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The talent Conundrum: is it us or is it them?

The workplace revolution

I was delighted to chair a panel at the ICCO Summit in Helsinki on 5 October on how businesses need to think about talent to thrive over the next 5-10 years.

I wanted to put this panel together for a variety of reasons - I see change on the horizon, and major change at that, in the way that businesses will operate in the future, but I don't think the reality on the ground reflects that change, or at least not enough.

I worked (very) remotely for 13 years - from a farmhouse in France in fact. While there I worked in senior roles for iconoculture, the global futures consultancy, for the European Commission and ultimately for Interel, the global public affairs consultancy. I travelled when I needed to, made good use of Skype and the phone and it didn't have a negative impact on my productivity or my ability to deliver. The opposite, in fact.

I came back to London for lots of reasons and ended up in an office again - and very surprised that very little had really changed since I left back in 1999. Long, office-based hours were still the norm but people, particularly young people seemed less willing to accept them - and were voting with their feet, choosing travel, different lifestyles or other ways of working over sticking in and hoping for a promotion.

That's challenging for businesses. What do you do when your talent all wants to work in a different way from you? What happens to your talent pipeline? What happens to your succession plan? What happens to client relationships when good people are constantly moving on?

So I wanted to talk in Helsinki about how you can manage that situation, and showcase innovative businesses which are retaining talent - because of their focus on what the talent needs to thrive and succeed, rather than what they need from the talent.

I was joined by Loveday Langton from Hotwire, a global PR business, and Kaija Pohjala from Cocomms, a Helsinki-based consultancy with a global outlook.

There were some surprises for the audience, which was virtually silenced by the revelation from Kaija that all of the men working in her agency, regardless of level, had taken 6 months' paternity leave at least - with no damage to their careers. Loveday caused some sharp intakes of breath by telling us about Hotwire's 'anywhere, anytime' policy which is being rolled out across the business - and their philosphy that work is a thing you do, not a place you go.

It's easy to say that this is all fine in theory but doesn't work in practice. These two businesses have found that retention and employee satisfaction have increased signficantly because of their innovative approach to work and their businesses are growing as a result. Also, the statistics mean that changing our approach to talent is no longer an option - it's a necessity. The most recent Timewise Survey in the UK found that:-

  • 90% of employees dislike the strict 9-5
  • 4 out of 5 men want to work flexibly, and
  • more than 72% of people in all age groups want flexible hours

It's not just a millennials or Gen Z problem - it's a people problem and the businesses which will grow exponentially in the future will recognise this and find workable solutions.

Flexible doesn't mean no control. Flexible doesn't mean no-one in the office. Flexible doesn't mean hot desking for everyone. Flexible does mean recognising that good, hard-working, committed people have kids, dogs, aging parents, washing machines that break down, house moves, school plays....lives. And that they'll be more productive if they can work around their lives rather than pretend their lives don't exist.

And my final call to action? Let's stop talking about human resources, as though our employees were commodities to be managed on a spreadsheet - and let's talk consistently about people instead.

You can download my slides with more facts and figures (and a photo of my Provencal 'office').

Paul Holmes kindly wrote up the session for The Holmes Report so you can read his take on it all too.

A full set of takeaways from the Summit by the wonderful Elise Mitchell, new President of the ICCO is also available and I'll write more on that in my next post.

Thanks for reading and let me know if you're on board with the workplace revolution. I'm starting a podcast and looking for interviewees who want to talk about best practice in talent attraction and retention - and how that helps to grow businesses. Drop me a line at if you would like to be interviewed.