How winning the new war on talent also builds Business Agility


This is the first in a series of blogs about winning the war on talent in the new world of work, ensuring your organisation is #FitfortheFuture.

There is a healthy consensus that the level of complexity in organisational life is increasing, and many organisations are currently struggling to meet the demands of this increasing level of complexity.

Let’s be honest, navigating constantly increasing change is challenging, and it’s becoming more so every day.

Some organisations that have a more progressive approach, Netflix, Google, Burtzorg and Haier for example, are confronting this inherent challenge by choosing to pursue alternative ways of working, to address organisational performance in today’s ever-changing world.

The diagram below illustrates the shift in organisational design that is currently occurring around the world. You will notice three very specific ways of structuring organisations, which represent different approaches to organisational design; each one attempts to deal with the increasing rate of global change in different ways. It’s actually far more complex than this simple diagram, with many organisations somewhere between each stage, but for argument’s sake, let’s just agree that this is an acceptable representation of the three choices of organisational structure and operating systems available today.

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Many organisations are quickly realising that, in order to inhabit today's modern V.U.C.A. world, the structures on the right are possibly better aligned to enable them to create and deliver value. These are more responsive and flexible, and therefore better suited to ensuring the needs of the customer and the market are met in the emerging marketplace, as opposed to the older and more familiar one on the left, which resembles the slow-moving, power-driven bureaucracies we are all familiar with.

Most of the work I do involves helping organisations, people and teams, move from the left to the right of these options. Recently, though, I have started to look at why it’s so difficult to make this change, by focusing more on the methods that cause a large majority of the challenges… the people or employees. Well, actually not so much the people themselves, but the people processes.

The first cab off the rank is recruitment

The first topic I would like to address in recruitment, How do you recruit with the future of work in mind?

I think of talent in three very distinct ways, traditional, general and meta. I have mapped these three stages roughly to the image above to show you the type of organisation in which each stage of talent works best, and which enables them to flourish.

  1. The Traditionalists (the past)

    Firstly, we have the traditionalists, and the approach of these organisations to recruitment is exactly that – traditional. They have a way of hiring that focuses on a very narrow skill set. The primary philosophy here is not really about an embedded and deep interest in how this individual will contribute to the workforce ecosystem, but on filling the immediate skill gap.

    This approach fails to consider the true strategic intent of the organisation, or the cross functional capacities required. The focus is on the immediate skill or role replacement, what I call the single-skilled approach. Fundamentally, it is certainly not operationally strategic. It’s worth remembering that this approach is arguably followed by 80% of organisations.

  2. The Generalists (the present)

    Recently, an increasing number of modern organisations have begun to realise that, in order to build flexibility and business agility that empower their organisations, they need to hire a broader set of capabilities. They need capabilities that actually enable new talent to fulfil several roles and fill broader job requirements that reach across several functions of the organisation.

    I call these individuals multi-skilled, as they have shallow expertise in several skill domains. These individuals are valuable assets; not only can they fill multiple roles, they inherently increase the amount of flexibility and agility that supports a highly-functional organisation.

    Despite the immediate benefits of using multi-skilled talent, very few organisations prioritise role flexibility. It’s worth noting that, the more you move from left to right on the diagram above, the more challenging it is to locate talent with the required capability. Furthermore, how you measure this capability during the recruitment process can be challenging.

  3. The Metas (the near future)

    Last, but not least, are progressive organisations. These organisations view talent as their most valuable asset. Not only do they realise it, they are aware of the correlation between using modern approaches and the return on this investment.

    Progressive organisations do a couple of things differently to most. Firstly, they pay well for top talent, which lines up directly with the philosophy above. Netflix is a great example of this approach; refer to Patty McCord’s recent book, Powerful. Secondly, they create such a compelling purpose-driven value proposition that they don’t necessarily have to pay top dollar every time. In fact, people will join your organisation even if you pay them less, provided they are fulfilled in a multitude of other ways.

    Everyone has their own idea of great talent, but progressive organisations look for something more. Single skills are good, multi-skills are better, however meta-skills are the holy grail of talent, and are attainable if you are willing to change your approach to recruitment and the way that you think about talent.

So, what’s the big deal, anyway? What’s the benefit of seeking metas, and having a more strategic approach?

Well, quite a bit actually. Organisations that take both the second and third approaches open themselves and their organisations up to greater levels of:

  • Organisational agility

  • Change readiness and market responsiveness

  • Collaboration

  • Return on their talent investment – from my experience, one meta is worth 10 to 15 traditionalists or generalists

  • Diversity and inclusion (systems thinkers are simply better at accepting the differences between people, gender and nationality)

The list is a lot longer than just this one above, and it’s just amazing how just a small splash of phenomenal talent can cause a quantum or tectonic shift in the entire organisation (if they survive the immune system response from the system itself when they first enter the organisation; but that’s another blog).

Note: I think it goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway, the more people you have from the meta skilled group, the greater chance you have of transforming your organisation towards the future of work and the organisational structures on the right side of the diagram.

The Challenge

Here’s the difficult aspect of this entire approach when trying to recruit metas. They won’t show up on standard employment metrics or many of today’s recruitment assessments.

Why? Because metas are contextually driven and flexible. The standard approach of forcing split choices found on most predictive employment measurements (most like me, least like me) simply does not work. So, you have to take an alternative approach using actual workplace testing or vertical development assessments. These two approaches are the only ones which will uncover that elusive, but incredibly valuable meta.

Interested in recruiting meta-skilled staff?

Finding a meta is difficult, and the next paradigm testing required to identify them is expensive.

Most of my mentoring and coaching clients fall into late-stage generalists or meta executives, many of which are currently looking for new roles to take themselves and their organisations towards the right side of the diagram above and into the future of work.

If you’re currently looking for someone to help take your organisation to the next level, I currently have three meta individuals who are looking for their next roles in a progressive or future-orientated organisation, here in Adelaide, in the following disciplines:

  1. People and Culture

  2. Marketing

  3. Information and Technology

I can already hear your thoughts… but, how much is this going to cost me? Not a thing! Part of the purpose-driven nature of what I do is helping individuals and organisations thrive. I want this for both my clients and organisations brave enough to take that next step.

So, if you want me to connect you to the individuals above, click HERE

Note: This short piece is part of a larger, forthcoming white paper titled, “Why you keep getting more of the workforce you have, rather than the one you need?” – preparations for the future of work.