Cog:ent workshop series: Winning the war for Talent

Moore Stephens, in partnership with Telos Partners and HSBC, host the second series of Cog:ent. Cog:ent is a free two year programme of quarterly thought leadership workshops, helping ambitious business owners to build successful and sustainable businesses against the background of an improving economic climate. Cog:ent is aimed at key decision makers, such as the chief executives and managing directors of ambitious, growing owner managed businesses in the Thames Valley.

The latest workshop explored the theme ‘Winning the war for talent’. During our planning for the second series of Cog:ent, it became apparent that a significant and current challenge for businesses in Thames Valley was attracting and retaining talent.

“Our people strategy was our business strategy” stated guest speaker and Co-Founder of Melcrum, Victoria Mellor, who successfully exited her business after 19 years.

Adam Campbell of Telos Partners comments: “During the last 16 years of working with our clients, and through the stories we have explored with over 600 ambitious business owners, we have unearthed one element of learning that stands head and shoulders above the rest – the need to bring in to your business, and unlock the talent and potential of, people who are better than you.”

A deliberate shift in mindset
It would appear there has been a change in mindset which is often borne through crisis and is an essential component in winning the war for talent. Business owners looking to exit their business facilitate this by considering what their business needs to look like at the point of exit and work backwards from there. Therefore, finding good people and talent becomes imperative. The desire to exit your business (or at least create a range of options) appears a helpful stimulus in this shift. It is perhaps the recognition and visualisation of a business that is not centred on you, the business owner, which begins to unlock the new behaviours.

An attractive business personality
The ability to describe the personality of the business (purpose, values and culture) along with the future story (ambition, opportunity and vision) appears to be an attractive force for talent. It might seem that large corporate organisations can provide more money, attractive benefit packages and a higher chance of career development, however when people are attracted and inspired by more than just these rational factors it is easy to see how smaller businesses can develop a competitive edge for talent.

Drawing people in to business discussions
Once in a business, people generally want to feel that their contributions are valued. Leaders who recognise this reach out to the people in their business for help in solving real business problems. This process of involvement and participation appears to provide a motivating and binding force – even when only a handful of ideas move forward and become reality. Anything that helps people feel a stronger sense of purpose, develop mastery in their role along with an appropriate degree of autonomy has been shown to have significant benefit. 

Build your network
A common theme during this workshop was the need to develop the strength of your network. The number of great hires that were already known to the business or a direct referral continually astounds us. Whether it is with clients, suppliers or competitors, it is crucial to continue to build your network share your story.

Modelling and leading your employee experience
What is absolutely clear is the need to deliberately model and lead your employee experience. Managing the experience and motivation of a team and reminding them about your strategy and values is imperative.
Adam shares the following steps to develop a strategy for talent:
  1. Develop a clear philosophy that sits comfortably with, and reinforces, your purpose and values – create your talent story. In essence, this is about your entire business, rather than just talent. There are plenty of great examples out there, but we’ve always been rather impressed by Ed Perry, founder and CEO of Cook.
  2. Adopt a people-centred talent push (from the individual, bottom up) rather than talent pull (top down) approach. To unlock what is inside the hearts and minds of your people, seek first to understand and then be understood. This is a case of starting with what you have got, rather than what you haven’t got. Spend time with people, explore their ambitions and how they feel they can contribute.
  3. Create the right environment by being clear on expectations (desired outcomes and business objectives) and put people in control – build projects around motivated people and give them the trust and support they need to be successful. Research shows that 71% of employees think it’s their company’s responsibility to manage their career. At the same time, 85% of managers think it’s down to the employees. Take away this ambiguity and start to put people in control.
  4. Observe real behaviour in career moments and be curious about understanding them further – Why is that person not performing? Why have you seen a sudden increase in energy from another? Why did that person really leave? Observe people in the work place and understand the emotion flows at certain ‘career moments’. We worked with a sales team in the early years of their career, where 50% of people would leave with less than one years service. By mapping their motivation levels and understanding the emotional journey, something could be done to improve the situation.
  5. Provide everyone with a toolkit that supports and embeds your desired philosophy – create the space for them to think about their career, how it relates to your business and how they might take ownership of their actions to deliver both. When learning and adopting new methods of doing things, people need guidance and prompts. We developed the Me+ toolkit, working with a large IT client who recruit and train large numbers of graduates each year. It is now used by 1000s of graduates and enables them to take control of their careers and align the objectives to the organisation that they are working for.
  6. Raise self-awareness and confidence (through praise, quality feedback and recognition) and resilience (by encouraging a sharing, supportive, peer to peer learning environment). Any openness to and an ability to reflect on high quality feedback accelerates learning and builds will power.
  7. Promote your employee experience externally in a manner that helps and encourages self-selection – value attitude and cultural fit over and above technical know-how. Done well, new employees will know if it’s an experience that will match their values and strengths, allowing more self-selection and reducing waste.
  8. Celebrate successes and learning from failure quickly – review the employee experience regularly and be open to feedback and change. Develop a growth mindset. Individuals and companies that have a growth mindset see failure as an opportunity to continually learn and grow. They enquire more deeply into the causes of failure (and success) and accelerate their learning accordingly.

Upcoming workshops
14 April 2016: Successful strategies for growth
14 July 2016: Technology enhanced business

For more information or to sign up to any of the workshops, please contact Daniel Henwood, Director at Moore Stephens.