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.

A day of two reports: Climate and Apprenticeships

My social feeds were made up by two main stories this Monday just gone:

  1. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) special report on the impact of global warming of 1.5C (BBC News Article)
  2. UK Government report on Apprenticeship quality.

The impact of climate is around us all to see, from the increasingly dry summers in Britain, northern european forest fires, Californian droughts, etc.  A Guardian article in response to the climate issues, “Overwhelmed by climate change? Here’s what you can do“, hints at the fact we can feel lost in the face of such disastrous change.  It is easy to feel this way, however, I’ve recently finished reading Abundance (‘The Future is Better Than You Think’) and perhaps we need to get the good stories out there more effectively?  One of the items on the Guardian list is ‘vote’ and we all need to take a collective responsibility to force politicians to include massive change (or at least roll back support for coal as in Australia) in their agendas.

Apprenticeships as a route to tackle sustainability

Apprenticeships are an opportunity here – sustainability is a considerable part of modern learning programmes (such as Design, Engineer, Construct) and needs to be embedded throughout apprenticeships.  Indeed apprenticeships’ “British values” need to be revised to be inclusive of global warming policy and commitment to change.  Unfortunately this is difficult and probably of limited impact considering Apprenticeship standards are restricted to England (not the whole UK) and launched at a time when the UK, via Brexit and financial limitations, is falling backwards on the world stage.

So, in our organisations what can we do?  There have been some good examples, for example when I was at KPMG there was a start to a, since complete, cull on plastic.  Otherwise will climate become a consulting issue, similar to Y2K or GDPR?  Personally I feel this needs to become embedded in everything we do, it needs to be a cultural piece in the same way we expect continuous learning, demonstration of values (generally in the “don’t be a dick” category),etc..  Thus we need to take on the personal responsibility for ‘greening’ our business and lives in the same way that since the ’50s we have seen a change in mentality around diversity and inclusion.

L&D departments can play an essential part here in getting people to think differently and embed innovation around energy efficiency and other potential improvements.

Ensuring apprenticeship quality

The quality criticisms are curious given the shift to ’employer led’ apprenticeships should have employers ensure quality, rather than it remaining a central government concern.  This is really account management on the employer side, tracking appropriate feedback scores and outcomes metrics to get an holistic view of the apprentice.  That so many problems have occured suggests a more systemic issue, most likely down to issues such as the enforcing of the ‘20%’ as a metric based on quantity not quality.

The bigger issue seems to be financial sustainability of apprenticeships – with FE underfunded and apparently short term seeking of quick wins in the private space (the report’s “explosion in the number of training providers”), contributing to collapse/sale of key players, eg:

Like Y2K, GDPR and other temporary buzz terms the levy-led “explosion” does not seem to be helping.  Employer providers may be the solution here but requires investment from the same companies that have criticised the levy since launch.

There increasingly feels like there needs to be an ‘all-in’ approach.  Drop ‘T-Levels’ and other routes to simplify the model – have apprenticeship versus full-time degree.  Just look at teaching for the confusing variety of routes into the professions.  There are good ideas in the report (such as “abolishing the apprentice minimum wage”) but again it comes back to employers, or it should in the Standards environment.  Can any employer realistically pay the apprentice minimum wage and look themselves in the mirror?  For a full-time role I’d suggest not, for someone who is perhaps working 50% of an FTE then maybe, I think my first role was £1.17 an hour before any kind of minimum wage and that was okay as a Saturday job in being a first step on the ladder towards some kind of experience.  Eventually I was offered the management training programme by that employer (a now defunct supermarket) but opted for university instead.

The proposed kite system for good employers (in the government statement) is more challenging, it sounds like a good idea but will no doubt add to the noise that exists around the multiple ’employer of choice’ type awards out there.  Instead, in the same way providers can be rated by employers – let providers and apprentices rate employers in an open way via the ‘Find an apprenticeship’ site or other route.

Thoughts on L&D Recruitment 2 of 2: Applying

As a follow up to my previous post, now some thoughts on my job hunt.

It’s over two years since my last job search, this time self-inflicted rather than redundancy driven.  I had gone very ‘eggs in one basket’ for a role in an organisation I am really keen on (but have heard today they do not want me for a second interview).  That said I have a couple of other applications ‘out there’ that would also be fantastic.

So let’s think about roles in a bit more detail…

Like when in that career gap last time (see Why I Work in ‘Learning’) it is a time of reflection and consideration.  The challenge is that my primary driver remains the same – I enjoy help[ing] people better themselves in the context of their organisation/environment.  This should, you would you think, leave plenty of room for opportunities aligned to my past experience and education – traditional L&D, digital learning, research, libraries and information management, operational support, etc.  However, I worry this is perhaps too vague a driver?  I suspect being ‘generalist’ (working across the ‘lifecycle’ of ADDIE-esque work for example rather than just instructional design or digital development) and keen to continue to adapt my sector expertise (having worked in FE, HE, professional services and healthcare) goes against what employers (myself included in that first post) look for, i.e.:

Someone to hit the ground running.

Rather than consider experience from other sectors and that it probably demonstrates adaptability in combination with the correct knowledge and skills too many recruiters, it seems, have an inflexible idea of what they want.  This is primarily articulated in my personal bugbear, the bloody “10 years of experience” line, when you could do nothing for 10 years or so and (in that model) be a better candidate just because you are in the correct industry.  I would argue, and it is the case with my experience, you could have experience across sectors/industries where you have achieved consistently – moving your organisations’ learning approaches forward every time – which is far more valuable than sitting on your hands in industry x for 10 years or more.

Yes, this is in some ways contradictory to my first post – I’m more than aware I’m not drinking my own champagne here in the balance of looking for a capable, experienced and reliable candidate.

…and me

Inevitably you also start to worry if personality is the issue.  I remember being given a talk ‘to one side’, when others were on a coffee break, in my post redundancy outplacement support that I didn’t seem enthused by the mock-interviews and doing our ‘elevator pitch’ type prep.

This is because I wasn’t, I feel the process tired and out of date.  I generally don’t like the introvert/extrovert dichotomy as I think it all depends on context but it is incredibly difficult to portray a personality in an interview and, as a person applying and a recruiter, I need to keep that in mind.

…and organisations

Part of my rather fuzzy ethos is that opportunities should be open to all.  However, there are many reasons why people have traditionally got by with ‘who you know not what you know’.  This is where I feel we can all improve upon this now – there is a very real opportunity to express an interest and allow that organisation to say “okay, let’s take a look” – online portfolios, twitter, LinkedIn, etc, etc. will give you a picture of their expertise and personality.  This is far greater than what can be perceived in an interview, although I would agree that the face-to-face or virtual meeting skills should still come across that way.

I wanted to give a shoutout here to https://www.smartrecruiters.com/ which seems by far the smoothest application process I have come across – express an interest backed up by your social links and ask for a call/email back if they are interested in you.  A great idea.  This also keeps things personal, unlike some of the recruitment systems out there, certainly when I was applying for this a couple of years back many of these just seemed to be tests of patience/willing.

Sure, if you get 100s of applications you probably need some automatic filtering but keep things personal to some level. Please!  For example, one role I applied for in late July still has my application status as “application received” two months later.  I’ve tried following up via a contact at that company (no reply, so okay, bad sign) but there is not even a generic ‘careers’ email, never mind a bot of live chat for me to say “hey, I’m still interested – what’s going on?”.

Dear Hiring Organisations,

look, I know you are looking to fill quickly and easily but remember many of your applicants (like me) will have been in that position too.  Think about how your recruitment makes you seem in terms of personality, transparency, etc.  I’d also say this may well be hidden away from most hiring managers so, hey, Recruitment teams – sort it out!

Flexibility

One thing I have looked at in detail this time is remote work.  This would be my preference just due to locations and personal circumstances (I am splitting my time between countries and due another house move in a few months).  However, whilst the business press, L&D (via webinars and collaboration), etc. all talk a lot about this there are virtually zero roles.  Some learning designers are home based but many will include that all important “regular visit to Brighton, London, Nottingham, etc” in the text.  We seem to lack a truly global approach to recruitment even in big organisations – again, you wonder why when organisations say they have multiple unfilled vacancies and are stymied by skills shortages they remained locked to physical locations.  Talent is everywhere, businesses remain locked to location with Brexit, GDPR and other trends just seemingly reinforcing old mindsets.

At the conference I presented at last year, there was a discussion where the room considered future talent needs.  I made the point that employers can’t continue to complain about skills gaps when they remain so inflexible.

It is in this research on virtual/remote work that I’ve come across Rodolphe Dutel who has some excellent resources and advice.  He is also, possibly, the first person I’ve come across who genuinely replies to emails from people subscribed to his newsletters so kudos to him too.

For now

I continue to support my old team and will keep my eyes open for that next new role!

Some more thoughts on the future of functions/’support’ services

WARNING: Even by my standards, this is a bit of a mish-mash of ideas rather than any type of coherent article…

I’ve previously considered the idea that corporate ‘functions’ should change their terminology to the language still used in many institutions, such as universities, namely to become ‘support services’.  However, more recently, I’ve wondered if this actually will exasperate existing problems – particularly the struggles professional groups have in ‘pushing back’ to those ‘in charge’.

The CILIP event on demonstrating value I mentioned in a previous post put across a very passive approach – recommending you ask the organisation “what else should I do?”.  On reflection, this is in part why I moved away from pure ‘library and information’ roles, there was too much focus on the niche and, often, the physical space.  Instead, why not look at the business vision and plan to build proposals with clear business cases to go over and above what the organisation expects or thinks is possible?

Many people working in corporate roles will be seeing something else – the attempt of ‘traditional professions’ to try to claim the ‘business partnering’ mantle.  HR, L&D, IT, marketing and more are all claiming organisational alignment and ‘performance consulting’ is a term being adopted to mean multiple different things.  This feels like an attempt to claim ‘the middle ground’ and position one professional group in power, like when IT departments claimed ‘information’ for themselves via ICT or where PMOs have aggregated expertise from across the business in a vacuum from BAU activity.  However, the question remains, how can we best support the ‘business as usual’ in our organisation/industry as well as dealing with change?

I thought about this again recently when discussing something on Twitter, following this tweet from a renowned UK education tweeter:

The physical enforcement of location on education is something that does irritate me so I asked the question of why that needs to be:

The reply included a perfectly fair question*:

* the way I’ve previously recommended use of social media is to “say what you’d say to people’s faces” – this tweet is a good example of exactly what you’d ask in that situation (say if discussing the issue in the pub, at a conference, over dinner, etc.) BUT…

…it also highlights the problem: too many people jump to “well have you ever done it before?” or even straight to the dreaded “because we’ve always done it this way”.  Depending on how you read that tweet it’s either a reasonable question or trying to ‘shout someone down’ (in this case me).  This won’t be unfamiliar to, say, support services in universities (“how can you tell me how to teach my subject?” ) when, in reality, learning technologists, librarians and other support staff can add considerable value (I particularly liked this recent post from a lecturer at Northampton Uni seconding to their learning tech team).

So, in a world of open opinions online (such as my tweets in the above thread) how do we best share and support ideation internally?  Of course hybrid orgs and similar models come and go (holacracy’s for example got a lot of attention a while back).  There also seems to be renewed interest in ‘fee earners’ vs support type models that have long existed in LLPs, for example where people are looking at a ‘core’ team supplemented by flexible resources that come and go – in part via the ‘gig’ economy.  Another I’ve had bashing around in my head is BAU vs project structure/model.  However, BAU and projects could encourage a ‘them and us’ and a move away from ‘continuous improvement’ in the BAU fields.

So if we want to be ‘consultants’, in part to differentiate our professional work as cognitive and to avoid replacement via automation/machine, to improve performance perhaps the flip side is ‘delivery’.  The challenge for L&D, however, is that ‘learning delivery’ can risk an over focus on that traditional area (as identified by Jane Hart and others).

For now I think all we can say is continue to look for continuous improvement via lifelong learning and organizational development.  Whatever our professional backgrounds we need to try to ensure a rush for the middle ground doesn’t end up being a rush for the bottom in lowering quality and the support our teams expect of us.

CIPD Learning and Development Show: April 2018

I didn’t last long at this year’s CIPD L&D show – beyond catching up with a few people there wasn’t much grabbing my attention amongst the usual wide spread of presentations and stalls.

The CIPD show often feels like the broadest of L&D churches with a mix of tech, publishers, consultancies, coaches and more in a space smaller than many of the coaching, technology or other focused learning events.  Indeed this year the stalls seemed quiet whilst the presentations were oversubscribed (as always) – as a one-stop shop for HR generalists to keep up-to-date with L&D it is no doubt a useful day.  For the L&D specific person (like myself) it is less of a ‘must attend’.

This all said, the first session I attended:

did get me thinking at least…

Improving employee buy-in and engagement with training programmes

I recently said L&D is a “simple” profession – that we work to deliver improvements in performance (through knowledge, skill and behaviour change) in areas the business needs.  However, this session title hinted at a number of challenges I’ve faced and I’m sure are not uncommon, including:

  1. teams are busy and too ‘in the day-to-day’ to reflect and improve
  2. employees have their own ideas of what is needed vs management, different perceptions on business metrics, etc.
  3. unless something is transferable (to other organisations) and/or accredited there can be little interest in participating
  4. we have many underemployed people in the UK who may, simply, be in the wrong role(s)
  5. there is a continuing desire for ‘formal training’ when informal would be better and vis-versa.

Now the ‘simple’ solution to this could be to have stakeholders involved in design and use performance consulting to tackle the real issues.  However, carrot and stick techniques remain often necessary.

The presentation, from the Professional Academy, argued that you need to build a learning environment to then facilitate a development culture.  I suspect most L&D professionals would like to think they do this but, at the same time, it’s probably worth reenforcing.

The steps outlined for the perceived environment creation:

  1. Training needs identification
  2. Training structure – formalise and make clear to new starters from day one
  3. Reward and recognise
  4. Demonstrate progression (show learning impact, including but not limited to promotions)
  5. Gather feedback
  6. Formalise knowledge sharing and best practice

Johnson and Scholes’ Cultural Web was referenced as a way to think about learning and culture:

  1. Apprenticeships, for example, are good for the success “stories“.
  2. Symbols can include badges, different uniforms, etc.
  3. Rituals include things like graduation ceremonies.
  4. Power structures to help L&D includes genuine executive sponsorship and organisation structures that assist (at basic level that you actually have an L&D dept)
  5. Control included the calculation of ROI on investments [but see many an earlier post on my issues with ROI via ROE]

The session moved onto the 10Cs of Employee Engagement and how this relates: for example, making it clear the contribution of mandatory training is good for you and the company – not just there for the sake of it.  I liked the ‘confidence’ item in this as its related to the empowerment piece that I often refer to.

The ‘simples’ bit of ‘know your audience’ was also picked up.

The other good bit of this presentation was a free download of a toolkit – always good to get some freebies 🙂

Interestingly an article on marketing your external content passed my way too shortly after covering some of the same ground.

Rest of the show

predictably universities and training providers seem to have caught on that the apprenticeship levy is a potential game changer, if only people only cracked on with it.

xAPI update from HT2 Labs on how some of their work (as introduced to me at Kineo Connect) is delivering real results (and lots of industry awards).  The key thing here, for me, was that the examples have strong business metrics – sales figures, etc – to impact upon.  As always, your L&D approach is only going to be as strong as your business strategy.

Also briefly popped around a couple of other sessions that were not really up to too much.