I recently read a superb CIPD blog, whose authors took the rare step of recognising that the natural talents of employees are an exceptional resource.
I couldn’t agree more: we have always said that our business existed to “leverage the latent talent in employees for a happier and more productive workforce”.
The blog continues by helping leaders to identify what high performance in their organisation might look like, and how to win as a strengths-based organisation.
But isn’t this patently obvious? Couldn’t a two-year-old tell you that people who use their natural talents are likely to be happier in their work, contribute more and deliver most for their organisation?
Well, yes. But we’re not in that sort of world.
- There are no jobs for life, and wage stagnation limits pay rises to 1%-4%; which means that for dramatic wage improvement, people must change jobs often. This reduces loyalty and creates unnecessary disruption to teams.
- Fear, especially in our post-crash pessimistic part of the cycle, keeps people in the wrong job for longer than they otherwise might remain.
- The labour market is distorted. Officially, unemployment is at a historically low 4.5%; which should mean that businesses clamour for talent. But many analysts dispute the figure. It’s more the case that Britain operates on several strata of economic activity, from those with stable jobs through professional freelancers, ‘gig economy’ workers and zero-hours contractors, to the carers who aren’t even recognised. There are plenty of people working flat out who are not recognised as workers, and plenty of people who are not employed at full-strength who are not recognised by the statistics. It is therefore often no longer possible to gauge how much talent will be available for any one role or skill, nor what motivation can be expected.
- An educational disconnect for some 20 years has given the younger half of the job market the crippling burden of tuition fees if they went to college (which forces them to chase money over fulfilment and/or long-term career choices) and has often put those people in the wrong careers (which is why plenty of young people who would have earned three times as much in trades which were profitable and respected are instead earning a pittance in service businesses which do not suit their aptitudes).
- And all this happens as companies reach the end of the scrimping and saving of the past two decades, where a mixture of technology, globalisation and raw pressure has shaved every possible efficiency from operations. Instead, as artificial intelligence and robotics mature, the next evolutions in the workplace will be truly transformative – and painful for many.
That sounds despairingly negative. So let’s embrace the change. The labour market will continue to become ever more liquid and we will continue to sell our skills more broadly and in a more dispersed way.
The world of work will evolve so fast that the idea of an education which stops in our 20s will be ludicrous. Instead, as individuals we will take responsibility for our own continuing education and development.
And what will be the one remaining constant in this society of highly mobile talent? Businesses; which will continue to need and seek out the best people to put to economic use.
We can see that as a dystopic merchant autocracy, or a chance for the best people to coalesce around the best brands: indeed the modern talent manager (and yes, it will be a talent manager, not HR) will be tasked with building, maintaining and incentivising high-performing teams. They will do so with incentives. They will do so with brand management and a clear corporate vision.
But above all, they will invite people to do what they do best, not just because that will generate the greatest value; but also because when teams are fluid, it becomes more important that they can get on with each other and get on with the job.
Where today’s businesses have cut to the bone in the hope that employees will be cowed into juggling ever more responsibilities, even if they are activities we’re not good at, smart businesses of the future will put effort into working out what each employee might truly best do with their time.