This is going to become a mini series about all the interesting people I’ve met over the past few weeks. Here I want to share with you how an afternoon themed around talent served to ‘relight the HR fire’…

Editor Charlie Duff attended the HR Network’s first live event – Relight the HR fire. The afternoon event had a talent theme and was held in the sumptuous surroundings of the chic Soho Hotel in London.

There was plenty of time for mingling and meeting with other HR leaders and a buffet lunch provided a great start to get people chatting. Some experts from Stepstone, the sponsor of the day, mixed with the delegates and I had some genuinely interesting discussions with them about talent spotting, sourcing and how an organisation deals with talent management and succession planning.

When it comes to talking about talent it’s a mixed bag for HR at the moment. On the one hand here’s ‘talent drift’ where trust is low and talent is leaving the organisation – but on the other, for the more dynamic businesses – arguably those with a forward thinking talent management strategy and other HR functions in place – there is a real opportunity to reel in talent from new places. These are turbulent, but exciting times for many in the HR world.
Sarah Jepson from Deloitte headed up the first session, which was a highly interactive ‘talent café’.

Jump into alternative talent pools
Sarah highlighted some new thoughts on talent including ‘alternative talent pools’. These include those previously retired full time, former full time carers who are coming back to work, those previously considered too disabled to work who are now re-entering the workplace now there are more flexible options and the support to do so.

The assembled group – mainly HR directors and managers although there was the odd CEO and MD present also – voted on three topics to tackle and we broke off into groups to discuss them. This was the highlight of the day as we discussed real HR issues with those on the front line – it is a format I can see becoming very popular as a halfway house between the traditional conference and the ‘unconference’ format we are beginning to see in HR and recruitment.

One of the things which emerged was a belief that true talent will always leave. It’s a case of how long you can hold their attention. How to do that, with limited resources, was another matter. We discussed how to engage those disengaged during the recession, opening alternative talent pools and the role of leadership in talent.
Another points on talent raised was the need to unlock already existing talent – recognise and utilise the talent you already have.

See the future?
Samantha Rich from AXA gave a fascinating talk which described how she could see into the future. No, really, she has a programme which predicts the likelihood of departures and need to hire based on past events. It’s linked to the payroll system, which is where it gets the information from, allowing it to know who is there, who has left, who has had a bonus or rise, who is on SSP or SMP, and so on. Having used it throughout the recession it has already proved 85% accurate, a figure which Samantha hopes will rise as the market stabilises.

One of the issues Samantha had to deal with was the methods of recruitment being used – as HR’s budget took care of the recruitment, the departments were sourcing expensive methods: something which needed to change. By forcing the recruitment budgets back to the departments who were doing the recruiting Samantha made sure they took responsibility.

Not everyone believes in her crystal ball software but Samantha has learned to deal with that by refusing to micromanage their departments and informing managers of their predictions, leaving it up to them to take action. With an 85% success rate – even in the unpredictable climate of a recession – it can be imagined that more than a few managers have had to eat humble pie!

Setting up HR in a family business
Samantha’s talk was followed by Madhura Namala, who directs HR at Giraffe, the restaurant chain mostly based in London. She explained the set up of the business, and raised the issue of not only the introducing a small but growing business to HR but bringing the HR function into a family business, with a specific and strong culture and identity.

Madhura had a lot of useful tips and advice to give including her policy of not ‘managing’ performance but developing it. She also had some tips on managing during the recession – employees need to work smarter, employers need to cherish their retained talent and ask their key employees what they want out of their career. You may find their personal goals align perfectly with the business objectives, or you may find they don’t: the problem is when they are perceived to be aligned and are not.

When succession planning goes bad
This brought to mind another discussion I had recently with Owen Morgan of Penna, which could be called ‘When succession planning goes bad’ – a common but problematic approach is to decide ‘who you want’ to succeed you and to decide their career paths – without ever asking the employees concerned what they want to do. When the employee does something out of your control and not in the plan, for example leaves the company to go off travelling for a year, your plan is back to the drawing board. It reminded me yet again that no matter how painful, it’s important to have these vital, honest conversations.

Relight the HR fire certainly added some fuel to the debate on talent – look out for more articles on unusual talent pools and having those vital conversations. Fire for thought….

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