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Q&A with Global Managing Director Matthew Dickason

2020 challenged the agility of organisations across the globe, forcing businesses to innovate and adapt at pace in order to survive. 2021 was a year in which hopes for recovery were high, but the path to ‘normality’ was uncertain.

As we look ahead to the next 12 months, organisations will be faced with an array of challenges. The COVID-19 pandemic will continue to make waves, with debates surrounding social distancing, travel restrictions and vaccinations dividing opinion.

Social injustice and sustainability will also be front-of-mind for many leaders, as organisations will be held increasingly accountable for their efforts in combatting issues such as diversity, equity and inclusion.

Adding to the volatility of the commercial landscape will be the rapid speed of innovation, chronic skills shortages and concerns surrounding employee attrition.

To help you tackle the ever-evolving world of work, we are launching a brand-new webinar series, RE:Work, offering unique insights from industry-leading experts.

Ahead of the launch later this year, we asked Matthew Dickason, Global Managing Director for Hays Talent Solutions, to give his thoughts on the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead for Hays Talent Solutions and the businesses we support.

Q: The start of the year often brings with it a lot of change and a renewed sense of purpose amongst businesses. As you look ahead to the next 12 months, what are the most exciting opportunities awaiting both Hays Talent Solutions and the organisations we support?

A: I really like this time of the year. December marks the halfway point in our financial year, but it is also a moment for me when the whole world stops for a week.

From my perspective, I think 2022 is going to be incredible.

I have no doubt that we are going to continue to be challenged by COVID-19, but we are much more adept at working within hybrid or remote environments that have served us so well over the last two years. However, I am also looking forward to having a lot more ‘in-person’ time this year, compared to 2020 and 2021!

From a change agenda perspective, some of the ideas that clients have initiated over the last year will start to accelerate. Many of the medium and large organisations we support, working across geographies, have traditionally found it difficult to kickstart their change agendas.

But 2020 and 2021 created an environment in which people became more integrated across boundaries – both functional and geographical – because entire teams switched to virtual. This has increased visibility across organisations, reduced silo mentalities and encouraged people to really think about how they can thrive.

As a result, the concept of change became a lot more accepted, allowing the organisations that we work with to push their change agenda forward at a different pace to what we have seen historically, making 2022 a really exciting time.

Business across the world is facing tight labour markets, staff attrition and wage challenges. How we enable organisations to address that, in line with the change agendas of our partners, means that we are central to their success on the journey that they are going through. People are the fundamental building block of any business, so for us to be at the centre of that, helping our customers and partnering with them to drive change, is incredible.

Q: There are fears that the skills shortage will worsen this year, with industries such as construction and cyber security citing unfilled vacancies as a critical business concern. What are your predictions for the labour market?

A: The talent-supply demand mismatch will remain in 2022. We have always seen shortages within the marketplace in niche or emerging skills, but what is interesting now is that this mismatch is prevalent across all job roles, at all levels and across all geographies.

COVID-19 has exacerbated the issue, with many leaving the workforce and a dislocation of movement. As a result, we currently don’t have the same ability to bring in talent across borders. Hopefully, that will ease throughout the year, but I don’t think we will see the issue resolve completely.

However, we need to reframe our thinking. Yes, we have a problem, but we are being presented with an opportunity to think about how we get work done differently.

We need to consider how we can differentiate ourselves, and support our customers in doing the same, to enable us to attract talent. A carefully considered Employee Value Proposition and employer branding will be central to this.

Organisations also need to think about the centricity of their employees. In his book, ‘The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’, Stephen Covey states that you should treat your employees the way you want your best customer to be treated. Organisations have not always championed this idea, but at a time when we are all learning to work differently, it is essential that we do so.

We will face a constraint on talent throughout 2022, but whenever we have faced these big problems in the past, we have come up with innovative and creative solutions to them, making the world a better place as a result.

Q: It has certainly been a turbulent few years for many industries. Nearly two years since the COVID-19 pandemic transformed the way we work, for you personally, what keeps you awake at night?

A: Work, mainly – as a Managing Director of a company that operates on a global scale! 

Figurately speaking, I would say the thing that keeps me up is not knowing. I’m naturally curious and eager to understand our customers. I worry that I don’t always know what is keeping them awake at night, or the challenges they are facing.

We have put in place a number of different programmes over the years to ensure we have adequate processes and technology-based solutions to enable us to listen to customers and utilise their feedback, but as with any large organisation, these are not foolproof.

We run the risk of letting our customers down because we were not aware there was an issue.

I don’t think we can solve every single problem immediately, but as a minimum, we need to know what they are. Armed with this knowledge, we can work with them to the best of our ability to collaborate and source solutions. The benefit of an organisation like Hays, which works across broad geographies and interacts with a range of customers and industries, is that we are often well placed to offer insight and knowledge to help our customers, whatever their needs.

Q: One of the most notable impacts of the pandemic was the surge in remote working. As some individuals head back to the office, while others continue to work predominantly from home, many industries are still grappling with the implementation of hybrid-working models. With teams increasingly split across locations, countries and time zones, how can leaders avoid fragmentation amongst teams and ensure employees feel as though they belong to an organisation?

A: It’s interesting, because we have now been operating in this hybrid world for nearly two years, and you would expect that we would have become more proficient in doing so.

However, I was doing some research recently and when looking at the data around the gaps prevalent in organisations, these are frequently in soft skills, management training and empathy, which we urgently need to grapple with if we are going to make hybrid working successful in the long term.

Also, humans are naturally social beings – and to an extent, we are quite tribal. This applies to our work too. People want to be at work and feel as though they belong.

Historically, this has worked well as the office provided a space for tribes to form. In the hybrid world, it is much more difficult to build these connections. This should concern leaders and prompt them to rethink some of their strategies.

In terms of avoiding fragmentation, I’ve learnt a few lessons over the years from running a global business with dispersed teams that have been applicable to the hybrid world:

  • If one is virtual, all are virtual: That means that if there are people in the same office building attending the same meeting, they sit separately and join using different screens. There needs to be equity in the meeting
  • Cameras must be on all the time: It is a basic rule I have always had, not just from a leadership perspective but one of promoting team cohesion. It helps me to notice non-verbal cues, which are vital in assessing engagement
  • Create moments of incidental engagement: It is easy to get caught up in a world of back-to-back meetings, but I always try and block out time in my diary where I call people, just to touch-base. If you can, start team meetings early to make time for general conversation to help forge connections with individuals
  • Push your purpose: Your purpose provides a base agreement for hybrid teams. It sets norms and expectations on how you plan to work together and what you are trying to achieve, keeping people across all levels of the organisation accountable to this higher purpose

Hybrid is here to stay, so it is vital that we get it right.

Q: The pace of innovation has never been faster. What technological developments will you be watching with interest over the next 12 months?

A: Innovation and technology are areas that I am really passionate about.

Artificial intelligence is dominating conversations, and I’m interested to see how it impacts the workplace. There is scope for a number of processes to become automated, which could be really enriching for individuals as it will allow them to tap into uniquely human qualities such as creativity and critical thinking.

The metaverse interests me enormously. The concept of creating a parallel virtual world in which you can socialise with people, compete against them and work with them will enhance the world of remote and hybrid working.

I am always captivated by developments in sustainable energy, as my background lies in engineering, so I’ll be keeping a close eye on green hydrogen and electric vehicles in particular.

And lastly, low orbit satellites. I think these will be transformational to the way in which we communicate, to the Internet of Things, for autonomous vehicles. There is so much happening and I am excited to see how these develop over the next twelve months.

Q: As the UN COP26 Summit came to a close at the end of 2021, many companies renewed their pledge to protect the environment around them, both now and for future generations. What role do you think the concerns surrounding climate and sustainability will play in 2022? And where do you see Hays’ role in it all?

A: We’ve known sustainability is important for many years. 

Governments are not doing as much as they could or should, because climate change has become inherently political. However, I would like to think that under the pressure of large organisations such as ourselves, this will change. We are quite rightly being pushed by our stakeholders to put sustainability at the top of our agenda. It is encouraging to see corporations leading the way ahead of government legislation.

A few months ago, I was reading a book by Paul Polman, former CEO of Unilever. ‘Net Positive’ details how, in 2010, the company planned to double in size, but halve their environmental impact. If you look at the value of Unilever during that period, the value increase was phenomenal, while simultaneously doing the right thing for the climate.

With investment and funding now allocated to organisations that meet green credentials, there really is no excuse. It’s good for your bottom line, and it’s good for the planet.

From a Hays perspective, we are on a journey to becoming Net Zero. In time, I would like to think we will become Net Positive as an organisation. As the largest specialist recruiter, we will also play an instrumental role in finding talent that can help drive the green agenda.

Q: How can leaders get the best out of themselves, and their teams this year?

A: You need to create a shared vision and make sure that everyone understands why we are heading in that direction. Outline your objectives and then communicate, communicate and communicate them a little more! Then, when you are on that journey, be open and honest about your progress.

To get the best out of your teams, you also need to consistently give feedback, both good and bad, to people in your teams around performance and behaviours. You also need to ask for feedback yourself in terms of what you are doing right, creating a collaborative culture in which people feel as though they can offer their opinion.

In the new world of work, leaders must also consider how they ‘show up’ for themselves and their teams. You will need to be cognisant of mental health and wellbeing, including the impact of the unpredictable environments in which we are all working.

Q: Have you made a New Year's Resolution?

A: Personally, I am not a fan of making New Year’s Resolutions because I think if something is worth focusing on, why wait till the New Year?

I set myself smaller objectives throughout the year. For this quarter, I am committing to spending a minimum of 90 minutes every week where I am sitting, chatting to my wife. No television, no distractions – we just talk about us and the journey we are on.

I spend a lot of time at work with my colleagues talking about the journey we are on. I like to think of it like a bus. At various times, there are different people driving the bus or sitting in different seats, and you are constantly working and refining that. I need to ensure that I’m paying attention to my home ‘bus’ too.


Matthew Dickason
Global Managing Director, Hays Talent Solutions and Group Head of Strategy, Hays

Matthew is the Global Managing Director for Hays Talent Solutions, having joined Hays in 2005. Previous roles held at Hays include Business Director in the UK and Chief Operating Officer for Asia Pacific. He is now responsible for leading the global business of Hays Talent Solutions and investing to ensure clients retain a competitive advantage in talent acquisition from the delivery of Hays MSP, RPO, technology and modular service solutions.

Prior to joining Hays, Matthew worked within Engineering, Research, Operations and Commercial areas at Johnson Matthey and Corning Inc. He has formal qualifications in Organisational Psychology and Industrial Engineering.

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