Talent lessons from COVID19 – none of us know anything (yet)

There’s been such a profusion of ‘this is how the talent world has changed’ articles in the last week or so, it’s all a bit overwhelming. One of the most egregious examples was a piece from one of the world’s largest staffing firms entitled ‘Lessons from COVID19’ which I think is like trying to draw lessons from World War Two the week after Dunkirk.

Likewise, the Gladiator-like cry of ‘what we do in life echoes in eternity’ message when it comes to employer brand is overdone. There are and always have been lots of companies that treat employees badly but still don’t have a problem attracting new ones. I suspect this won’t change. And don’t even start me on anyone who is talking about ‘the new normal’.

Ken Brotherston

MD – TALiNT Partners

Right now, the only thing we can ‘know’ is that the real lessons are presently unknowable (and as we wish the Prime Minister a speedy recovery).

It may well be that we begin a relatively rapid process of emerging from the lockdown and restarting the economy. Or the crisis continues with further outbreaks, and we don’t get any kind of stability until next year. Or, of course, we end up somewhere in between. Any lessons we learn will most likely be shaped by the pattern of the crisis.

Having said that, I think there are some big pointers as to what might change. For example, the Chairman of the Royal College of GPs said last week about the adoption of new technology ‘it’s taken us two weeks to achieve more than we have in 20 years’.  

This is a view echoed by the head of TA for one of the biggest supermarkets who has been able to hire 4000 people in 8 days by being able to rapidly devise and implement new ways of working across the organisation. Clearly this is not business as usual and there will no doubt be a degree of regression towards old ways of working but three steps forward and one back is something most Head of TA would be happy with.

Likewise, with remote working. Headlines of ‘the death knell for the office’  or ‘no more commuting’ conveniently ignore 60,000 years of human hard wiring favouring being part of a community with a collective purpose. So, no I wouldn’t be burning the season ticket just yet although, again, there will certainly be some degree of acceleration of dynamic working.  Whereas flexible working is still generally rules bound, dynamic working is the ability for employees to choose how they need to work on a week by week or even day by day basis. This approach had already taken root across a number of sectors before Covid19 and we’ll find out how deep the roots are soon enough.

However, the biggest and most profound issue will be how many jobs actually come back. Since the financial crisis the UK has generally traded lower productivity for full employment. The economic devastation wrought by this crisis combined with the increasing impact of AI and other technologies  (remember that? It’s not gone away, in fact it’s likely to accelerate post crisis) means many roles will simply disappear forever. In their place (and hopefully sooner rather than later) will be a myriad of roles we haven’t yet created. The challenge for corporate HR and talent teams will be to understand how to get the balance right between the old and the new roles, what new skills will be needed and what are the approaches and processes needed to identify, attract and engage the talent needed for whatever comes next. 

Our own small contribution to this challenge is to try and help employers better understand how effective their resourcing and talent acquisition efforts are compared to their competitors and the wider market so that they can adapt and tune their approaches accordingly.  More information on the 2020 programme can be found here and Rebecca Martin-Cortez, the Benchmark Programme Director is happy to answer any question you might have. She can be reached at rebecca@talint.co.uk.

One hope I do have is this: my experience of Zoom so far has shown a really high degree of sensitivity about politely letting other people speak and ensuring everyone on the call gets an opportunity to contribute to it. Wouldn’t it be nice if that became the norm when we get back to actual face to face meetings?

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