Ottawa put its heart and soul into the recent bid to host Amazon’s HQ2, regrettably not making the shortlist. While this is disappointing, there is a bright side that shouldn’t be overlooked.

Our bid is an important reminder that the National Capital Region has an amazing story to tell. But we do need to get better at talking about it – and louder too. We must also acknowledge that what got us here might not be enough for the next step – to build the next generation of globally competitive firms and be recognized as a place for top talent to build careers.

We pride ourselves on the fact that Ottawa is an innovative city for research, business and technology, yet this commitment to innovation has not consistently been applied to the way we attract and manage talent. Organizations have been risk-averse and insular in their approach to finding talent – focusing on the same people from the same market. This won’t work much longer, since our market is changing rapidly and dramatically.

Consider this: Close to one-third of our city’s workforce is nearing retirement age and we are seeing an alarming shortage of C-suite-ready talent at the VP level in all sectors. To top it off, the next generation of leaders is about 10 years younger and three roles behind the leaders whose shoes it will step into.

So what can we do to ensure that we are attracting and developing the talent that will lead us into the future?

For starters, we need to market Ottawa as a city in which to build a career, not just as a nice place to live. Over the last 12 months, we have attracted many senior-level candidates from across Canada, the United States and Europe. Most of these candidates knew Ottawa for its quality of life, but none of them thought of the city as offering an opportunity to develop as a leader. Organizations need to make sure they are creating and communicating opportunities for leaders to grow and develop throughout their career life cycle.

We also need to raise the bar and broaden our reach for great talent. Finding talent with the qualities needed to grow private sector companies, bring not-for-profits forward in an era of decreasing funding, and strategically streamline the mandate of public sector entities requires looking outside Ottawa, and being open to candidates from different backgrounds and industries. We need individuals who bring the unique perspectives and leadership skills needed in the ever-changing digital economy.

Being flexible and taking a creative approach to talent is also key. Since you can’t always bring the best people to your location, it is increasingly common for candidates to telecommute between cities and across borders. A reliance on interim executives is also on the rise. In Canada, there is a deep pool of experienced executives that can be tapped by organizations to address key organizational challenges such as implementing large-scale projects, streamlining operations and catalyzing growth. These executives bring critical skills and experience that complement existing leadership teams.

Finally, there is the issue of succession planning. Continuing to invest in the identification and development of high-potential leaders is essential to retaining top talent. Some excellent tools can help identify future leaders so that coaching plans and leadership programs can be put in place to develop them. Some of the most forward-thinking organizations are also developing high-potential talent through work exchanges in other cities or countries – as well as through talent clusters, where people come together in a multi-disciplinary, multi-functional collaboration to work on a project, allowing them to learn from each other and develop news skills.

The talent race is more competitive than ever, which is why organizations must take a bold and creative approach to attracting, retaining and developing their talent. It’s time to unleash Ottawa’s growth potential and be the great city and region we already know we are.

Originally published in the Ottawa Citizen on 1 February 2018 

Susannah Crabtree

Susannah Crabtree is a Partner and the Head of Odgers Berndtson’s Ottawa office. She specializes in the recruitment of senior executives in the public and not-for-profit sectors. Susannah is also a...

Eric Beaudan

Eric Beaudan is the Global Head, Leadership Practice at Odgers Berndtson, based in Toronto. Using the proprietary LeaderFit assessment method he designed, Eric works with organizations to assess an...



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