In the current economic climate and with talent shortages in some areas, how important is effective human capital management in ensuring companies are able to attract and retain top talent?
I think next generation competitive advantage will be driven not by ‘what’ an organisation does but by ‘how’ it does it and that means its about people and culture. If we take it as given that organisations should have great products and/or services by default their differentiator will be ‘how’ the organisation behaves and ‘how’ its culture differentiates them from the competition. Although I don’t particularly like the term ‘human capital management’ it is a key driver of success and growth and organisations that understand how to attract, retain and develop talent will be the ones we admire in the future. Organisations should concentrate on building ‘amazing places to work’ so their talented ones choose to stay and the talent they want choose to join!
How significant are effective onboarding strategies for employers here? What should these look to include?
I don’t know which term I dislike more, ‘human capital’ or ‘Onboarding’. Smacks of passengers getting on to an airplane but organisations don’t want passengers they want a talent filled culture. They want active and willing contributors, entrepreneurs and leaders for the future. The passengers are what I call ‘Expendables’. They are employees who will never actively contribute to the vision your organisation is aiming for and in fact most times are actively counterproductive. The opposite end of the scale is the employee that I call the ‘Maverick Ambassador’. These are the people who absolutely LOVE their organisation. They have made a choice to think and act differently in order to contribute to its success and in turn their own. In HR terms these are your advocates and that means organisations need to start building that advocacy right from the start. However, the start for me is way before they start. The emotional connection to organisations required for this takes time so the earlier organisations start to build the required relationship the better.
One area that often comes up as being attractive for employees and beneficial to employers is the concept of ‘intrepreneurship’; so taking on new ideas from employees to boost productivity and engage staff. Do many organisations practise this and how can they go about doing it so it genuinely benefits both parties?
Intrapreneurship, like innovation is widely talked about but very rarely practiced, as most organisations simply don’t know how to do it. As one of the leading thinkers in this area the majority of my time is spent teaching organisations how to build innovative cultures yet some of these organisations already purport to be truly innovative. The truth is for most organisations its just smoke and mirrors. The marketing department of most global organisations is in constant overdrive convincing us that their organisation is innovative yet I sit in the boardrooms of global organisations and am asked how I can help them make their statement a reality. Building a culture of innovation isn’t actually achieved by focusing on innovation. For me innovation is a by-product of being exceptional so I talk to leadership teams about what I call the ‘Greenhouse Effect’. Understanding all the complimentary factors and elements required for building an amazing culture where things like risk, creativity and intrapreneurship are just part of a holistic approach to driving innovation. All these factors become part of ‘how’ organisations do what they do helping reinforce their differentiation and helping create emotional connections for employees and customers.
What role can technology play in this? What do onboarding systems do and how can they help organisations make a difference in engaging staff from the very beginning?
We live in a digital world now and especially when organisations look at attracting the next generation of talent and future leaders they must embrace the fact that the 21st century workforce is technologically integrated. It’s part of their life, their ecosystem to the extent that the majority probably can’t communicate or relate without it. Organisations need to fundamentally understand this must become a fully integrated part of attracting talent, building relationships, induction processes and the day-to-day functionality of every employee. 3D films, introductions, overviews, avatars, virtual reality walkthroughs, simulations, social media, online communities, YouTube, instant messaging and Facetime to name but a few. Employee engagement is the big buzzword at the moment but from what I see there aren’t many orgainsations that get it right they’re just on the bandwagon. However there are pioneers in building amazing cultures within organisations and driving talent of the highest standard throughout every department in order to raise performance. I’d encourage organisations to start following people like Perry Timms, Head of Talent & Organisational Development at Big Lottery Fund or Lisa Sibley, Employee Engagement Manager at Essex County Council to name but a few.
Despite graduate unemployment being at a record level, many businesses still say they are unable to find effective talent that is ready for their business. How can companies look to find, attract and engage/retain top graduates and those with new outlooks and skills in particular?
We know graduate unemployment is at a record level and will be for some time no doubt, so for me organisations need to change their approach and deal with the situation that faces them. The current situation dictates that if your looking and can’t find then do something different like looking further back down the education line and communicating with talent at a much younger age. This won’t necessarily fill the current gap but it will create pipelines for the future. Failing that organisations need to invest in training potential candidates so they are business ready. The academic community must also take some responsibility here to and help prepare people to be more business savvy earlier on. Things like entrepreneur academies and more business teaching in schools is an absolute must. We should encourage more things like the ‘Tenner Tycoon’ lottery programme where school children are given entrepreneurial opportunities whilst still in full time education. The role of education is ultimately to prepare young people for the world of business but we don’t actually teach them enough about the subject that for most will dominate 50% of their lives! Our education system is also absolutely fantastic at stifling creativity! We’re taught that there is ‘an’ answer not possibility. We’re taught conformity not imagination and we’re taught that that taking risks only really leads to making mistakes not learning! I’m passionate about subjects like this and would like nothing better than to see the UK back on top as one of the most creative, innovative and industrial countries in the world and I’d encourage everyone especially leaders in government and education to watch Sir Ken Livingstone’s TED lecture on creativity and education. Retaining top talent comes back to culture again and is the organisation an amazing place to work? Is the quest for innovation and differentiation part of the everyday and is the vision and purpose big enough to constantly challenge talented people?
How has the graduate pool changed over the last decade or so, with so many more on the market? Does this make life harder for HR professionals and recruiters and how can they effectively identify the genuine talent? Will higher tuition fees have an impact here, either positively or negatively?
This for me is fundamentally about the fact that we are breading academics that aren’t business savvy. As a successful entrepreneur I can tell you, the real world of business is nothing like those Harry Potter Business Books we’re preached from at university. It’s dynamic, fluid, scary, exciting, filled with ‘what does my gut tell me’ moments and no amount of education and letters after you’re name can prepare you for a ‘What the F***’ moment where you have to make a decision. No if’s no but’s, what do we do now? The UK government needs to understand that we don’t have a silicon valley; we don’t have a Google, an Apple and a Microsoft. Why, because we’ve let our current crop of talent move away and we’ve just put a giant sized tuition fee barrier in place that will slow the creation of the next generation of UK entreprenurs, intrapreneurs, leaders and pioneers!
Comments from this article as featured in The Times – Special report, A Revolution with a Human Face, 13th december 2011