As global organisations continue to struggle to obtain the right talent, there’s a growing realisation that a different approach is required. Progressive business leaders are now putting a real focus on how they develop and nurture both the hard and soft skills of employees to gain a competitive edge. 

At Criticaleye’s recent Human Resources Director Retreat, Tim Good, Senior Managing Director for European Talent & Organisation at Accenture, told the audience, “You can no longer hire your way out of the problem; you've got to become a talent creator… There will be a series of… skills that are partly on the hard side, on areas like technology… But then there's the softer side of some of those things, such as around leadership. You've got to develop and bring those two things together.”
There continue to be vast number of unknowns when it comes to planning for the future workforce, whether it relates to reskilling, leadership, digital transformation, or trying to meet ever shifting employee expectations. This was reflected when attendees at the two-day Retreat, which was held in partnership with Accenture and WalkMe, responded to a ‘word cloud’ that asked them to describe their talent strategy for the year ahead. Their responses included “evolving”, “challenging”, “empowering”, “build the basics” and “global”.  
Helen Cook, Chief People Officer at Finastra, said: “Have a more flexible and creative approach to talent – build, buy, borrow, and partner. We have to become skills developers. You’ve got to start to create an ecosystem around a strategic workforce plan that is far more fluid and fungible than what we used to have. 
“From a talent perspective, in the current market, it's all about skills. I’m not looking at jobs, I'm not looking at anything else. I’m looking at skills and capabilities and the identification of those skills and capabilities that are required for the next three, five and seven years."

Building on this point, Helen, who has 30 years of experience as a CHRO in financial services, said, “It all starts with business strategy; I think many HR people forget that. What are the growth drivers? And where do you need to be focusing your mind? What are the critical skills required to drive that business growth?  What's the commercial reason for doing this as opposed to doing it in and of itself? Skills and talent cannot sit alone, it has to be systemised and congruent with everything else that is going on in the organisation,” she said. 
David Gareth Thomas, General Manager and Head of HR Asia Pacific at HSBC in Hong Kong, said, “The talent we compete for now is industry agnostic, particularly when you look to people who've got transferrable skills in digital, AI, customer insight and so on. For an organisation like ours, linking and executing our people plans in support of business priorities requires a constant focus on winning the hearts and minds of current – and prospective – colleagues across all the geographies we operate in. People have more choice than ever before about where and how they work; effective people leadership has always been important, but now even more so in the hybrid world.” 
Retaining key talent and developing leadership capabilities are essential in this uncertain future. Part of that is being very clear on your employee value proposition and what you offer as an organisation. “With more choice in the market for people with critical skills, organisations are now talking about the employee experience in much the same way as you would the customer,” said Jamie Wilson, Managing Director, Group Services at Criticaleye. “That means creating a holistic experience that includes how we as employers approach mental health, D&I and how we measure productivity. Empowering employees with flexibility will be key in achieving your talent strategy.” 
It was acknowledged that pay and rewards packages are growing in complexity. Richard Stokes former Group HR Director at Aggreko, said, “Talented people expect to spend a shorter period of time with a single company than in the past and progress their career by moving around more. One of the consequences of this is that long-term incentives often have less of an attraction and retention effect. Having said that, in small fast-growing companies, you can really attract, motivate and retain talented people by giving them a tangible slice of the action with meaningful equity awards.”  
An organisation’s overall sense of moral accountability also clearly comes into play. He added, “There's a lot more concern about business ethics and purpose and these being aligned with personal values. Particularly when you are trying to attract Generation Z.”  
David echoed the sentiment. “In years gone by people would join financial institutions for the compensation alone, nowadays that is not enough in itself. Today within the Bank, our purpose and focus on sustainability… are positive differentiators in our war for talent,” he commented.  
A strong theme to emerge during the sessions was the need for organisations to adapt and flex, while retaining a strong ethical core. Tim said, “You need to be an agile leader. So, you've got to be able to have one foot in tomorrow, whilst having a foot in today. And you've got to do that in a way that has enough disruption in the mix so that you're stretching the boundaries, taking the organisation forward, but at the same time, you don't throw the baby out with the bathwater.”
Bridgette Hall, Senior Editor, Criticaleye