The 11th Annual Talent Management and Leadership Development Summit

My first Symposium event (I think) and my first ‘public’ conference presentation for quite a while (slides are up on SlideShare).  Overall, I really enjoyed the day.  Sessions were short and punchy and I think all the presenters could have gone on for longer and still kept me engaged.

Of my presentation, I’m more than aware of the various faux pas including using charts in PowerPoint and talking too much about context.  However, the latter was key to explaining why we have done what we have and the former for showing some level of evaluation.  As blog readers will know I’m rather keen on evaluation.

My session seemed to hit a good spot with the audience, with plenty of interest in the breaks around what we have done with ILM, the apprenticeship levy and how we are tackling the healthcare workforce crisis.  Really, what I did amounted to a fairly standard case study which wouldn’t have been much ‘new’ to an L&D audience so I was happy that people at least looked engaged.

Chair’s opening remarks – Amy Armstrong, Senior Faculty, Hult International Business School

A session on the conference chair’s interests including “crucible leadership”, the term used for the impact of difficult personal experiences on an individual’s development.

The importance of the human element was considered alongside, the impact of artificial intelligence (AI), the “Fourth Industrial Revolution”,.  Amy argued that the future will mean combining Human Resources (HR) with BR (Bot Resources); the first time I’ve heard of “BR” and something undoubtedly to keep in mind going forward.

The focus of her work is on leader’s role in leading for the “human moment” at work, namely the compassion to connect and care (i.e. what AI can’t do – for now at least).  Amy mentioned the thematic crossover with the rise of self-focused individualism, in part due to dehumanization via electronic communication, increasing loneliness, increased stress and decreased networks (such as close friends at work).  Increasingly, it was argued, workplace interactions are very superficial and I guess I would agree with this considering how few of my close friends have come from the workplace (unlike school, university, etc. and unlike if I think about my dad at my age and his circle of friends).

So how do you start with this?  The presentation argued compassion needs to start with yourself (i.e. you need to take time to care for self, which can include mindfulness, etc.).  Kristen Nef’s work around self-compassion was referenced before the room did a “feel present” breathing exercise.  I must admit that I nearly dozed off with the breathing exercise, when I caught up with Amy later she admitted that’s not uncommon as people are so worn out that the exercise often is a rare opportunity for people to take a few minutes.  I would not say I am particularly worn out but then perhaps that is the point as the exercise might suggest otherwise!  In conversation with other attendees later in the day, there were some interesting ideas around this, such as a person who, in their Outlook calendar, has “looking out of the window” time.  Personally I was not sure if that is a good idea or just sad that we have reached that point, with all the conflict our society has been through and the technological developments is the nature of ‘being’?

Agile by design: the future of leadership development is here – Anna Seely, Principal, Talent Strategy and Leadership Development, Mercer UK

This session argued for the importance of agility (over other buzzwords such as VUCA).  Why?  Agility is what is needed to deal and change with the widespread industry disruption, including changes to customer expectations.

Amy argued that agility, not productivity, will ensure long term success if startups master scale and/or corporates master agility (the latter leading to the oft referenced decline in Fortune 500 companies over the last few decades).  What agility actually means was talked about at different levels, i.e. country, organisation, team and individual – for organisations it means being nimble.  One quote I don’t think I’ve heard before is “agility rhymes with stability” and the stress was on the need for a strong base.  A dancer metaphor lining this up as about a strong ‘core’, combined with dynamic moving parts that do not weaken the core.  This was quite a nice way to put the ideas across as not everything should be ‘made’ lean or have scrum applied to it and I’d certainly agree that too often people can be won over by trends that are not always directly applicable.

The session also considered the need to develop your practice identity, a model of continuous improvement Mercer use with clients.  This identity is “How I Lead” and “Who I Am” – these are influenced by factors including the crucible moments of the first session.  The “Who” is the core of conviction and beliefs whilst the “How” are behaviours, competencies and things you do.  Context is king with this, different levels need to manage differently and I was pleased to see this knowing my own presentation would look at levels of competency/how.

What makes leaders less agile was also considered, including their/organisational measures of success acting as blockers and encouraging short-termism.  Locked down processes and change resistance also play a part.  I agreed with the challenge that leaders need to get people to imagine a different future.  Indeed a nice example of a programme for a Pharma client showed how this can be done, a spaced 9-month programme combining experience, encounter (inc. classroom) and exposure.  Interesting that Mercer work on content only 2 months in advance to allow for the same overall journey but agility to current trends, with the Pharma’s CEO driving areas to focus on due to changes in the market.

Mercer sponsored the event and had a number of good takeaway materials available too.

Mind the Leadership Gap: the journey to inform, inspire and develop leadership potential – Transport for London

A good presentation from TFL on changes to their business plan and implications for L&D support for their leaders.  Their first, pan-TFL, director programme was launched in 2013 (prior to this was piecemeal across different departments – one of a few areas where it was similar to my presentation).  The first programme was run through CASS and cascaded down the management team/levels.

Following the cascade they reached the point to consider what they should do next and they have shifted to DeSmet’s idea of “leader led” learning making use of the fact “every leader has a teachable point of view”.  I’d certainly agree everyone has sharable lessons but I don’t know if this should be a formal thing over amplifying the leader’s reflections via ESNs, blogging, etc.  Interestingly they benchmarked this leader-led learning to other examples at Deloitte and the DWP, but generally speaking there are a lack of UK-based examples.  The model has allowed for agility and at zero cost (to be fair the Q&A did call this out as not really being zero considering the time involved – really the shift is from the  external costs of CASS to internal ones).

They also had levels for different audiences, three in their case, with a focus on learner/leader self-direction and on-demand resources.  There are common/core elements across the three: the “expert hours” (with the leaders presenting for 20 minutes, 10-minute discussion and 30 mins on adopting/implanting), short term placements, mentoring, perspectives (external networking, recommended TEDs, etc.) and leadership challenges (specific issues with group brainstorming).  Overall the website they used looked good as a non-typical-LMS approach to supporting people across 5 topics (leading/self-awareness/change/financial and commercial), via these resource/activity types in the different ‘journeys’.  Again, like we have attempted to achieve, they have tried to encourage mentoring via lining up relevant people with specific roles.

A standout figure from the presentation, for me, was that 30% of the 500 leaders asked to contribute were immediately willing to mentor or contribute other content.  Personally, this sounded really impressive and it would be interesting to know how many organisations would get that kind of buy-in to a new approach.  However, they also acknowledged that moving from people having six days at CASS does risk a loss of kudos. The mooted idea of having contribution link to pay/bonus/performance reviews might also have had an impact on take-up!

Interestingly they consider themselves moving away from a “learning organisation” to a “teaching organisation” – in language terms I thought many L&D professionals might feel that is a step backwards but you could understand what they mean, i.e. that it’s being less passive than participating in learning and more about all managers leading it for the organisation.

In the Q&A, BP mentioned that they too are moving away from a residential business school programme (for them MIT) and facing the challenge of ongoing learning being seen as as valuable.  There was also the usual discussion around competencies being valid constructs for some consistency/clarity versus unwieldy corporate documents (again I touched upon our approach in my presentation and some previous thoughts on this are here).

Panel discussion – When it comes to leadership, does experience matter?

A discussion on the importance of experience, the panel being a Mercer consultant and a start-up recruiter.  Started with the geopolitical climate of young leaders breaking age records in Canada, France and Austria – evidence for the argument that leadership quality (or the perception of it) is not attached to experience.  Meanwhile leaders in industry include young leaders of tech startups whilst large corporates are changing too, Kraft just appointing a CFO in his 30s.  What has been found though is that young leaders need experienced heads around them.

The session went on to the rise of start-ups and wider trends toward flat structures, including the problem of people wanting to ‘move on’ which leads to management even if they don’t want it.  To an extent this is not a new problem, with all industries having promoted people for competence in one area and not necessarily any leadership or management potential.  I did disagree with a point made that you should accelerate young leaders to support digital-first policy, this being age presumptuous which is one of the things that really annoys me although older people obviously have to have continued their lifelong learning (to avoid being the old guy in the corner).

Some evidence from the research was mentioned including young leaders changing and adopting their behaviours quicker than older workers (which you’d suspect probably would be the case – i.e. they are less stuck in their ways).  The challenge was set for the delegates to have high potential development programmes challenge the identity (as in the earlier session) of how people manage/lead – with 50% of high potential programmes failing currently, in part, due to a failure to tackle this challenge.

The room’s input was that experience certainly cannot equal age any more.  I challenged a number of people during the day over why we then insist still in job adverts for set numbers of years of experience (and even worse specific industry experience for roles that are based on a largely generic skillset such as L&D).

How to develop your culture to become a values-based leadership organisation – Sandy Wilkie, Staff Engagement Lead, Bolton NHS Foundation Trust

A session on the Barrett Centre PVA model for the redesign of values for this part of the NHS, creating a standard vocabulary and common language around behaviour.  Sandy ran design sessions with staff, with the top ten values leading into a second stage which then created the Bolton V.O.I.C.E.

They have then worked on what the values look like through practices and they have become integral from recruitment, through performance management and development.  One aspect is “value based decision making” where values are pitted against difficult questions/situations for how people should act (using some of the theory from Myers Briggs).

There were aspects similar to the ‘identity’ piece earlier in the day in considering what personal values are and the desired ‘as-is’ to ‘to-be’.  The ‘cultural entropy’ levels considered across departments and their physical estate/layout.  They’ve found some surprise issues through this, including issues within teams that were previously thought okay whilst finding other areas for development elsewhere, including improving team morale.  Overall they are continuing on a cultural journey, as they move out of special measures.  That journey is led from the top, with the chief exec still running a clinic a week (as a doctor) to be ‘on the front line’.

I suspect many organisations have their values/behaviours, etc. but it was good to see an example of where they seemed to have had input from the whole organisation, leading to ownership and use.

Group Discussion on Table

A couple of questions were given to the room to contemplate, abbreviated versions:

  1. What is key for leadership and management success?
  2. How can we ensure future talent pools?

We discussed point two, considering how we might be able to create some clarity in a world of unknowns, not least the implications of BR and other technology.  Issues we considered included what skills we need for people to prepare for this.  Is a key skill/knowledge piece now better horizon scanning?  Is it all about adaptability?

On point one the debrief between the groups was to drive talent and engagement through really acting on the value in employee surveys, change culture so change is a positive, local individual development (1-2-1 with managers) will stay essential, seeing engagement as a tick box/RAG, don’t see talent as about creating elites (which resonated with my presentation calling for more ‘socialist’ availability of development in organisations) to maximise everyone’s potential.

For point two one option remains to buy it in, inc. the large number of tech acquisitions by companies in recent years.  Wider development of talent pools needs to involve all level, chief execs or other levels are not special, have management mentors and projects: not necessarily clear up front what trying to achieve (i.e. give some structure but allow people to get what they want/need not have to do whole lot – which would be different to my session’s focus on apprenticeships).  I made the point that business needs to stop complaining about talent and do more with schools and apprenticeships.

Engineering a sustainable tomorrow to have a workforce that is representative of society – Jenny Tomkins, HR Operations Director, Costain

Some on the work they have done on equality, diversity and inclusion (including some of the slides from their training).  Showed, for example, the iceberg of differences (i.e. visible and non-visible).

Incorporated some of the evidence than diversity trumps ability through different perspectives and viewpoints.  They have taken this on with broader talent pools, LGBTI and BAME networks, refresh of emerging talent brand and role model for flexible working practices.  They are also including 50/50 female/male graduates intake.

They have set management bonuses for diversity targets.

The benefits and impacts of moving out the ‘9-box grid’ – Jennifer Doyle, Executive Resourcing & Talent, Financial Conduct Authority

A look at moving away from the 9 box – as I tweeted:

Issues with 9-box included that little evidence people manage to get it implemented well.  Tracking organisation-wide is often an issue too (and has been for me over the years).

Their alternative is “scope for growth” – which actually ended up being 9 positions but focused on the positive, everyone has potential.  The desire here was to recognise that, from a growth and talent perspective, meeting objectives are part of the impact but not the be all and end all.

The balance of impact and growth creates the 3 zones.

Three zone:

  • Depth: expand expertise in specialism
  • Breadth: build career beyond single specialism
  • Stretch: grow beyond your role, moving to positions of greater complexity

each has three levels, for example, if you are in the Depth area you are a ‘developing specialist’, ‘core contributor’ or ‘expert’.

I really liked the language here in relation to positive psychology and it’s a way to have “I’m happy where I am” as a positive (rather than always encouraging people to move up/on).  The support provided by the central team includes indicators of what the 9 look like (such as eLearning to provide background info).  The new tool/language used as part of review and career conversations.  The individual is given a worksheet to help with GROW and what want to be known for (i.e. identity again).

Advantages for The FCA include central reporting so have profiles across departments.  As have the data can map it to diversity profiles, etc.

Panel Discussion: Brexit and the future of attracting and retaining talent – Sandy Wilkie, Staff Engagement Lead, Bolton NHS Foundation Trust & Julia Howes, Head of Workforce Planning, Mercer UK

Mercer research shows Brexit is being blamed but demographic implications (such as ageing workforce and ageing overall population) were already underway.

Since 2013 (excluding immigrants) the UK workforce already falling.  Productivity challenges include dealing with this via reskilling older people and inactive people (such as home mothers/fathers).  Brexit has made it more urgent but varies by industry (health, in particular, is in trouble).

The NHS perspective included that there simply are not enough nurses and increasing demand with limited resourcing.  Challenges with current setup, six Philippine nurses who were brought in but only two have been able to get all the way through the conversion rules.

There was some agreement on needing a “grow our own” (like our model) but need national picture/solutions.  The c-suite often try to recruit out of problems, but now being punished for underinvestment in L&D since 2008.  Recruitment is also a risky approach, especially graduate schemes as there are less people aged 10-20 than 20-30 so not sustainable in immediate future.

Jon who was next up raised the point that, in part, we need to stop investing in cheap labour – instead there should be a focus on tech…

“The End of Leadership Development” – Jon Ingham, Executive HR Consultant and author of The Social Organization

Jon had sat next to me for much of the day and did a good job of putting together a presentation not really aligned to the advertised title (“New directions and opportunities in how we think about talent and leadership ”) but tackling some of the research and points made during the day.

One graph showed increasing spend on leadership and management development versus for a decrease in confidence in leadership.  I’ve seen this before but there’s lots to it, potentially, if you unpack it.  I’d say it is in part due to a loss of faith in capitalism (promises in the fall of the Berlin Wall drying up), the rise of the 1%, the rise of email (and loss of personal touch as mentioned earlier in the day) and much more.

So what should leaders be doing?  Jon argued for Simon Sinek’s approach.

There was a nod for the E-Test (which I’ve never really thought of as more than a joke – for example to do it ‘correctly’ you really need the knowledge of how writing mirrors) it does not feel like a robust scientific experiment to test something as important as empathy.

Pay and rewards have been shown to negatively impact performance, CIPD high pay research so have to look elsewhere.  Part is avoiding “buzyness” syndrome (another pet hate of mine) – mindfulness can help but also the need to think socially to engage brains and think about problems differently (this is in part why I advocate positive psychology to not become blinkered by problems but also the importance of inclusion as mentioned earlier).

He advocated for less leadership development and more imagination around organisational design and development, for example, do we need permanent leaders?  Examples exist of electing leaders for companies, bottom up, for more empathy.

There was a plug for Mintzberg (who I must admit I hadn’t realised was still active) and his work on ‘communityship’: more leaders, less followers.  Nice idea and would be interesting to see how well that works – ultimately, to me, we still seem to live in a ‘carry the can’ society and it feels like someone is still expected hold responsibilities across the board.

On the community theme there was a bit on conversation/network analysis for identifying your key brokers and central connectors.  I must admit I’d largely forgotten about this as a technique after being excited about it from an IM/KM perspective previously.  In other words “social talent management” is the option to go for – I guess the criticism here would be that your social influencers may also be the people that (in 9 box grid land) you are easing out!  However, the challenge of how to recognise those who help others and not just themselves certainly came up more than once through the day – better goal setting would be the solution in part?  He finished with that very point on the need to performance manage teams, not individuals.

Author: iangardnergb

My name is Ian Gardner and I am interested in various topics that can be seen as related to learning, technology and information. To see what I am reading elsewhere, follow me on The Old Reader ( and/or Twitter (@iangardnergb).

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