By Louise Gatenby, CEO of The Good Board, a pioneering executive search and leadership development company, part of the B.Corporation movement of business as a force for good.
The ‘war for talent’ has been raging for decades and shows no signs of dissipating. The pace of change and VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) world we live in means it is ever more critical that sustainable organisations have an evolving and responsive strategy in place to attract and retain future leaders. As we emerge from the pandemic and focus on how to ‘build forward better’, having a long-term talent strategy is a critical way to future-proof your organisation.
Put purpose at the heart of your strategy.
A sense of purpose is something everyone strives for in life. A reason for being, your North Star. The famous Thomas Carlyle quote ‘the (hu)man without a purpose is like a ship without a rudder’ applies just as strongly to organisations as to individuals and can mean the difference between sustainable success and going through the motions.
While it might have been enough at one time to say that organisational purpose was about maximising profit or shareholder value, that is no longer the case. It is certainly not enough to engage and retain the leaders of the future. With the 2019 redefinition of the purpose of a corporation by the influential US Business Round Table, this is now a central consideration. The shift from creating ‘shareholder’ value to creating ‘stakeholder’ value might seem a subtle one, but it encompasses an expectation to consider people, customers, suppliers, communities and environment and the difference can and should be profound.
While most companies do now at least pay lip service to defining their purpose, those who genuinely put it at the heart of their people, commercial and customer strategy demonstrate time and again that it is not only the right thing to do but also a powerful competitive advantage. It creates deeper and authentic engagement, motivation and loyalty whether talking about the leadership talent agenda, customers or suppliers. A shared purpose unifies organisations and their broader ecosystems and unified organisations are better equipped to create and innovate, to add more value for all of their stakeholders and create a positive impact more widely in the world. It is becoming increasingly evident that they are also more likely to deliver commercial success!
To define an organisation’s purpose you have to ask some difficult questions. Why does your organisation exist? What is its impact on wider society? And, why should people want to come and work with you or buy from you? The most successful organisations know the answer to these questions, they form the DNA of organisational culture and are the basis on which they attract and retain tomorrow’s leaders.
As millennials and GenZ become the largest demographics in our workforce and move towards leadership roles, they are driving this agenda. They want to work for organisations who share their view of the world, stand for something and live their values. Where they feel fulfilled and connected, not just motivated by financial gain.
People do not want to work for inauthentic managers and organisations, and neither do other businesses or consumers. When an organisation has a positive purpose, environmental and societal impact, it attracts and engages all of its stakeholders – employees, investors, customers and the wider community and creates a virtuous cycle which underpins the leadership talent agenda.
Inclusion is fundamental.
While diversity has been an important topic for decades, it is now, more than ever, at the forefront of the leadership talent agenda, with changes being implemented with varied success. While we have moved the dial on gender diversity in some areas, the discussions around race last year have illustrated how far we still have to go, and don’t get me started on age! Those organisations which understand and embrace diversity create huge opportunities in their leadership talent agenda as well as business sustainability and success.
The benefits of diversity are clear. Why would we want everyone to be the same? Do we not want to be representative of our world, our marketplace? And do we not want people who ask questions and challenge, bring different perspectives, experiences and thinking? Is this not the way to develop the creative, innovative and agile organisations we need now and in the future?
However, diversity is only the first step. If we bring individuals into our organisations and broaden diversity of thought, life experiences, career paths, of different ages, races and genders, but then don’t listen to their voices we lose the opportunity to create real change.
As Verna Myers said: ‘Diversity is being invited to the party, inclusion is being asked to dance’. If we are to harness the power of diversity, we have to make sure we create an inclusive environment where everyone is dancing. And we need to go beyond that if we want to create real equity – building organisational cultures where everyone feels that they belong and are able to bring their whole selves to work so that they can do their best work in our businesses.
A strong ESG agenda.
More and more, the profit-only model of capitalism is being rejected by today’s workforce and by tomorrow’s leaders who want to work for organisations who share their values and have a positive impact. Environmentally, we cannot continue to use up our planet’s resources at the current rate and almost every day there is new evidence, or a new crisis which demands that we make significant change.
What’s more, investors are increasingly focussed on the environmental, social and governance (ESG) agenda and those publicly traded businesses who can’t demonstrate positive progress in this area are rapidly falling out of favour. And this is being driven by the consumer voice who want to buy from companies who share positive ethos.
We know that people want to work for and work with companies that integrate the ESG aspects into the heart of their business model. The economic case clearly supports the longer-term creation of value and sustainable capitalism and can help attract the best talent, new customers and investors, serving as a source of commercial and competitive advantage.
There is a clear competitive advantage to bringing the ESG agenda into your employer brand as well as investor strategy to ensure you are attracting and engaging future leaders who align with your positive intentions and hold themselves accountable to driving this agenda.
Commitment to health & wellbeing.
2020 was the year that health and wellbeing really hit the headlines. Many organisations have always recognised the importance of employees’ health and wellbeing in attracting and retaining a talented and engaged workforce, going back to the Bourneville or Port Sunlight villages created by Cadbury and Unilever. However, the pandemic has brought into sharp focus the importance of creating a compassionate culture, looking after your people and their families, creating an inclusive and safe environment. Increasingly these will create the foundational building blocks on which organisational culture is built and will underpin employee engagement and the ability to attract senior talent.
Todays leading organisations recognise the important role they play in transforming the world around them. There is a paradigm shift happening now and an opportunity to create a differentiated leadership agenda based on purpose, values and positive change which provides a competitive employer brand advantage. It represents a huge opportunity for businesses to create positive change and for leaders to work towards an ethical and sustainable future.