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null How business leaders can rethink their talent management for the new era of work


Business leaders rethink talent management

Having transitioned from the chaos we faced in the early days of the pandemic – establishing a ‘new normal’ of remote working, changes in working arrangements, and fighting to keep businesses afloat – leaders in many organisations are looking at how they can be prepared for an uncertain future.

For many, this involves a fundamental reappraisal of work, performance and talent, and a willingness to throw out the rule book and reinvent things. A recognition that many of the tools and processes we have been using are not fit for the challenges we will face – that we need new approaches with greater flexibility.

This blog takes four talent themes (1. location of work, 2. workforce planning, 3. personalisation and 4. culture) and looks at the longer-term, exploring the questions we should be asking and the changes we can start making now as we move forward into the new era of work. The insights shared here were developed in five roundtable discussions that I hosted in collaboration with Hays. In total, 30 senior leaders were involved, representing large, small, public and private sector organisations. They were largely based in the UK, but many represented global organisations.

1. Location of work

Our discussions confirmed the expectation that our new era of work will feature hybrid working models – with some employees working primarily from home, and others in a shared office location. As mentioned in the previous blog, this raises questions of the purpose of face-to-face interactions, the preferences of team members, providing support for healthy homeworking and involvement of team members in making decisions.

For the longer-term there are also significant strategic implications, depending on the purpose of any company facilities. The solutions need to balance potential financial gains from lower facilities costs with the need to safeguard productivity, engagement and performance. These implications are captured in the questions being asked by our roundtable attendees:

  • How do we meet individual and organisational needs in the best way? Do we need any shared office facilities, or would we prefer more flexible arrangements of renting space where and when we need it?
  • How do we redesign office space around our new goals and purpose? Perhaps we no longer need desks? Perhaps we can look into shared office facilities which belong to our organisation on certain days of the week?
  • What purpose did our previous office space serve (e.g. collaboration, identity, showcase for clients). How else can these goals be met? What new working practices do we need to develop to support these goals?
  • What are the long-term risks involved with increased working from home? What are the appropriate policies and procedures to safeguard our people’s wellbeing and health?

Finding and exploring answers to all of these considerations will enable business leaders to create a safe and happy working environment for employees – no matter where they are based.

2. Workforce planning

Most leaders see a need to build far greater flexibility into their workforce planning – enabling them to rapidly flex and change according to changing situations. In the last blog we linked this to the need to plan for a range of scenarios and prepare your workforce accordingly. This also has much longer-term implications, proactively building the workforce you need for the future and ensuring that you have access to the talent you need.

In our roundtable conversations, many of the senior leaders described being ready to move to a different model of talent planning. Historically, many have relied primarily on employed or contract talent. However, recognising the need to create flexibility, now is the time to explore a wider range of options; organisations need to broaden the ‘talent ecosystem’ that they look at.

For example, having identified scenarios and future requirements, the required talent and skills can be categorised on a scale of availability – from ‘readily available’ to ‘very scarce’. Needless to say, the ‘readily available’ skills do not need to concern you (as long as you continue to check that they are readily available). However, strategically, you do need to manage the risk of skills that are scarce. Options you have include:

  • How can you reskill or redeploy your existing team members? What are the skills they will need and how can you help and encourage them to develop these?
  • How could you recruit and train new people to develop the skills and knowledge you need? What would be the level of investment and risk? How could you approach this?
  • Where might there be new sources of people with the talents you need? Is there better availability in other parts of the country or the world? Do other professions have similar skills that would reduce the training investment? Are there any ‘hidden’ sources of this talent?
  • Who else will need people with these skills? How could you collaborate to develop more of a talent pool?
  • How could you outsource the challenge? Who could you work with to provide you with access to the people you need, either ‘borrowed’ from other organisations, crowd sourced or some other model?
  • What is the role of technology? Which tasks can be successfully delivered through technological solutions, including AI or robotics?

These solutions require us all to challenge our assumptions. We need to be open to diverse talent from diverse places. Business leaders need to challenge the assumption that ‘good’ people have a certain amount of experience in a particular sector, a set career path or specific qualifications. For example, digital skills are highly valued and often considered scarce. However, this scarcity is based on people with formal digital qualifications, and there are large numbers of highly capable and motivated people with extensive experience and self-taught skills.

3. Personalisation

Closely linked with location and workforce planning is the need to personalise talent management in the new era of work. As discussed in our previous blog, it is important to recognise the different circumstances that team members are in, and to find ways of supporting each person to be their best, including reducing the risk of burnout and addressing issues of perceived fairness.

Longer-term, there is an opportunity for this personalisation to go further. Historically, talent management has been focused on the organisation, on their needs, with little regard for the hopes, aspirations and desires of the ‘talent’. The personalisation changes we have recently made provide a template for a partnering model, one where the hopes and goals of the organisation and the people are jointly recognised, with employees (and other workers) and their needs valued and understood in the same way as customer needs. The benefits of this are clear – greater access to talent, higher levels of engagement, increased retention and higher performance.

However, as with the other points we have raised, achieving this requires us to reinvent our approach. HR may need to let go of consistent employment contracts and look at a wide range of flexible contracts and ways of working. To achieve this, we will need to consider:

  • How can we research the needs of our team members? How can we work with them to gain insights on how we can best work together? Customer research methodologies are likely to be a key approach here.
  • What are the viable options for how we could work with people in different ways? For example, some employees may want to be on a contract which permits them to work in the office once a week, whilst others are happy to be required four times, or even full time in the office. Many people’s lives now look very different to how they did pre-pandemic, so organisations need to flex in order to suit these changes, and to maintain employee happiness.
  • How can we continue to evolve the ways in which we work with people, helping them to find methods of balancing their needs with those of the organisation; helping them to develop their careers in ways that will be fulfilling and motivating?
  • How can we support our line managers to make this work? They are closest to their team and need to be at the forefront of any personalisation. We need to involve, support and empower our managers to enable personalisation to be adopted.

4. Culture

Finally, and certainly not least important, is culture. All of the above changes – location of work, workforce planning and personalisation – are clearly linked to organisational culture. In our first blog, we discussed some of the short-term implications as organisations have started to consider what the culture is and how it can be communicated and sustained in a virtual world. This is, inevitably, an ongoing issue to address.

So, what can we do? Firstly, we need to accept that organisational culture is constantly evolving – and the pandemic is a catalyst for a further shift. As leaders, we cannot control the culture, but we can influence it through our actions and priorities and through the processes we put in place.

The starting point has to be purpose. What is your organisational purpose and how do you align all of your processes and activities to this? What behaviours and values will help you to achieve your purpose? How do you engage and involve everyone within the organisation to work towards this? With purpose at the centre, you can consider your whole operating model and how it serves or undermines your purpose.

Some of the elements of culture to then consider include:

  • Transparency. How transparent are you willing to be? What are the implications of high and low transparency in your organisation? For example, if you want to partner with your workforce and to encourage them to develop the skills needed in the future, you will need to share information on the nature of your future talent requirements.
  • Empowerment. To what extent will people’s actions be driven by rules, processes, authorisation and formal decision-making protocols, and how much will you empower people within agreed guidelines? Higher empowerment is typically associated with higher flexibility, something that most organisations are wanting to leverage.
  • Psychological safety. How much do you want people to feel that they belong, to feel able to learn and to call things out if they see them? How much do you want people to feel safe to challenge others, to take risks, to innovate? In the new era of work, it is likely that psychological safety will be a key enabler of innovation, flexibility and continuous improvement.
  • Signs and symbols. Many existing expectations, signs and symbols of culture are all still seen as being deeply connected to a sense of work as a physical place. So, when we take away that physical place, what are we left with? For example, the signage and branding in offices, the cultural messaging of communal spaces and the interaction between colleagues on training, off-sites and when in the office. It’s safe to say, that these cannot be transplanted straight into a virtual setting with fewer co-located colleagues. What is the meaning behind these artefacts? What purpose do they serve? How can you develop new signs, symbols and stories that fit the new era of work?
  • Feedback loops. In an agile world we need to be willing to take lots of small ‘course corrections’, a bit like sailing; we may know our planned destination, but we have to be constantly working with the prevailing wind, changing our direction in lots of small ways along the journey. We therefore need to develop rapid feedback loops so we know what’s working and not working, how the environment around is changing, how our customers’ needs are changing and also how our team’s needs are changing.

It is certainly a challenge, but it’s essential for you to reinvent your organisational culture for the new era of work, in the same way that you’ve needed to reinvent your entire workplace too.

Hopefully the questions in this blog (and the previous blog) have helped you in exploring your attitudes towards talent management in the new era of work. These are likely to be challenging times, but we also have an opportunity – an opportunity to examine our assumptions and shape the type of organisation we need for the future. These changes are all necessary – and they’re certainly all possible, too. Take this as an opportunity for a refresh; you may have been due one anyway, and this has presented you with the rhyme and reason to go for it. Enjoy it.


Dr Maggi Evans
Chartered Occupational Psychologist, Consultant and Coach

Maggi is an experienced consultant and coach with international experience across a wide range of sectors including professional services, financial services, retail and FMCG. She is a Chartered Occupational Psychologist and combines research and practice to develop practical solutions to drive business improvement.

Maggi has been a consultant for over 20 years, specialising in talent strategy and talent development. She has a reputation as an insightful consultant, helping clients to reduce the ‘noise’ around an issue so they can focus and act on key issues which will make a difference. Maggi is on a mission to help organisations, leaders and individuals to liberate talent. Her first book ‘From Talent Management to Talent Liberation’ has recently been published.