The often ignored realities of talent management (#1): location location location

Having worked for a variety of organisations one thing has become clear – life choices for employees/colleagues are a balance of many factors.

Location – restricting your organisation?

The decision on where to live (or where would be acceptable to move for work) is the primary life choice that impacts on employers.  In return any employer locked by location, especially when there is no need for it in the digital workplace, restrict the talent they can access.

Break the clustering to seek talent

I recently listened to HBR Ideacast 650 that focuses on ‘talent clusters’.  I found myself disagreeing with much of this podcast.  Traditional locations were driven by logistics, for example the UK’s industrial north was driven by canals and then railways to help people come to the cities, work in ever larger mills/factories (driven by access to raw materials), etc.  The podcast argues it is important to be in one place and that real estate prices are an indicator (of demand):

And the differential for the premium spaces in places like either Wall Street or Market Street in San Francisco or Sand Hill Road or somewhere. Those premiums relative to other places are at all-time highs.

Likewise the wage differentials you see. So clearly, somebody is willing to pay and pay dearly in order to be in those environments.

There is some logic to this, but it goes beyond talent – for example, Wall Street is attractive for the microseconds it offers traders against their competition.  The podcast interviewee’s view shows legacy thinking from the employers and we are surely past email as the go to tool for distance collaboration:

And my kind of next reflection on email – and this would be true for phone calls – is that if I thought of what’s the number one destination of emails from Harvard Business School? It’s Harvard Business School.

So just because things can, you know, engage at a distance doesn’t mean that we all suddenly become untethered to place. Broadly speaking, at this point, technology has done as much to enforce the value of place as to make the world weightless and distance-less and to not have that kind of internal connection.

The above is a ridiculous statement in my eyes.  The very fact tech companies exist, with talent in Silicon Valley, production in China, distribution worldwide, etc shows that technology has untethered design, production, distribution, etc.

Trust yourself for a world of opportunities

The above is, of course, also indicative of the ‘dirty’ side of globalisation.  Costs are kept low by manipulating labour markets, taxes are kept low by manipulating geographical differences and the ‘top’ talent gets to choose to live in Silicon Valley, New York, London, Geneva or elsewhere that they decide is nice but also attractive for client meetings, time zones for client calls, etc.

What organisations have failed to do is break that tethering to place for the talent where that is a possibility, with very few employees actively allowed to collaborate from their location of choice.  A recent Fuse podcast with Rachel Hutchinson came direct from her home in the United States where she collaborates with global colleagues for her multinational employer.  However, it is fair to say she is an example of the minority worldwide.  The reality is that many roles should be free from location but management practices, particularly trust for new hires, do not seem to align with modern reality.  Indeed just this week Channel 4 have announced their planned move to Leeds, whilst good that London-obsession in the media is slightly diluted the announcement, at the same time, makes a mockery of the idea that technology driven companies (like broadcasters) have transformed their practice.

Trust your hires

Why you would not trust a new hire in a remote role smacks of undefined recruitment and a lack of clear goals and KPIs.  Something many of us will have been guilty of but avoidable if we spend sufficient time planning.  Yes, sometimes, you will be ‘fuzzy’ over boundaries and responsibility, particularly at stages of the change cycle or how VUCA your environment currently is.  This is fine – but digital working, data and evidence does not mean you need to be colocated.

eMail does play a part here – for example, is logging 10 hours a week to email admin acceptable?  It may be, but unless dealing with service desk software or shared inboxes it is difficult to know how efficiently someone is dealing with queries/emails.  The mill owner in industrial England could view his domain and have power relationships directly over employees, the modern manager needs to be much smarter about this.  For example, think about traditional remote roles like drivers and salespeople – they are out on the road but have clear targets.

The podcast idea that if you need a tech future you need to move to a talent pool is also maddening.  Did you previously move to London just for a larger pool of marketers, lawyers, etc.?  If not, do you really need to for digital?  The academic hubs of Cambridge (UK and MA.) are even mentioned – it’s not like you expect those cities to grow hugely, the whole point of universities are to develop people to move on beyond their core location:

I think it applies most to companies where technology is going to be the central thing that shapes their company’s future. If you are a senior leader and at some point senior leaders have to sort of make their belief about what the future is and act upon it. That’s what these things require. And it’s not that excellent customer service is not going to be important, and low-cost production and all those operational efficiencies. But in terms of at the margin, where am I going to be most effective in helping my company make the big choices that it needs to make? The people that are going to end up making this headquarters transfer will be those that say: “That’s the thing that I need.”

Where universities actively support their local communities away from the major pools/hubs they can lead to incubation of startups and local economy growth.  This is in part the problem highlighted by the the results of market conditions on higher education.

Talent management and “whose education is it anyway?”

Here we once more end up back at the blog’s title and the difficulties in the balance of talent management for world survival, national growth, company success and/or individual development and fulfillment.

The one thing that is for sure is that only through talent mobility can we liberate the individual to contribute to all four of these and remote work is the easiest way to achieve this, particularly with the hostility against migration that is sweeping the world.

For companies – think about what you are really asking people to do (the detail to your job descriptions) and, at least, offer the option of remote working – perhaps you will be surprised by the talent that emerges in your teams and applies for roles going forward.

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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