TALENT INTELLIGENCE IN A COMPETITIVE WORLD – Roundtable Report
13 February 2020 London
Hosted by theHRDIRECTOR.
Chaired by Jason Spiller.
Judi Chartres-Lock, Director of Learning & Talent – Bupa
Sheila Cork, Head of HR – SMBC
Alison Ettridge, CEO – Talent Intuition
Vishal Gandhi, Head Staffing UK&I – Tata Consultancy Services
Issy Homan, HR Director of Learning – Deloitte UK
Sarah Mckenna, Senior HR Business Partner – John Lewis Plc
Tracy Noble, HR Director – Alliance Automotive Group UK
Kavish Patel, Global Organisational Development – Investec Asset Management
Graham Pierce, Regional Talent Development Manager – Independent Clinical Services
Malcolm Carr, Commercial Director – Talent Intuition
Lorraine Stone, Talent Development Manager – Ocado
Jackie Vent, Talent Manager – Mercedes–Benz
Nick Wright, Senior Global HR Business Partner – Johnson Matthey
Most organisations are equipped with data capacity that can interrogate internal rhythms and probe for vital signs within the business such as; changes in attraction and retention that inform on resource planning. But few organisations have any wider vision from external markets, which can provide perspectives on other market forces and enable employers to benchmark performance against competitors.
Talent Intelligence can provide business-critical insight on areas including; location feasibility, competitor insights, talent availability and skills, salary benchmarking and total cost calculation. However, building the business case for TI projects and demonstrating ROI are challenging, where outcomes are linked to long-term strategic business activity.
WHAT CONSTITUTES A COMPETITIVE PEOPLE STRATEGY AND CURRENTLY, HOW INTEGRAL IS DATA TO INFORMING AND INFLUENCING BUSINESS PLANNING?
Kavish Patel: The glib answer is that you can’t have a business strategy without a people strategy, it’s a huge fundamental. In terms of data informing it, I have seen that’s the least well-developed part of the strategy in terms of data usage and evidence backed conclusions. HR departments produce huge amounts of data, but the way we look at it, the way we use it – and the way we ignore some of it – means that we’re not always putting it together in a way that can be used to inform a strategy. There’s too much of it and we don’t know how to sift it, in terms of what the important things are.
Graham Pierce: We’re in the early stages – having gone through a series of acquisitions – we’re at the point where we’re looking at what’s used within various business areas.
Lorraine Stone: A competitive people strategy is critical to our business strategy and data is key to underpinning this. We have gone from being a start-up organisation to being over a 17,000 people strong, FTSE100 business. We have just recently appointed a new Chief People Officer and, together with the HR leadership team, they are in the process of developing the people strategy and data metrics at the heart of this.
Judi Chartres-Lock: As a global company, we have a wealth of data. Obviously, it will depend on the cultural fit as to whether it will work in different countries. But it’s only as good as what’s put into it, so it’s about educating our managers and people to ensure data is up-to-date and valid.
Sarah McKenna: We’re excited about the prospect of our new Workday system to support people planning more effectively, particularly diversity and talent through better intelligence. We’re a customer-driven organisation and there’s definitely more we can learn on the people side from our customer-facing data teams. I would like us to be looking at our people in a more customer-driven way, with data at the heart.
Issy Homan: In terms of the use of data, it is very important within HR to use data for evidence based decision making. I think the challenge for HR is telling the story with that data, supporting the business strategy and doing it in a timely fashion – having data scientists in HR will be key.
Tracy Noble: We still manage everything on spreadsheets, which makes it extremely difficult to have that data in a position where you can analyse it. It is so important to have the skillset to interpret the reports, to understand your business trends and create your strategy.
IS IT A CASE OF DATA, DATA EVERYWHERE AND NOT KNOWING WHAT TO DO WITH IT?
Nick Wright: What matters is people coming together and looking across those skills capabilities, understanding the resources at the right level and making the decisions to deploy them appropriately. I think that’s how you reach the strategy without having really specific data.
Jackie Vent: We have loads of raw data. We know what our key metrics are, where people are and what their skills are, but we struggle to use data to inform on any longer term strategy, as we operate in a fast-moving, short-term focussed industry. Sporting regulations change every year – some years this has a bigger impact than others. Our HR strategy is determined by this in a very business led and HR supported way. We need a balance of flexibility to change the plan as often as we need to. We’re starting to see how we’ll be able to use it for more predictive analytics which is exciting and we’ve some great dashboards in the making and will soon start to be able to use these to help us make more informed decisions.
Malcolm Carr: It’s about using data as part of the decision-making team, to inform the people strategy – using data to validate what the business is trying to do – so, utopia from a HR point of view is being at the top table in the decision-making process.
WHAT CONSTITUTES STRATEGIC RESOURCE PLANNING? HOW STRATEGIC CAN YOU BE IN YOUR ORGANISATION AND DO YOU INFLUENCE STRATEGY OR IMPLEMENT DECISIONS ALREADY MADE?
Alison Ettridge: People are talking about genuinely influencing the strategy versus having a strategy given to them. An important definition is, do you feel you’re in a position where you can influence strategy, or do you follow a strategy from above? If there’s a disconnect between the CEO making really big decisions and not involving the HR Director, there’s a serious problem.
Judi Chartres-Lock: Across our group, I would say everyone is engaged in our purpose so that’s consistent but, given the diversity of our businesses, a one size approach doesn’t necessarily fit all. Its critical for our regulated insurance business that we have an appropriate, tailored learning and growth strategy that supports us. We can also leverage Group or Market unit-wide elements, so it’s a combination.
Sarah McKenna: As strategic business partners, we’ve been partnering two boards until recently, influencing two divisional strategies for Waitrose and John Lewis. We’ve been playing a lead role in the transformation that we’re going through at the moment to, One Partnership, two brands. We’ve been at the heart of it, looking at it from a leadership, skills and capability perspective, identifying future needs and building people plans. So yes, we have a seat at the table.
Kavish Patel: We have our pillars around sustainability and performance, for example, but we don’t have a full-blown strategy, we just have strategic plans for the next three or five years. Absolutely, we influence that, but the overall direction is set. It’s about, is it feasible and how do we achieve the objectives that are the crucial questions?
Malcolm Carr: That is the crux of the debate today, whether you’re at the top table or not is immaterial, if the decision makers are asking; “is it feasible?” And looking to you for that fundamental answer, then of course you are influencing decisions.
HOW USABLE IS THE DATA THAT YOU’RE CURRENTLY DEALING WITH AND DOES IT INFLUENCE ORGANISATION STRATEGY?
Nick Wright: The definition and execution of supporting functional strategies is probably where my role sits. Do I have a seat at the table for those functional leadership teams? Absolutely, without question and I see the people strategy as enabling the group strategy.
Graham Pierce: We use Culture Amp surveys on a regular basis so the results of this are a high focus area and very data-driven in key areas such as; talent development and acquisition. We constantly analyse why people leave the business, if there are trends and whether our recruitment is effective.
Tracy Noble: This year, we created ‘Strategy on a Page’. It started off with the overall business objective set by the MD and then cascaded down to the various different functions. We are building our strategy that supports the overall business plan. Now, is it a strategy or is it a plan?
VALID POINT, WHEN IS A STRATEGY A PLAN AND A PLAN A STRATEGY?
Jackie Vent: Strategy always sounds like quite a long-term direction so, on that basis, I think we have more of a plan than a strategy. One thing that is certain is our need for complete alignment across the team. To enable this, we have a really clear mission, vision and intent. These are set by the senior leadership team and are then rolled out to the wider management group, to ensure that the full team understand the overall purpose.
Alison Ettridge: It seems that the people strategy enables the group strategy, but there’s a lot cascading down. If the plan/strategy pivots on having that HR staple of; right people, right place and right time, then HR has to be involved in the discussion – if not, that fundamental necessity cannot be met. In my experience, businesses with strong, well advised HR business partners gain the march on the old school, cascaded down decision making, particularly in these faster moving times.
Issy Homan: When it comes to growing new talent capabilities like cyber security – to support business growth, where there aren’t enough people yet with the actual skills to do those roles – it is then important that we in learning can innovate and support the business, by building that skillset from within and growing our own, which also helps tackle talent attraction and attrition. HR’s role to support business growth in the context of the future of work, is key.
DO YOU USE EXTERNAL DATA TO INFORM YOUR BUSINESS PLANNING IN ADDRESSING LABOUR, SKILL AND TALENT SHORTAGES?
Nick Wright: Of course, external data is really useful – to know what others are doing, but it’s information, not a target. You need to work out what’s right for your organisation and there’s a balance around making sure that external data is positioned correctly and speaking to what your needs are.
Kavish Patel: It’s a double-edged sword external data. There is that which we use unintentionally – trends and flows – but it can revert you to the mean. You can make yourself insular by not using external data, but you can also end up making your organisation average.
Graham Pierce: External data to form quick moving recruitment decisions is essential. We’re expanding internationally and the US, is a big focus. So, we’re looking at data in many areas, including our competitors and local data to find out specific requirements.
Judi Chartres-Lock: Data is critical in recruitment for example, but one of the things that we’re all wrestling with is that careers are changing. No longer do you have the life stages of education, work and retirement, it’s much more complex now.
Lorraine Stone: At Ocado, there are many differences across the business to factor in. There’s a higher churn, for instance, in our customer fulfilment centres. Then there’s the technology side of the business, where skills are scarce and we’re competing with the likes of Google and Amazon, to name but two. So, data has to be very specific.
Sarah McKenna: Agreed, one of our big challenges is that we compete well in our traditional retail markets, but core to our business is now of course digital, so we’ve had to work hard to build that awareness and gain the data intelligence in the markets for us to compete for digital skills. We’re also looking at data to make key decisions on whether to insource or outsource, as well as where we should locate our operations and align with that.
Jackie Vent: Formula 1 is very secretive – we are in a vulnerable position as we have been winning for so long and everyone wants to beat us. We can tell how well they’re doing from their track performance, but there is very little information to be gained outside of this. We know who is being poached and we know who is leaving us to go to our competitors.
Issy Homan: External data is most useful when you want to go through some form of shift or change or compare your organisation to best practices. Analysing data can help make organisational change. Competitors don’t tend to share data too readily, but there are other ways of benchmarking such as, external forums, where professionals share common experiences.
Tracy Noble: Agreed, it’s really important to benchmark against competitors and in the local marketplace. You need to have that intelligence ahead of the time, just so you can keep that competitive edge and remain market leader.
Alison Ettridge: The richness of data that’s available externally can really inform a business going through transformation and it can inform way beyond HR. It’s everything from people to commercial real estate, workforce to workplace. Today, it’s impossible to predict three-to-five years’ time. But you can look at a peer organisations that have gone through the transformation journey and see what skills they hired at different points. You can also find out who is taking up real estate around your location. There really is a wealth of external data to be gained that can really inform on decision making.
Tracy Noble: Indeed, we have experienced competitors opening up practically next door, so that they can move in on our skills and talent.
Alison Ettridge: Yes, it’s one of the burning questions for organisations now; “tell me where the hotspots for talent are… not to mention, equally, the cold spots. For example, five years ago, Krakow was a great place for talent and to reduce costs… that’s all changed. So, look at external data, but don’t look at the same external data that everyone else is looking at, because you just end up with the same conclusions, which yields no advantage whatsoever.
Malcolm Carr: The bottom line is understanding what the business is trying to achieve. Certainly, internal data is going to enable the business to achieve best practice, which is great! But external data will give you competitive edge. In terms of skill and talent shortage, internal data will highlight gaps or shortfalls, but mirroring that with external data will tell you how to ‘fix’ those gaps.
Sarah McKenna: It’s easy to think data is just about numbers and analysis. But the real insight can be from just talking to candidates during recruitment; why they would choose to join or turn down the offer is invaluable. Our resourcing team have a wealth of information and we feed that back into our proposition teams, to ensure that our employer brand proposition is attractive. It’s the little nuggets of insight that are really important.
HAVE ANY OF YOU USED EXTERNAL DATA AS A DECISION-MAKING TOOL FOR AREAS SUCH AS DIVERSITY?
Lorraine Stone: I’ve used external data for diversity and I’ve tried partnering different organisations. In my previous role, I worked for a financial services company and we used different organisations such as; Gartner, CIPD, Stonewall, Moving Ahead and the 30 Percent Club – to pull on different data and other sources. I still use them from a benchmarking perspective, in terms of researching talent models and new thinking in the world of talent management and gender diversity.
Issy Homan: Talent attraction has to be a priority for all organisations and inclusion is so important. At a macro level – from an economic and social perspective – it’s one of the most topical agendas in the world and here, all organisations should be data-hungry in order to stay competitive. It is a challenge for organisations now to fulfil the needs of five generations at work; realising inclusion and purpose are so important as attraction strategies.
Graham Pierce: We’ve acquired a number of companies over the last couple of year and we use a lot of external data and internal research to find out whether it’s the right acquisition to fit. It’s not necessarily about culture – we’ve so many different cultures within the brands at ICS – it’s just checking on things like labour volumes and standards and whether the office is in a great place to be recruiting nurses or social workers for example, nationally and internationally.
Kavish Patel: Validating gut instinct through external data requires real honesty, because you can end up just focusing on the information which backs up your instinct. There’s an inherent bias to post-rationalising your actual decision, which happens a lot and is a natural human reaction.
Judi Chartres-Lock: Where I think we use data particularly well is in engagement and reward. We’ve discovered – as a not-for-profit business – that what matters to people is not simply the salary… luckily. But we do need to be a bit more nuanced around what we offer and leverage our purpose.
SOME OF THIS INFORMATION COULD BE MISLEADING – THERE’S AN AWFUL LOT OF DATA OUT THERE AND SURELY IT CAN’T ALL BE TRUSTED.
Judi Chartres-Lock: There’s that cliché quote, “lies, damned lies and statistics”. Insomuch as, you can always find something to prove your point – that’s somewhat cynical – if you’re backing up a gut decision with relevant data, or researching data to challenge and test, that’s the best that you can do. There’s always going to be grey areas that will need interpretation, particularly in the people space.
Sarah McKenna: Personally, I talk to head-hunters a lot – even if I’m not recruiting – they’re a source of great insight about what’s happening and they can help you with talent mapping in the market, if you’re looking for specific skills. We have an insight and assurance team within our people function, which looks for the big trends. That’s now more directly linked to our central strategy team, so people trends are unquestionably considered integral to the overall business strategy.
Nick Wright: CEOs love story telling from their HR Directors. Take some external data, add it to your quantitative data, build a great story around it that fits what you want it to say and maybe, sometimes, you might even be right.
Tracy Noble: Data has to be current, the more traditional routes to data take so long that, before its reported, the world has moved on. I’m afraid Google is my default now. I don’t believe you can support the business effectively if you’re not using external data as well as internal.
Alison Ettridge: When we first built out StratigensTM, we hadn’t even considered the value of qualitative external data. So now we daily scan 32,000 different news and insight sources covering everything from diversity to organisational development and change, with the purpose of bringing in that cutting-edge material into one place, because there was an obvious gap in the market. We completed a piece of work for a big motor vehicle manufacturer. They had a ‘three strikes and you’re out’ policy with internal moves and global mobility and couldn’t understand why people weren’t moving. We asked if they ever looked at the data to see when people are most likely to move? The results weren’t rocket science. Our recommendation was to focus global mobility around employee data – marital status, children, age of children, when are they moving schools. So, you can take data, whether it’s external or internal data and use it tactically to make a difference. It’s not all about the strategy, it’s tactically how can we use this information to turn the dial?
Malcolm Carr: It’s shameful how much data goes to waste. I guess most businesses would say we haven’t the time and resources to forage about for external data, not to mention piece it all together in a consistent format that’s readily available for the board, so they can be translated into actionable insights. There’s an abundance of data, it’s just finding it, putting it into that right format and interrogating it effectively.
IF YOUR ORGANISATION IS EXPANDING INTO NEW MARKETS, WHAT INTELLIGENCE IS CURRENTLY BEING UTILISED TO INFORM ON STRATEGY?
Graham Pierce: Like most businesses, we expand into new markets through acquisitions, but also through developing ideas from people within the business. We really encourage this knowledge sharing and gather detailed analytics and carry out appropriate feasibility studies.
Tracy Noble: Likewise, in our market, we acquire a lot of independent motor factors and this is informed through data, which identifies potential targets. Of course, the automotive industry is changing dramatically and we’re undertaking a lot of data gathering right now, not because we’re moving into new markets, just that the market is changing around us. We need to ensure we have the talent and skillsets in place to embrace this change.
Nick Wright: It’s about continually improving the current capability. There is still a lot of lifetime in the combustion engine and we will continue to need scientists in our catalytic converter business. With young people coming out of universities, they often want to work in the battery and electric vehicle space and we need to ensure that people are still interested and engaged in moving into the traditional areas of our business, where there’s still a lot of lifespan. So, understanding how to position our brand and attract these capabilities is really important to us.
Malcolm Carr: Agreed, I worked for an organisation that was acquired by a huge business and no thought was given to the culture of the acquired business and consequently, that went pretty disastrously wrong. It goes without saying, data must inform on key cultural elements in M&As.
Alison Ettridge: Back to external data, there is a great deal of it that relates to people. It’s easy to identify where the skills are that are applicable to your business. If you look at it through a slightly different lens, that also means that there’s valuable competitor and culture information out there. If you start to look at publicly available data around people – deep web, as well as at a high level – there’s loads that you can take from it such as; flow of talent from your competitors, flow of talent into your organisation and flow of talent out of your organisation, all by looking at external sources.
Sarah McKenna: We are requiring our Partners to be a lot more flexible and think about how they can continue to learn and grow. For us, it’s about how can we help them play more to their strengths, do a different role or broaden their skills. It’s not always about moving up, it’s about acquiring skills, continually learning and having a growth mindset.
DO YOU FIND DATA SETS BECOMING MUCH MORE SOPHISTICATED AND ABLE TO INFORM ON A WIDER FRAME?
Judi Chartres-Lock: Of course, we always keep looking at healthcare costs and keeping them down. There’s obviously the medical innovation piece – direct access for mental health and cancer treatment, for example – and I suppose from an HR perspective, it’s around thinking about what roles and capabilities we need for the future and equally, working to be more representative of our communities.
Jackie Vent: We’re not expanding into new markets, but more diversifying. So, we are now in Formula E – a reaction to changing technologies of course – but we’re also mindful of millennials and Gen Z and the greater awareness of CSR, sustainable living and the ethics agenda. We’re now just launching the Mercedes Benz Supplied Sciences Arm.
THERE’S THIS CHANGE OF PERSPECTIVE THAT IT’S NOT MARKET SHARE YOU’RE BUYING SO MUCH ANYMORE AS KNOWLEDGE AND CAPABILITY.
Judi Chartres-Lock: Without any doubt, capability and knowledge are key to the future of competitiveness and, therefore, people strategies.
Alison Ettridge: The reality is, if you’re buying a business for its capability and its skills… if those people leave because you haven’t looked at how they integrate culturally, what have you bought?
HOW DO YOU DEFINE TALENT INTELLIGENCE AND WHY IS IT SO IMPORTANT?
Kavish Patel: Defining talent intelligence is actually whatever you want it to be for your company to achieve its goals. TI is twofold for us; it’s internal facing – understanding the skills and capabilities we currently have – but also how that resource can be deployed and diversified, as things change.
Graham Pierce: It’s really hard to define what talent is now… just when you think you have defined it, it changes. It’s a case of being open to talent intelligence, being on the lookout, always looking and listening and preparing for tomorrow.
Tracy Noble: Agreed, talent is incredibly hard to label and hugely subjective now and every business will need to change and expand its definition of talent potential and how it is identified – more with future development potential in mind.
Sarah McKenna: We believe everybody has potential for something, whereas before, there was a tendency to talk top talent in the higher levels of the business. We’ve moved away from nine box models and are focusing in on great conversations happening much more frequently. Just like we’ve moved away from the big annual review to a more regular dialogue throughout the year.
Jackie Vent: We’ve strong talent processes – not surprisingly for an F1 team, we measure performance very closely – and away from the track, we know where our successors are, we know where there are succession gaps and we know where we require more skills and resources. But we’re not as adept at deeply understanding our people; what motivates them, what’s going on in their personal lives, what’s not going well for them and what’s truly impacting their engagement with the team.
Lorraine Stone: We’ve a huge amount of homegrown talent in Ocado – people come into the organisation and are committed to the brand and vision – and they stay there for a relatively long time, which is great. But that can create a lack of flow in terms of pipeline opportunities. Looking at our leaders, a lot of them are technical experts, who have moved into leadership roles. Meanwhile, from an external perspective, I think about talent intelligence in terms of what are our competitors doing and I guess the fundamental question is, who are our competitors? Because, different parts of the business will have different types of rivals for talent, so there are lots of factors.
Alison Ettridge: The best way to describe talent intelligence is, let’s imagine a business organisation of the future that has workforce intelligence optimised, so that it is a zero-vacancy organisation. They understand their skills supply chain in the way that they understand any other supply chain. They know where they are, what they’re doing, how they’re changing, how to deploy them, what they need to pay and what their diversity is and so on. Aligned with that, the way they resource projects is agile, based on where the availability of talent is and that might be; virtual hubs, if there’s a talent hotspot, that might inform where they put a physical headquarters. Talent intelligence is definitely not about “bums on seats” in an office and it is about driving business agenda.
Malcolm Carr: It is a very different perspective and way of operating, but it’s not some fantasy utopia. Changes have to be made, but if you are determined to really change, not just tinker round the edges to tick a box on some to-do list, then making this a reality is perfectly plausible.
DO YOU FEEL THAT YOUR ORGANISATION HAS THE INTELLIGENCE ON TALENT TO REMAIN COMPETITIVE IN THE FUTURE AND, IF NOT, WHERE ARE THE DEFICITS?
Tracy Noble: We’re mindful that we have an ageing workforce in our business, the sector and the talent pool is small and we’re all trying to attract the same people. There’s an urgency for us to up the ante to breeding and developing our own talent, to be more self-sufficient.
Nick Wright: Data science has been a recurring theme in today’s discussion and, if we assume that all businesses will definitely need that capability, there is definitely going to be a major shortage of candidates. The paradox would be, the availability of infinite data but no human capability to make use of it.
HISTORICALLY, THE FINANCIAL SECTOR WAS A MAGNET FOR TECH TALENT. HAS THAT CHANGED IN MORE RECENT TIMES?
Kavish Patel: Financial services has benefited from decades of being the number one place for talent to go – you could earn highly competitive salaries – but much of the old veneer has gone, the financial crisis killed that. Then there’s the rise of the tech giants, sexy brands to work for, that look after staff, advertise and brand well and target people at school leaver age. Financial services have to up their game urgently.
Jackie Vent: We have to be OK with losing some good people. When they want to expand their horizons, develop their breadth of experience it’s best to not burn bridges – they may consider coming back in future. We know where our skills shortages are, so we try to grow our own as much as we can.
Sarah McKenna: For us it’s about the kind of coming together of our customer and employer brand that will be important. We’ve always had a good employer reputation, but retail is not a growth sector at the moment and we need to tell our story better. Most importantly, for us, it’s how can we really leverage the competitive advantage of being an employee-owned business?
Malcolm Carr: The challenge is to understand the reality that relates to your business. The messages are mixed; there’s this so-called perfect storm, where there’s a strong labour market, but there are labour shortages, skills shortages and talent shortages, plus we have demographic challenges and people expecting to work flexibility. We can’t fix it all at once, but we can make it work through data.
Alison Ettridge: I once heard a CEO at a high brand business say; “have we got any data to support this or are we running with opinions? Because, if we’re running with opinions, we’re going with mine…” We are living in a world that is transforming so fast that HR needs to take data to the board and start to drive it with intent, knowledge and the passion to say, “this is what’s coming around the corner”, to really influence strategy. Many traditional businesses are running on opinions against challenger businesses that are running on data… that’s the significant differentiator right there!
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