Focussing on Future Talent (Part 1)

This post was originally found on my business blog and has been reposted here in May 2015.

Much of my focus over the past few weeks has been upon future talent. Not only am I researching what makes a great campus engagement programme for a large graduate employer, I was also lucky enough to attend Changeboard’s Future Talent Now conference last week at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, London. Many of the UK’s HR leaders turned up for what was an engaging day of thought-provoking and inspiring sessions and it was a really fantastic event. One of the best conferences I’ve ever attended.

Here’s my round up of the morning sessions or you can take a look at my twitter feed for my live tweets from the day.

The first session started with the CIPD’s Peter Cheese giving an overview of the changing world of work, focussing on what it means to operate in a VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity) environment. He spoke about the need to engage with education and to develop managers. The session set the tone for the day, reminding everyone in the room of the big challenges facing us all when it comes to future talent.

Next up was Ashok Vaswani from Barclays. I have to confess I struggled to hear most of his session from the balcony, so had to rely on the twitter feed to keep up, but the messages which got through rang true with me. He talked about the influence that having three generations in the workplace will have upon talent and the impact of the ‘digital revolution’. He talked about the need for employers to invest in future talent and about what Barclays hope to achieve with their LifeSkills programme. I am looking forward to watching this one back so I can hear the whole speech, as from what I heard it was an interesting and engaging story and I’d like to learn more.

The last session before the morning break was from Lucy Adams, former HR Director at the BBC. Lucy talked about the importance of trust in leadership and how trust in the workplace has been eroded in recent years. I loved her point that much of what we do in HR comes from a sense of distrust. She urged HR to work on the principle that employees are usually trustworthy decent people, rather than designing policy around the exceptions to that rule. She encouraged the audience to bring back “niceness” in leadership and to get to know their employees. Lucy also talked about the role of technology and how glassdoor gives back power to employees. I think employers can use social media as a platform to rebuild trust through authenticity and honest communication with their employees. Leaders need to engage directly with staff through this medium. Lucy seemed to agree with me on this. Overall, it was a really engaging session, full of wise advice for leadership and probably my highlight of the morning. I hope Lucy is also right about the return of “niceness”.

After a quick break, we returned for a session from Sir Anthony Seldon about values. We were encouraged to think about the values we live by and the values we need to instill in our young people. The greatest predictors of success in young people are self-restraint and control. He also talked about the importance of courage and kindness and the need for schools and workplaces to teach young people the importance of these qualities. The session was followed by a question about the importance of grit and resilience and from his answer, it was clear he felt these were important too. I found this a really interesting and thought-provoking session, which got me thinking about the qualities I look for in people and the values I hold most dear. I could have happily listened to Sir Anthony speak all day.

Alan Watkins followed with a session on neuroscience and the relationship between behaviour, thoughts, feelings, emotion and physiology. He explained how physiology has a big influence upon how we feel and how stress can have a different effect on people depending on their heart rate variability. He gave a clear demonstration of what happens when you are stressed, connecting an audience volunteer up to a heart rate monitor and challenging them with simple mathematical questions. Finally he said the clue to controlling that physiology lies within breathing – a tip that any singer or actor will already be very familiar with. Very little of what he spoke about was new to me, as I was familiar with this relationship between physiology, thoughts and behaviour through past learning from cognitive behaviour therapy, singing lessons and anxiety/stress management courses. However, the session was expertly delivered and a great introduction to these ideas for those with less prior experience.

The last session before lunch was from Alain de Botton. He reminded us “a happy worker is a more productive worker” and talked about how we shouldn’t use our gut instinct to find a job or a lover, as so often the gut is wrong, demonstrated by just how many relationships end in divorce. He spoke of a broken education system, which doesn’t prepare young people to find jobs and the need to improve careers advice – a message which was a recurrent theme throughout the day. He talked about the need to help workers find meaning in their jobs by telling stories which ensure employees understand their purpose at work. He spoke about the waste of human talent when a business card says one thing and the heart another. Yet another speaker I could happily listen to all day, the session was funny, poignant and relevant to the topic in hand. A really great way to end the morning.

By now I was hungry and we all headed upstairs in search of lunch. Delegates enjoying the fresh air on the balcony overlooking a sunny Covent Garden bonded over their hunt for one of the small bowls of food circulating through the crowd. After a delicious bowl of cheese soufflé served with a pretty salad of flowers, I headed inside to look around the exhibition. Having been to Yorkshire the weekend before for the Grand Depart I was persuaded to take on the Oracle HCM smoothie bike challenge in an attempt to win a Tour de France yellow jersey. Sadly I failed to maintain the required speed and my score wasn’t going to win any prizes, but I enjoyed the fruit smoothie I’d blended up in the meantime. Soon it was time to head back down for the afternoon session and I was really looking forward to listening to more engaging speakers.

For an overview of the afternoon and further reflections on the day, look out for another post coming soon.

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