Diverse approaches to talent bring rich rewards

17 Sep 2018

Diverse approaches to talent bring rich rewards

In this final article in the series, Nick Claridge, Partner in the Consumer Executive Search Practice at Odgers Berndtson, considers whether thinking differently about hiring might bring richer rewards, and how creating a welcoming environment pays dividends.

It’s a simple equation. If all we do is hire and develop in the same way, there will clearly be an ever-shrinking talent pool. Surely, it’s time to be more adventurous, and look beyond the obvious?

Talent transfer

Sport is one arena that provides inspiration. For, Dan Hunt, Performance Director of the British Ski and Snowboarding, it’s called ‘talent transfer potential’. 

He doesn’t mean the easy conversion through the different events, within, say, cycling, running or rowing. He’s thinking more broadly – more inclusively.

His current project includes transforming an elite netball player into a medal-winning Olympic Ski Jumper. Dan’s rationale is that the athlete is ‘‘tall, lean, very strong and has a powerful vertical jump’’.

He dismisses the common objections to transferring talent. For example, lack of knowledge, skill, and experience. As he says: “We can train that in.”

Dan cites the example of Rebecca Romero, the British athlete who won Silver in the Athens Olympics in the Quadruple Sculls in rowing. Then, four years later, she went on to strike Gold in cycling’s Individual Pursuit.

Military precision

A Northern-based food manufacturer is another example of thinking out of the box, so to speak.

They faced a substantial and complex right-sizing of manufacturing infrastructure. It included moving from five sites to three, shifting people, kit, and improving some of the Sales and Operational Planning process. All this had to be done without missing a beat on maintaining supply and customer service.

The project leader on this huge project had zero food manufacturing experience.

However, he was a Supply Chain and Logistics specialist who had relocated a 5000-strong military base, from Afghanistan to Iraq. That involved moving critical medical facilities, power supply, people, accommodation, technology, sanitation, transportation, social assets, and communications, in an unfamiliar and hostile environment. What’s more, he’d done it not once, but twice.

Needless to say, the UK move went well.

The moral of these stories is that sometimes the talent you need is already in your business, but needs to be elevated in a different function.

And when you do look outside your organisation, is there an opportunity to be more adventurous?

Getting engaged

A positive culture with strong engagement undoubtedly enables a business to attract and retain the best talent. Especially in a climate where business is facing some major reputational challenges in the eyes of potential recruits.

Scandals, suspected tax avoidance, zero prosecutions in the financial services community after the financial crash and an American president who boasts about not paying corporation tax have made headline news. All paint a cumulative picture of a crisis in corporate culture and values in the business community.

This comes at a time when Millennials believe leadership should be transparent. They value and look for openness, inclusion and diversity in the workplace. Clearly, there’s job to be done to redress the balance of opinion and values.

So, who is doing great work improving engagement and building a culture of inclusion?

Wholesome values

Graze, the healthy snack company has listened to its people to find out what's really unique about their culture and what people feel they need to be their best selves.

Graze wanted to improve connections between people within the company, promote inclusion and make employees see that their voices are heard.

One of their tactics was to introduce bite-sized, lunchtime learning, short engagements on Mindfulness, Nutrition and Sleep, and topics like ‘how to code’, run by a mixture of internal and external experts. The effect? It’s encouraging colleagues to talk, discuss and engage.

Power transfer

Michelin’s idea is a bit of a mouthful: Responsabilisation!

This actually translates into a mixture of empowerment and accountability. So, team leaders step back from issuing detailed orders or providing solutions to difficult problems. Instead, they act as coaches, or in the event of disagreement, referees.

Teams divide responsibility between themselves, evaluate their own performance and liaise with other autonomous teams. Quite a change from rigid, top-down control.

Less ‘them and us’

The final case study comes from Matt Elliot, People Director at Virgin Money.

As he explains: “When we bought Northern Rock, the challenge was to move from ‘them and us’ to ‘us and us’.

“Just as important as integrating the company was being welcoming to any newcomers. To encourage this, we committed to matching the flexible working arrangements candidates may be enjoying, to ensure flexibility isn’t a blocker for joining us.

“The business has worked hard to be inclusive, for example, becoming a sponsor of ‘Newcastle Pride’, an annual event in the home-town of Northern Rock’s largest call centre."

“There was an internal competition for tickets, won by a parent of a son who had just announced to his family he was gay. It came at just the right time for the family to publicly show their support. The family had an incredible weekend and our colleague wrote a moving account which was posted on the intranet. It was the ‘most read’ blog of the year.

“We aimed to do the right thing for our customers too, of course. We removed products which contained ‘cliff-edge’ interest rates on the expiration of term. The combination of doing the right thing for both colleagues and customers set the cultural tone, having a positive impact which rippled across the company. This has been built on subsequently, with the aim to be a business that provides a welcoming environment for all.”

Matt saw the positive impact all of this had internally, the feel-good effect that rippled across employees and the way it changed the culture. It made the business a welcoming environment for all, through the power of allies.

Good words

I’ll leave the final words to Richard Branson because they are very good words indeed.

“If people who work for a business are proud of the business they work for, they’ll work that much harder. Therefore, I think turning your business into a real force for good, is good business sense as well.”

You can read Nick’s previous articles in this series on new, millennial-friendly recruitment strategies and how best to hold onto all that hard-won talent once you’ve hired it.

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