Lessons from the Future Talent Podcast

Written by
Tom Ritchie

03 May 2018

03 May 2018 • by Tom Ritchie

Last year, we launched our Future Talent podcast, a series of exclusive interviews with business leaders and thinkers, to uncover their perspectives on the changing world of work. Here, we share some of the best insights.

Colin Price, managing partner, Heidrick Consulting

In 2017, Colin Price and his colleague at Heidrick & Struggles, Sharon Toye, published Accelerating Performance: How organisations can Mobilise, Execute and Transform with Agility. Price and Toye researched some 250 top-performing businesses around the world, looking at drivers of performance across industries and sectors. In episode one of the Future Talent podcast, Price discussed how business’ attitude to strategy must change in a rapidly moving world of work.

We used to call all of this stuff “change management” 10 or 15 years ago. Then the term became “transformation”. I think we should just be calling it “business”. The idea that your organisation is a steady state and you can do a special change project, go back to normal, re-freeze the system and then two or three years later change it all again, isn’t very helpful.

Business is not stability with the occasional bit of change. Business is agility. Business is change. If you’re in a period of normality, you’re slowly dying.

I grew up in a period where strategy was thought of as identifying the position of sustainable competitive advantage: we get to where we want to be in two or three years’ time and from there we can defend or attack better than anyone else. That doesn’t work now, because we have no idea where we want to be in five years. We don’t know what’s going to happen with technology.

Strategy now is about getting somewhere as quickly as possible. Take banking as an example: the top companies are downsizing corporate banking and refocusing on their key franchise opportunities. Banks at the bottom are doing the same thing. The difference is the achieving banks are doing it quicker.

In our research, we found that the fastest-growing companies are better at ‘META’, which stands for mobilise, execute, transform and agility:

Mobilise: Fast-growing companies are better at getting their collective brains around their direction.

Execute: They put in place the disciplines and metrics that allow for a rapid pace of change.

Transform: If you are changing slower than the rest of your industry, the end is close.

Agility: If today, you are pointing north west, tomorrow you have to face north east. It’s about testing and learning, and if you’re going to fail, it’s about failing quickly. 

Mike Dennett, CEO, BMW Group Financial Services

Launched in 2016, BMW’s ‘innovation lab’ allows start-ups to trial products at scale under the expertise of the senior members of the BMW Group UK executive team. In episode seven of the Future Talent podcast, Mike Dennett discussed how collaborating with smaller businesses can help reduce stasis in large organisations.

You don’t know what you don’t know. But somebody else might. Inviting others to join our business and address our challenges might give us a different perspective. The typical ambition of a corporate accelerator is to invite start-ups in and see whether they can help you get ahead of your competition. But that’s obvious. My biggest objective was to think differently. We need to be faster and more agile. We’re a big corporate with processes and procedures, but start-ups don’t work that way.

Feedback has been brilliant. We engaged with our employees, giving them updates and the opportunity to ask the start-ups questions. The interest has been so strong that we’ve opened up the lab to our own associates. We wanted to drive the ability to think freely, to be agile and adaptable. Brexit means we don’t know what the future holds. We’re looking for the ability to think on your feet, and a willingness to empower your team to carry those values forward.

I have a responsibility to grow the business sustainably and meet shareholders’ needs, but success will manifest itself in what you and your people do. Great leaders don’t create followers; they create more leaders. The innovation lab empowers people to be the leaders of the future.

Kirstie Donnelly, managing director, City & Guilds Group

Research by the Local Government Association estimates that the UK’s skills shortage could cost the economy £90bn a year. In episode 13 of the Future Talent podcast, Kirstie discussed common threads that unite different regions in addressing their skills shortages, and what the UK can learn from other countries that are more agile in their use of technology.

Apprenticeships are not just a UK issue. Wherever I go in our international regions, apprenticeships, or a variation on apprenticeships, keep popping up as a ‘holy grail’ for addressing the skills issues they’re experiencing. I often find myself quite shocked at how similar the issues faced internationally are to those in the UK; although the contexts are quite different.

There are high levels of youth employment; we think it’s bad enough in our country, but in some countries it exceeds 50%. The common theme is that employers want the education system to supply more of those human skills: resilience; the ability to cope with change. What impact is artificial intelligence going to have on the next generation? How will they cope with the possibility of competing with their grandparents for a job?

What can we learn from each other? One thing I’ve noticed is that African countries are beginning to leapfrog others through technology. They don’t have the legacy systems or the scepticism, and because they have a burning need to change, they go straight to the source. They are using technology to tap into tutors, networks and resources at a distance. Here, we fear change, culturally. It takes us a long time for people to see that technology isn’t a replacement, it’s an enabler.

Matthew Taylor, CEO, Royal Society of Arts

Commissioned by the government in 2017, Matthew Taylor’s review of modern working practices in the UK considers the implications of new forms of employment on workers’ rights and responsibilities, as well as employer obligations. In episode nine of the Future Talent podcast, Taylor reflected on the response to his report, and what good work looks like in the modern economy.

I felt it was critical in my work to get across the value statement that “work should be good”. On the first page of the report I wrote: “We should aspire to all jobs being fair and decent, with scope for fulfilment and development.” What has excited me is that this notion of good work, has almost become a meme. Wherever I go, I hear people talking about it, I hear research has been commissioned, or trade associations are writing their own reports about it.

If we’re going to get change, legitimacy is critical. I know that from working in public policy for 30 years. The irreversible changes are the ones with public buy in, be it equality for gay people; Scotland’s parliament; or the smoking ban. These all stuck because people think they are right. I wanted to get across the idea that if we are going to improve work, we have to emphasise the importance of good work.

I wanted to counter two views that are prevalent in our culture. First, that there will always be bad jobs; the notion that some people have to clean sewers or streets, so there’s no point in thinking how those jobs can be better. The second is the ‘master and servant’ view. The idea that “I pay you to do what I tell you to do” or that I don’t need to worry about developing you, your happiness, or your autonomy is unnecessary.

I’ve pulled these ideas to the surface and said to people, “there is no reason why any job cannot be organised in a way that gives people self-respect and a possibility for development and growth”. Actually, the research shows overwhelmingly that the best companies are the ones that treat their employees as humans and encourage their people to bring their wholes selves to work.