Building a better talent gym

The next item on the agenda was the strategic risk register which signalled that the board meeting was close to completion. The shuffling of papers by some board members was another indicator that the preparation for departure had already commenced which was unsurprising as the discussion with regard to this item was usually relatively brief.

However, a new board member asked why the implementation of some key projects was going to be further delayed by another six months. The Chief Executive explained that the board is aware of the ongoing difficulty to recruit the relevant key senior executives which has been exacerbated by the current remuneration policy which seeks to match market rates only in exceptional circumstances. The Chair emphasised that the board had accepted the current assessment of the risk and the proposed mitigating actions seemed appropriate.

The new board member was grateful for the context and she was reassured as the risk appears to relate only to attracting key talent (right workers) which suggests that the firm is less concerned about retaining key talent which is encouraging. A moment of silence suddenly transpired and the Chief Executive nervously admitted that the risk register is slightly out of date as the firm recently lost key talent to competitors. Alarmed by this disclosure, the Chair of the Audit committee queried why the risk register is silent on the recent developments with regard to the talent retention risk. The HR director responded that the senior management team recently concluded that the feedback from the exit interviews for those senior executives did not raise any issues of concern. He added that the following comments from the exit interviews did not appear credible:

  • The new employer has a more compelling vision and purpose that goes beyond achieving key financial metrics;
  • The new employer welcomes and celebrates diversity of thought and is more committed to flexible working arrangements;
  • The new employer has a culture that is more focused on the best interests of customers.

A debate ensued as to whether dismissing those comments is appropriate and the danger of the firm’s strategy unravelling if those comments reflect the sentiments of existing staff. The board suggested that a more proactive approach to attracting and retaining key talent should be developed. The Chief Executive reminded the board that many of its competitors are facing the same talent challenge which is increasingly more difficult due to the pace and scale of change in the operating environment.

The ‘quiet’ board member suddenly broke his silence and suggested that the current recruitment crisis is in part due to the firm’s failure to clearly define the right talent taking into account its desired culture informed by its strategic ambitions and underpinned by a deep understanding of its customer needs. He suggested that a rethink of the firm’s talent management strategy is now necessary.

The new board member supported the development of a more proactive approach to attracting and retaining the right talent and such a strategy should aim to address the following key questions:

  • What should we do to build a stronger and more compelling employer brand?
  • What steps should we take to successfully leverage a wider pool of diverse talent?
  • What steps should we take to enhance and foster the right culture (collective and habitual behaviours to get the right things done) which is aligned to the talent that the firm wishes to attract and retain?

The longest serving board member expressed surprise at the proposed approach which seemed like an overreaction to a challenge that is also faced by other similar firms. He was very concerned that the firm appears to be pandering to the diversity bandwagon despite the evidence of the firm’s financial success to date which demonstrates that the lack of diversity is not an issue of concern.

The Chair politely and quickly overlooked those comments and summarised the broader sentiments of the board which concluded that a strategy that appropriately addressed the suggested questions above should be developed in order to enable the firm to attract the right talent for a healthier and sustainable future. In particular, the strategy should enhance the desirability of the firm as a place to develop the careers of the right talent. The Chief Executive slouched on his chair thought the board may be overreacting.  Nevertheless, he would proceed to develop a strategy to make the firm a better gym for the right talent.

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