Talent for the future

Print First published: June 1st 2021; Last Updated: February 3rd 2022


'Many organisations have leapfrogged the transformation that has been talked about for so long. For many it was proving hard to make the change or taking too long (we have all sat in countless meetings about change and transformation!) You now have that moment. You are at the crossroads of transformational change; the decisions your organisation makes now will determine your future'.


With the pandemic everyone may think that the war for talent is at an end;  that people will just be sitting tight in their current roles and, that with the focus on cost, there will be little or no need for new talent. 


Actually, that is not the case - smart businesses need to be thinking now about how they:


1. Retain their key talent;

2. Continue to develop key skills and capabilities within their current teams;

3. Whilst also continuing to bring in new talent.


Talent is the hot topic of the moment. There is a lot of discussion and debate on how the pandemic has changed our approach to work, and how the wants and needs of our Talent (current & future) has changed. This all impacts what employers / organisations need to think about and do moving forward. As I work with organisations on ‘what next’ for them, it has made me reflect on what we should all be focusing on.


So, people are at the heart of what we all do; and I have always believed that employees are an organisation’s Talent pool – a huge investment is made in them; also, if you give and invest in them, then they will give back; equally they represent your organisation, your brand and are the touch point with your customers. 


This talent pool is your differentiator, your competitive advantage.  We always need to be thinking about how we can continue to develop this talent pool and how we add to it; even when it is a difficult situation and easier not to do. However, it is a multi-faceted topic. 


We live in interesting and challenging times; none of us two years ago would have thought we would be in the situation we are today, with all of the changes and challenge that is going on around us.  Amazing to think that at the pandemic's peak, approximately 50% of the world’s population was in lockdown; in the UK 80% of the working population has been working from home, or furloughed, for an extended period of time.  


This pandemic has touched us all in different ways. But ….


What have we learnt from it, how has it changed the world we live in and how will we move forward?


If I had been talking to you pre-pandemic about the future of work and the Talent, I would have said: The world of work has to change to a more agile environment that supports flexible working, with quicker decision making. 


Some key areas you may wish to consider: 


1. Creativity and innovation are increasingly part of all our roles and remits. How do do we encourage and develop this, starting with our Education system and the culture & environment at work?


2. Change & transformation used to come in waves but now it is constant – something we have to live and work with; we have to be able to be nimble and adapt. But this can be hard work, unrelenting & affects our resilience.


3. Wellbeing is going to be of increasing importance to us all.  When I talk about wellbeing I am referring to four aspects – physical / mental / financial / environmental. 


4. The workplace is increasingly going to become a social space where we come together to be creative/have discussions/socialise/eat & meet over coffee– how can we transition to agile working?


5. Effective, authentic leadership is key to success – how do you develop leaders for the future?


6. Inclusion is the golden thread that needs to run through all we do – we also have hidden talent within our organisations and externally that we can access (e.g. disability/neuro diversity/socio economic etc). so how can we best do this?


This is a fascinating period - We are, for the first time, in a workplace that is multi-generational (as are our customers!). This means we will be living longer, working longer and have more care responsibilities than before; we therefore need to make sure that from an employment and working perspective, we are catering with our policies, benefits, environments for people at very different points in their personal lives and careers.  


This adds to the complexity, but also the value - with all of that different knowledge and experience.  Bring it together and it can be very powerful. 


Now let’s fast forward – actually, that is what we have effectively been doing during this period of crisis – that future is now.  Apparently, we have progressed 3-5 years in 3 months from a ‘way we work’ perspective (it varies by organisation and sector). The pandemic has brought change, and at pace, as well as increased levels of uncertainty but it has also created opportunity.  


Many organisations have leapfrogged the transformation that has been talked about for so long. For many it was proving hard to make the change or taking too long (we have all sat in countless meetings about change and transformation!) You now have that moment. You are at the crossroads of transformational change; the decisions your organisation makes now will determine your future.


You can integrate that transformation work into the transition plans you are working on – to create the new norm. Some will want to go back to 'the ways things were', but that is just not going to be possible. It is their security blanket response and something to be aware of.  You need to keep what worked well, what has been successfully changed & integrated, and ensure that you keep moving forward. 


You have shown that change can take place at pace; and that new/innovative solutions can be found to support changing working practices and to meet customer requirements. Your customers have changed too – their needs and expectations are no longer what they were, and they may change further.


It’s important that we learn from all of this and don’t try to go back to the way things were – in fact the majority of our people do not want to go back. They too have moved on – both in their thinking and in creating new habits. 


For many the pandemic provided a ‘fire break’ in the way they were working. They realise it wasn’t healthy for them or their families, neither was is sustainable. They will have used this time to reprioritise what is important to them.


Many are now rethinking what they want from life (personal & professional). They are also at a proverbial crossroad. They may no longer be prepared to commute long distances or travel globally, or be in the office 5 days a week. 


The social/cultural norms we took for granted and were comfortable with have changed forever. For example, will we ever feel comfortable shaking hands again or greeting someone socially with a hug?


From a talent perspective the war for talent has changed. The rules of engagement have changed and the balance has changed. Here are some somethings for us all to reflect on as we move forward:


With technology, cultural and social norm changes many roles can be done from any location; it will not be just a case of the workplace or from home; but rather there will be the flexibility to work from wherever makes sense both personally and professionally. There is already a language change taking place – you will be seeing the very live conversations about Hybrid working. 


Reflection: Reflect on the progress made, the technology put in place & amend your policies & language. Just remember that whatever you do needs to be flexible in case we need to go back to full isolation. A starting position for many is 'Why would we want to go back to working the way we were?' Offices are no longer seen as the default norm for the majority – Hybrid working is the way forward and will attract and retain Talent going forward. 


Take the opportunity to look at the office space you need moving forward – don’t just revert back to an office-based culture. As in many cases, you have already made this transformational leap to remote working.  Many are reconsidering the office space needed, reducing their commitments & costs; and repurposing the use too. Remote working is not for all, some will absolutely need and want to return to an office environment. The evidence does show that ‘coming together’ in communal space does support creativity and innovation, but we want that space to be social/with food & drink  and we also need it to be safe.  


Reflection: It's the time to review what you need & talk to your employees about their needs too!  Now more than ever, you need to consider the EX factor (Employee Experience – all aspects of). Can your current work space be better designed to help people come together in a safe way and to enhance creativity? Also be more reflective of the future you aspire to, not where you have come from.  


With remote working being more the norm now, the talent pool has grown considerably – to a global one - on different time zones. Organisations can access considerable flexible resource pools, where they use specific skills for specific projects when needed and its available 24/7. However from an inclusion perspective we need to keep in mind the challenges this presents to different groups and how we make sure that it is an opportunity that can be open to all by providing the adjustments and upskilling needed. 


Reflection: You have an opportunity to think very differently about your organisation structure. You also have an opportunity to think about ‘Teams & Departments’ and skills in a different way. People clustering/flexible resources/project based teams etc.  Again, think through the longer term implications, your customers and the brand. Those that are agile will adapt and survive. 


With the economic challenge, employment levels are likely to fall dramatically. That means you won’t be getting talent pools refreshed within your organisation at the same pace.  Some attrition is healthy to support this refresh (e.g. 10%). This is unlikely to be the case unless you can create some opportunity as people are going to sit tight and ride out the storm where they can.  We are now seeing employment opportunities increase – people will move to a new employer remembering their experience during lockdown and the opportunities in place now (Hybrid working/new benefits/a safe environment/the support they received etc.).


We now have a whole new talent pool ready to come on board – people finishing school/university etc who would have been proactively looking for roles or they no longer have the option to go travelling. They are also going to be supplemented by individuals who have been made redundant from other roles, or who were already planning career changes. There is a rich pool to choose from – but again one that is going to want very different things.  


Reflection: Learn from the mistakes of others – talent pipeline gaps in a few years’ time will hurt your business. Switched off talent pipelines are hard to reengage. Withdrawing offers can hurt your brand and reputation. Easy for me to say during these challenging times but really think through the longer term implications of decisions. 


Can you look at more engagement with schools and universities to raise the profile of your sector/company by providing work experience placements, apprenticeships, graduate placements, uni project based roles, in order to keep this talent pool engaged? We also need to share more widely what a great business/sector we work in (case studies/lectures/visits etc). How do we open up our virtual doors to enhance our talent pools?


People that were considering leaving organisations or retiring may be less willing to do so now due to uncertainty,  also with pension plans and financial planning being adversely affected. They might however be more open to reduced hours working arrangements/job shares/secondments to charities/Voluntary Redundancy etc, to help them during this period and to phase into retirement or new roles. This can help with the refreshing of the talent/skills pool/organisation model changes.


Reflection: Look at the relevant policies on this, and change the ethos and approach. Talk to your employees, build relationships with 3rd parties (e.g. charities/schools/universities etc) to support placements for those looking to phase into retirement or into a new career. 

If you are going to have to restructure your business, think carefully through how you are going to approach it and the skills/experience you are going to need for the future. Keep the EX factor in mind. 


Reflection: How you manage that process and the exits will be how you are remembered – not just by the individuals but by their families, your customers and the press. Ensure you keep communicating to employees and put support in place for them to upskill/find other roles etc. 


With the changes in technology, it's really important that we continue to develop and upskill our current talent pool – our employees. They need to continue to adapt/change their skill set and this will require investment. This is not easy but actually many have had to learn/adapt skills whilst working remotely; or have learned new skills whilst on furlough.


Reflection: Have a look at your current and future technology needs and the supporting skills/capabilities. Build the required training & support in for your employees. All too often training (and recruitment budgets) can be put forward as the first budget hit as a short-term quick win but this will not help you in the long term, you need to invest to build.  Continuous professional development needs to become part of the DNA of an organisation – and for all of us. 


Wellbeing has absolutely gone up the priority list for many and will continue to be important to all ages now and people will think about it from a family perspective and not just an individual. If you haven’t already, this is the time to rethink your wellbeing offering (mental/physical/environmental/financial) and how this fits into your overall benefits.


Reflection: The long-term implications of the virus on individuals and family are not fully understood but you can anticipate for them (e.g. bereavement support/mental health challenges linked to isolation/relationship challenges etc). Talk to your employees (pulse surveys) and find out what their changing needs are and make sure you can support these – and their family needs.  How you manage this will be a differentiator and in the future will be a key employee ask – start looking at it now. This will also influence what will attract/retain people in the future. 

Your value proposition


Increasingly talent is looking for more than a job and the traditional pay/benefits package. People seek opportunities and organisation that are ‘making a difference’ – be that to the environment, not working with certain products, how they have treated their employees etc. Going forward people will make a more values based decision as to who they work for. This period of isolation has made many reflect on this even more. For many ‘human’ is back in the workplace, this needs to be retained and is linked to values/leadership/communication/inclusion. 


Reflection: Take this opportunity to reflect on the core purpose of your business and what you want it to be  - it will be vital. Talent/customers will be looking for this on your website/in materials & comms/ask about it as part of the recruitment process & when considering your services/it will be used it as a reason to leave and go elsewhere. Also, how can your organisation give back to a society in need (technology/skills/time/people etc)?  


Leadership and Management development is key.  It is really tough keeping yourself going and leading others. The skills you need to manage & lead remotely are different. People are looking for (and need) authentic, informal, emotional leadership that engages with them and cares. 


Reflection: Ongoing communications are key, not all find this easy. Your leaders need support with this and help to look after their own wellbeing. Remember it can be very lonely at the top.  Also consider how are you going to recruit/develop your future leaders. This is the time to revisit your leadership framework so you can focus on what worked well and what you needed more of, and then build it into your development and recruitment processes. 


Leadership Talent pool: Recruitment has continued during the crisis for key roles and skills and it is shown that it can be done virtually from end to end. There is always a tendency to  assume that the majority of leaders come from within and the minority are external hires. If you want to think differently, integrate change and increase the diversity (all aspects); then you will need to look outside your organisation too.


Reflection: In any recruitment process or search challenge your normal parameters and requirements – you are probably limiting your own talent pool and why would you do that to yourself? Also not being as inclusive/open minded as you should be?  Talent pipelining is key – think ahead to the next couple of years and what the changing needs are, and where you might source these individuals from. Start identifying them now. Ex-employees are also part of your talent pool.


Inclusion: must be the golden thread that runs through all we do. This has absolutely got the world’s attention; in the past we have had a tendency to focus on areas in turn (e.g. gender or ethnicity ); but we must focus on all aspects and ensure it is part of our ethos and culture.   


The crisis and other recent events have accentuated the divides in our society globally, your people and your future talent will expect you to have inclusion at the heart of all you do. 


Reflection: Ensure that there is leadership from the top, that it is on your Board’s agenda at every meeting, that there is a NED/Board committee looking at Talent and Culture and holding the organisation accountable. Again, upskilling is key and linking everything we do back to the societies we live and work in.


My closing thoughts:


As we go through this transition phase, plan for the future: this is an opportunity to transform. 

Consider future talent & skills needed: It’s an investment so make It wisely.

Leadership is key: must be from the heart & trusted.

Employees: need to feel safe, supported & listened to.

Communications:  people are worried about the future & returning to work – talk to them lots!

Culture: we have all seen & experienced amazing acts of kindness – let’s build on the trust  & humanity that has been developed, and not lose the progress made in these areas.

Link back to employees and what’s important to them. Perhaps it’s time to revisit those values/behaviours and look at the emotions that underpin them. If there are bubbling employee concerns, deal with them now before they bubble over.

Inclusion has to be the golden thread that runs through all we do – and if it isn’t, we need to challenge ourselves and others.


About Annette 

Annette is an experienced Chief People Officer, with deep knowledge and expertise across a broad range of areas in Human Resources supporting Consultancy, interim projects and roles in this field.  She is a qualified Executive and Life Coach, Mediator and Mentor. Annette has worked at all levels within organisations; including with CEO’s, Boards, Executive Committees and senior leaders, on a global basis for 20+ years. Her career has spanned different sectors and includes Ford Motor Company, Lloyds Banking Group and the Lloyd’s Insurance Market; all regulated businesses.


She is an experienced Executive and Non Executive member of Remuneration and Nomination committees; taking an advisory role to Board. Annette has an MBA and is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development. 


For additional information on how Annette can support you and your organisation:

[email protected] 





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