverse and inclusive, and enables all employees to deliver their best work.

92% of workers say that technology affects their satisfaction at work, yet HR are not always part of the conversations around the digitisation process. That has to change fast. The ubiquity and speed of digitisation does however drive a need for approaches that are more relevant to how employees live, and this means recognising the importance of experience and regular communication; creating work experiences that reflect their aspirations.

The Employee Experience is now a competitive advantage, so HR teams need to balance the needs of the business today with potential changes in the future, helping to create an environment and culture in which people want to work and feel empowered and supported to give their best.

To meet the challenges posed, and make the most of opportunities created, every business needs to find and hire the talent that is right for them. That is, people with a spirit of curiosity and flexibility, who possess the skills, attitude, capabilities and potential to help organisations grow and evolve.

The word ‘talent’ is a much overused and misused word in the modern labour market normally implying a high skilled, high potential candidate who is in some way special. That definition needs to change. It drives poor recruitment practice, with hiring businesses trying to chase a candidate who ticks many boxes and appears ready made for their vacancy. These matches rarely exist, nor are the likely to be successful.

In a world where new jobs often require skills that have not been hired before, that definition also fails 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.

Recruitment is not a one-way street and the dynamic has shifted. Candidates can tell a lot about a business from the way they go about recruiting, so a gladiatorial process full of challenges and hurdles, is unlikely to engage them, unless it accurately reflects the type of business you are and the culture they can expect when they join.

Historically there was little that job applicants could find out about what life was actually like inside the business they were applying to work for. It wasn’t until the first few days in the job that they really got a feel for culture and structure. This has changed. The company is now selling itself to the candidate they want to hire as much as the candidate is to them.

The way in which we attract, hire, develop and retain people, the HR processes and interventions along the way, will be a defining factor in how businesses succeed. The outcome is as important to individuals as the process that delivers it, while social and digital channels, powered by the constant presence of mobile, provide a real-time commentary on both the process and perception of the outcome. They want to be encouraged and treated fairly. And they want to be themselves at work.

It is the journey by which they are found, selected, oriented and developed, which needs to be reimagined for the workforce of today and tomorrow. There is now also a transparency around current thinking and best practices, and reporting of the various attempts that businesses make to introduce new working arrangements and structures that can help shed light on how others are facing similar challenges. HR professionals can embrace clear and fresh thinking, and learn from industry peers and colleagues.

Ultimately, this transparency means that workers in every company have access to what other businesses are doing. If they like what they see elsewhere, the chances are they’ll expect it where they are; or else may go out and find it for themselves. Effectiveness of the employee experience is both a business’ competitive advantage, and also the yardstick by which HR teams will be judged.

My co-authored book Exceptional Talent has been published by Kogan Page. In the book myself and Matt Alder explore how changes in technology, communication, and employee preferences are impacting the talent journey, offering practical advice on how to build •effective recruitment and talent management strategies to meet the needs of today, while also helping businesses plan and prepare for the challenges of the future.

4 Questions About Talent and Technology

It’s nearly time for the HRTechEurope Spring Conference & Expo. I’ll be heading in to London on March 27th joining HR and Recruitment professionals, tech specialists and fellow bloggers to try and find out what’s old and what’s new, what we need and what we don’t.

It’s currently tough out there in the world of HR when it comes to talent acquisition. On a daily basis we’re fighting wars, covering skill shortages, putting a sticking plaster over long term people development and tearing our hair out over how to create the workforces our businesses need to face a future of growth and accelerating technological development.

Or so it seems. Rarely a day goes by without another report, white paper, survey or opinion piece on the huge challenges of creating the future workforce. They need to be highly skilled and motivated, locationally and contractually flexible, and ready to hit the ground running.

But this isn’t a perfect world, and people aren’t disposable goods to be chopped and changed. Instead of the constant and seemingly frenetic rush to get the best right now let’s look at some longer term issues that short term talent acquisition strategies may be covering up…

Are You Looking Everywhere?

By everywhere I mean everywhere. As I recently wrote for Monster, there’s a lot of talent right under your nose that you’re probably overlooking. Most probably…

  • Current employees who have skills and strengths that you haven’t recognised and can adapt to new challenges
  • Alumni who have moved on, had different experiences, gained knowledge and progressed
  • Candidates who have applied before and were not a good match then, and are now probably nestling in a black hole in your ATS hiding their very relevant talents
  • And remember, all the above have friends, collaborators and alumni who may be right

Is Your On-Boarding Good Enough?

We all know that if something’s going to go wrong then it will more than likely happen in the first 2/3 months so are your on-boarding and induction processes up to scratch? Is talent seeping away from the business because you’re not making the most of it when it first arrives? Think back to good people who just didn’t seem to work out with you and look at why. There may be a recurring theme.

Are You Growing From Within?

The people you’ve already invested in should be the first choice for new roles. My first job was within a medium-sized accountancy firm and we had PAs to Partner who had started as filing clerks (OK, you don’t get many of them any more) and accounting assistants who had originally joined in a clerical or admin role. The partners constantly tried to invest in developing the good, loyal people they had rather than demotivate and lose them by going outside. Do your people really feel that they have a future with you?

Have You Created the Right Environment?

To nurture talent you need a nurturing environment. One where people aren’t afraid to try and fail as part of the learning experience, and aren’t rewarded purely on achieving KPIs that preclude the opportunity to collaborate, innovate, share and provide feedback.

If the solution to filling new positions is always to go external and throw money at someone who’s performing at a competitor then this will become a self fulfilling modus operandi which will be difficult to break. And dangerous too as top achievers in a business usually benefit from a support structure and culture that enables them to do their best; there’s never a guarantee that they would achieve the same results in a different environment that offered a very different structure and culture.

There will probably be a lot of technology at HRTechEurope that can help enable this, but first it needs a mindset. A commitment to doing something fresh, an openness to new ideas and approaches.

Because to keep fighting the same mythical wars and keep moaning about shortages and expect to get different results would be insanity. Right?

(Image via SAP.info)

Talking Talent & Potential at #HREvent14


I’ve just returned from an interesting 2 days in Birmingham at the HR Directors summit. It was well run – fast paced, varied and lively with a strong stream of case studies and masterclasses topped and tailed with keynote speakers who were largely from outside the traditional HR sphere. Kudos to Clare Dewhirst, Nicole Dominguez and the rest of the WTG team for organising.

There was some excellent live blogging from Ian Pettigrew and Gemma Reucroft whilst the hashtag #HREvent14 managed to reach number 1 in the trending list once or twice over the two days.

A few observations on some of the things that were talked about….

Talent is an asset

But what is talent? Quite a few sessions looked at this subject, both from the angles of finding it and identifying it, with a focus oh high potential programmes and thinking outside the box. Many key points across the two days:

  • Current top performers are not necessarily the same as your high potentials
  • The key attributes for potential are aspiration, ability and engagement
  • 46% of leaders moving in to new roles fail to meet business objectives through a mixture of wrong promotion criteria and unclear objective setting (CEB research)
  • Strengths based recruitment for those with little or no work experience significantly improves quality (Nestle case study)
  • Don’t just look outside for talent, create from within
  • A lot of talent gets wasted through a mix of poor management, disengagement and lack of proper workforce planning
  • Look beyond certificates and the CV, find people who have overcome obstacles and interference to achieve
  • Putting it another way, we overrate certificates and underrate attitude
  • Recruit for individuality and capability to innovate, don’t just focus on past experience
  • Companies need to transition mindset from owning the talent to the talent being with the individual

Recruitment woes

Much of the talent points arose from recruitment. Certainly many of the breakout discussions were around the folly of hiring to rigid specifications and failing to spot people with attitude and ability who may have been unable to fulfil their potential elsewhere or in difficult circumstances – a failure to assess skills or performance within context.

On the second morning Rasmus Ankersen (by far the most inspiring keynote speaker) produced a slide containing a quote from the CEO of Capital One Bank saying:

“Most companies spend 2% of their time recruiting and 98% of their time managing their recruitment mistakes”

This quote was well received by the auditorium (full of HR Directors and senior practitioners) but was met with dismay from recruiters following online. I don’t know where the figures came from, they may have been a CEO embellishment or just a personal view, but many attendees (the ones who inevitably do some of the 98%) felt a ring of truth, something that became apparent during a panel session later in the morning.

Tellingly the quote was also endorsed by Facebook (no slouches when it comes to finding talent) during their afternoon presentation.

I’m guessing that a lot of the 98% didn’t represent recruiters failing to do their jobs properly, but hiring managers poorly scoping the role or looking for the wrong characteristics and capabilities.

Leadership and the people agenda

We had a fair few CEOs amongst the speakers and panellists (pretty good for an HR conference) signalling a shift in the people agenda. Some of it was to do with social, though more was about leadership. Some nuggets:

  • If you want great things to happen don’t worry about getting the credit
  • Leadership isn’t about what we are now but about what we can be, what we can do and where we can go.
  • I need bad news. I don’t shoot the messenger but need to act on what I’m told to put it right.
  • If you deal with people for a living you have a much harder job than those who deal with predictable things. (HR isn’t easy!)
  • Leadership isn’t about a handful of people. It’s about everybody.

Question time!

In a first for an event of this type there was a daily panel to discuss the themes being talked about. Placed in the main exhibition hall, with capacity for 70 attendees, it was a mix of discussion and questions from the floor.

I’m proud to say that I was on the panel both days and really enjoyed it. The reception was good – standing room only on both days – and between myself, Perry Timms, Mark Ellis and Peter Reilly we got some quite lively debates going.

And in true ‘Question Time’ tradition we had a range of topics raised by the delegates to discuss, including Kevin Pietersen’s dropping by the England cricket team and the impending strike by Tax officials!

We got some great feedback and I hope this kind of participation becomes regular at similar events.

Generational myth making and myth busting

When I wrote my preview for the event I observed that this was one conference that seemed to avoid the usual generational stereotyping presentations. Unlike certain others, there had been little of the ‘why Gen Y are different‘ content and when the topic had been touched on it was from a different angle, using research that avoided the usual suspect cliches.

Anyone following my twitter feed over the 2 days will know that, sadly, this year was different. The cliched stereotyping of the attitudes, behaviours and aspirations of people under 30 cropped up in many presentations, culminating in a bullshit bingo full house during the Facebook presentation.

I’ve blogged on this before so will not go into depth on it here – I may deal with it another time. What I would say is that the Facebook session also included many supposed stereotyped traits of Gen X and Boomers and in closing, the speaker Stuart Crabb admitted to (and kind of apologised for) using stereotypes. He also observed that all generations are represented in the Facebook workforce, and all of them embrace the ‘Gen Y‘ culture that the company work so hard to create. Which does make you wonder why he didn’t just describe the culture and approach to work without having to resort to representing it as something designed to appeal to a certain age group.

And as I’ve written many times, the defining of a group of people by perceived personality and behavioural traits is not something that should have any place in HRs thinking. No-one in 2014 would host – or attend – a session entitled ‘How to get the best out of the over 60s‘ or ‘How to manage women‘ so I don’t know why it seems acceptable for consulting firms (it’s always consulting firms) to do this type of research and then present it as insight.

Maybe I should paraphrase (misquote) Mr Einstein – not everything that matters can be researched, and not everything that is researched matters.

The future’s bleak

Unusually for a conference, the opening keynote was a bit like the grim reaper coming for our global labour market. David Arkless, founder of the Future of Work consortium, had few moments of optimism or positivity for us with many global problems of a social, work and financial nature being aired. There was a strange passage in which he seemed to praise dictatorships as they tended to got their workforces productive and operating efficiently whilst democracies hindered talent management (cue blogs on 5 things HR can learn from Kim Jong-un) and then offered a stark visualisation of the world’s inequalities.

It was a downbeat and, frankly, quite worrying message for a conference opener, which may not be a bad thing as it did get people thinking, but overall seemed a bit incongruous with what followed.

HR in the headlines

The final conference session was a Q&A with Lucy Adams – still, just, HR Director at the BBC. Needless to say the questions, put by business TV presenter Juan Señor, were about the media storm that followed her appearance before the Commons select committee last year.

She handled herself well and spoke with humility and honesty, talking of the need for visible leadership when morale is low. The questions weren’t exactly probing (fairly standard TV business interview fare) but the audience did get the opportunity to ask questions. I wanted to ask her if she thought that the reaction she got was worse because she was a woman, and that a male HR Director at the BBC may have got an easier ride. I nearly put my hand up but have to say that after a couple of days of criticising the Gen Y stereotyping I though better of raising something that may have looked sexist.

I did manage to spend a couple of minutes with her at the end though so asked the question one to one. I got the impression that she wished I’d have asked it during the session, and had expected the question to come up at some stage. Next time I won’t be so timid. And yes, needless to say, she did seem to feel that gender played a part in her situation.

Overall messages from the two days? Talent and potential…recognise it and nurture it – use it don’t waste it. And people like to be treated with respect at work…whatever their year of birth…



Band of All Talents

I love the alternative US rock band Wilco. I first came a across them about 14 years ago, around the time they released their second album Being There. It was a great collection of alt country songs from the doleful to the exhilarating…a mixture of the simple and the surreal. I bought it on the strength of reviews but one fact really endeared them to me – the album was a double but they wanted it priced as a single album so as not to deter new fans. The record label agreed only if Jeff Tweedy (band leader and writer of all their songs) cut most of his royalties…and he agreed!

I really admired such confidence, such dogged self-belief in his/their ability and the strength of his songs! He lost about $600,000 but was satisfied as he released an album that was critically acclaimed by the music press and won them many new fans.

And five years later Tweedy and the band even trumped this when their record label (Reprise) rejected the master tapes for their 4th album on the grounds that it wasn’t commercial enough. They refused to write new songs and were promptly dropped from the label…ending up having to pay to get their master tapes back. Without a deal they streamed the music on their website. Such was the positive response from fans and critics that they found themselves promptly snapped up by another label, Nonesuch. And the sweet irony was… Nonesuch were a sister label to Reprise!! And it’s their biggest selling album to date!

Again you couldn’t fail to admire the single minded belief and determination in their abilities.

Studio album number 8 was released this week and the band is still going strong. Having beaten an addiction to prescription painkillers, and gone through various changes in personnel, their leader Jeff Tweedy has assembled a band of all talents. Within the confines of a rock group he has managed to put together a collective of talented musicians. On lead guitar (Nels Cline) and drums (Glen Kotche) he has two of America’s most admired leftfield, improvisational musicians, each much in demand for guest appearances and side projects, and each with a solo career running parallel.

Not an easy trick to pull off, particularly in an industry with big egos, creative differences and sometimes relentless single-mindedness. Yet it works, and they combine to make music that is stylistically diverse, by turns interesting, challenging and hummable.

More by luck than judgement Wilco may actually show us interesting business parallels.

Relentless self-belief in your ability and offering eventually gets it reward…OK, they aren’t in the major league but they get by!

It’s possible to build and blend a team with diversely talented performers…maybe giving your better performers some flexibility and the freedom to indulge their passions and pursue side projects can keep them on message for the day job.


Safe at Home

It’s HR Carnival time, and a really interesting experiment. Dwane Lay is hosting, and he’s given us one title – Safe at Home – which we all have to use. Can’t wait to read the range and variety of blogs…here’s mine!

Safe at Home was the debut album from International Submarine Band, released in 1968. It was their one and only album.

Who?? I hear you say.

How about Gram Parsons? Ah, now there’s some recognition.

International Submarine Band was a group that Gram Parsons formed in 1966. They worked though 1967 on their debut album, Safe at Home. It was recorded and a release date was set in early 1968, but before the release, Parsons left.

Headhunted by The Byrds.

Now if you were a highly talented, pioneering folk/country rock artist in 1967 there was really only one gig in town. The Byrds! And when they came calling, Parsons joined…and immediately started recording a new album with them (Sweetheart of the Rodeo).

Legal wrangling ensued, the remaining ISB members tried to stop Parsons’ vocals appearing on the new Byrds album, whilst their own album remained unreleased. Eventually a deal was struck…Parsons’ vocals only appeared on three tracks on Sweetheart of the Rodeo, and Safe at Home was released.

The Byrds album is seen as a landmark in country rock and ISB’s flopped (though music revisionism being what it is, Safe at Home is now regarded as a cult classic and the first real country rock album).

Parsons left The Byrds after only one album to form The Flying Burrito Brothers after which he pursued a (very sadly) short lived but highly influential solo career.

A 43 year old story of squabbling rock musicians, giving us three timeless insights into talent management…

  1. The best talent will always be on the radar of other, higher profile employers, and will often want the opportunity to prove themselves on a bigger stage.
  2. If your best talent goes, make it as amicable as possible. There really is little to be gained from legal action, restraint clauses and bad feeling. What they contributed whilst they were with you should stand on its own merits and not be sullied by bitterness.
  3. The best creative talent is usually restless and mercurial, and you never know when they may cross your path again.

I’m sure you’d prefer your business to be a successful landmark rather than wait 30 years to be a cult classic!


Recruiting like Radiohead

It’s Monday night and I’m listening to the new Radiohead album for the 10th or 11th time, yet last Monday I didn’t even know that there was a new Radiohead album about to become available. I then got an e-mail directing me to a website where I could pre-order a download, or a box set with vinyl, CD and artwork. It all felt very personal and exciting… even though several hundred thousand of us probably got the e-mail! No long marketing build up, nor critics or reviewers shaping your expectations. 

As some of you will probably know, a few years ago the band decided not to renew their recording contract and have since released new material themselves when it’s available. They make more money, and they keep a community of fans very loyal. I’m mainly interested in the music and the gigs, but for others there are regular activity updates, sometimes with new film or information.

I’m a fan of the band, and if there is a large community of Radiohead fans, then I’m in a smaller group who have remained with them as they’ve moved from a more mainstream rock sound to the experimental direction that they take nowadays.

At last week’s TruLondon unconference there was a lot of talk about talent communities, how important they are, how necessary they are and why they represent the future for companies looking to attract, engage and retain the best talent. I happen to agree with that view…and for some reason I kept thinking of Radiohead.

There’s been a lot written about how the music industry models need to adapt or die, and many bloggers have drawn parallels between that and the recruitment industry. So maybe Radiohead have the answer…

Is this what being in a talent community feels like? Quite exciting, really! Moving along in your current role and then up pops an invite from a company that you really rate, that you so want to work for, and they’ve got a brand spanking new position that could be just right for you!

Mind you, it also got me thinking about a different type of community…maybe one that grows around the individual. If companies can create their own talent communities with potential employees, alumni, recruiters, contacts, interims etc then maybe individual jobseekers can do likewise.

Why not? Develop a community containing recruiters/sourcers who specialise in your sector, contacts in companies that you would like to work for, ex-colleagues, coaches, mentors and confidants.

Like Radiohead you can keep them in touch with what you’re doing, blog updates and postings, new projects, CV revisions…even let them know when you’re ready to talk about a new role.

Let me know what you think…   

(PS I love the new album)

Hire for Attitude, Train for Skills

It’s not a new saying, but whenever it’s used now everyone instantly agrees, it should be a resourcing mantra, particularly in tougher times.

As recruiters we spend most of our time looking for people with a skillset, with a historical CV that ticks the boxes that clients want.

It’s changing.

Job description tick lists are no good, because you will rarely find the people who tick every box, and if you do there is no guarantee that they will succeed.

Past performance can be a very unreliable indicator of future achievement.

I was intrigued to read a blog from Katie McNab – Customers Aren’t Always Right.

Read it! Because she is UK Recruitment Manager for one of the largest FMCG brands on the planet. And she wants her team to challenge hiring managers, forget what may suit them and start looking at what the business needs.

My favourite part is:

A line manager with a team of 5-6 people might recruit once a year.  He or she will have a very short-term goal in mind.  They want someone to fill the “empty chair”. And while they don’t recruit very often, they usually still have some very firm views about what “good” looks like.

But we recruit all the time.  We live and breathe this stuff.   We know our markets, our industries and our legal obligations.  And that gives us the right and the responsibility to challenge line managers on their requirements.

How many 3rd party recruiters challenge a client? We also live and breathe this stuff, but how many of us push back and really help the client to be creative?

Very few I guess.

Are we too scared of losing the brief? Scared of missing a fee? Do we want to just fill empty chairs?

Have we lost the bottle to invest time in building credibility with the client by bringing some real INSIGHT to the process? Because that’s how long-term relationships are developed.

Ah yes, INSIGHT.

If you read my last blog you’ll know that the good people from LinkedIn said that the number one priority for a 3rd party recruiter focusing on maintaining some form of market position is Insight over Data.

I would grab this as an opportunity to forget searching for historical CVs and start looking for real talent, with real potential and real attitude.

Clients use us because we can give them an insight to the market, a window onto the world of potential talent that is available, either actively or passively.

So stop giving them what they can find themselves…and start finding people that they can’t.

Rarely a day goes by without talk of a skill shortage…and most recruiters nod compliantly and see this as an opportunity…but an opportunity for what?

If the skills aren’t there, then they aren’t there. So instead of acquiescing, and firing out dozens of headhunt calls, and placing numerous online job ads, just STOP!

Remember Katie’s hypothetical example?

Given the choice of a solid Brand Manager from a global competitor or the owner of a small start up who has managed to launch a fantastic product with limited resources, and really creative solutions… I think the managers would instinctively lean towards one option. And I think the business as a whole would lean in the other direction.

3rd party recruiters need to be able to offer the same approach, the same confidence…and the same INSIGHT.

Stop looking for skills and start looking for attitude…then let the best companies take care of the upskilling.