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2017 feels like the year when boards finally realised that the threat of disruption really did apply to their organisations after all. It wasn’t just a fluffy abstract notion that consultants talked about when name dropping Uber and Airbnb, but something real and applicable for every kind of organisation, large and small. 

This is not something to fear, but it does require a significant rethink around how technology is utilised, such as AI and robotics. It will also almost certainly demand that you re-evaluate the skills required within your workforce over the short, medium and long-term.  
Here, we look back on some of the articles we’ve written over the year, focusing on four aspects of the people agenda where the effect of disruption is never far away - whether it is considering tech within your talent strategy, using it to measure your corporate culture, or even recognising and understanding the pressure people are under when operating in such a fast-changing environment. 
Build a Robust Talent Strategy 

Attendees at Criticaleye’s Human Resources Director Retreat, held in association with Legal & General Investment Management (LGIM), agreed that if a CEO is genuine about achieving long-term success, they must identify and develop leaders as a priority.  

Andy Clarke, former CEO at Asda, told the audience that when he first stepped into the hotseat he prioritised staff development. “We needed new thinking and diversity, yet still had to develop a strong core of talent from within,” he said. 

“I was also extremely mindful of the lack of diversity, so I managed to build a leadership team that was 50 per cent female. The level of debate differed – and I’m not just saying that.”

During the course of the discussions, Charlie Wagstaff, Managing Director at Criticaleye, said: “The HR director needs a comprehensive view of the capability within the organisation and how individuals can be upskilled for the future. To think only about the here and now, rather than the next phase of a business, is a mistake.”
Invest in Your Apprentices 

Apprenticeship schemes have been in the spotlight this year. Not only are UK businesses grappling with the Government target to have three million people in traineeships by 2020, but they have been hit with the Apprenticeship Levy

It’s a lot to take in – particularly for those who feel the levy is an unwanted tax, or that apprenticeships are just for youngsters going into manual roles. It may seem daunting, but there are huge advantages.

Mark Castle, Deputy Chief Operating Officer, Mace, commented: “What I like about the construction industry is that whichever entry point you chose, be it university or apprenticeship, you could still end up being CEO. 

“At 16, I was very fortunate to be offered an apprenticeship from one of the big Plcs, which I did on day release from college. I still think it’s a great way to learn the practical aspects of a craft.” 

Peter Horrocks, Vice Chancellor of the The Open University, agreed: “My advice on the Apprenticeship Levy is to use it as a tool to deliver precisely what you need for your workforce long term. 

“In planning apprenticeships programmes, leaders should look at future workforce requirements and use apprenticeships to combat skills gaps, promote diversity and provide meaningful opportunities to progress.”
Understand Your Corporate Culture 

Employee engagement surveys are a way to take a cultural temperature check of an organisation. However, due to their limitations, CEOs and HRDs are looking at other data points − such as social media scrapings and customer satisfaction scores − to build a fuller, objective picture. 

When Tea Colaianni was Group HR Director at Merlin Entertainments, she used a similar method. “We had 97 per cent of our employees worldwide participate in our employee engagement survey, but we didn’t rely on that alone,” she said. 

“We looked at customer satisfaction, financial performance and employee turnover, plus whether people applied for jobs internally and if there was real career progression. We also looked externally at what other companies were doing and what was being said about us on Glassdoor. 

“We used a data-driven approach because it’s very important to provide an objective view on the culture of an organisation.”

 A disconnect between the senior leadership team and employees is always going to make it challenging for a business to be successful. John Davies, Executive Director within the Assurance Team at EY, said: “We looked at one organisation in which the cultural health among the leadership team was good, but when we looked at one of the regional operating units there was a very different picture.”

Financially, the unit was performing well but, when some of the other assessment data points were collated, it became apparent there was a problem around people. “Collateral risk was being created from a culture point of view," said John. "The issue was a surprise to the leadership team, and important to understand from a strategic perspective."

It’s not something that any CEO or executive team can afford to let happen. According to Tea, who is also a Criticaleye Board Mentor and Non-executive Director at Mothercare, it’s the collective responsibility of directors, including NEDs, to ask questions about culture. 

With the data analytics now available, there’s no excuse for thinking that ‘culture’ is simply a soft issue.

Beware of Burnout

A report, by The Mental Health Foundation, Oxford Economics and Unum, identified that 73 per cent of workers feel they are expected to be available for work at all times.

In a separate report, by the CIPD and Simplyhealth, nearly a third of organisations reported an increase in stress-related absence over the past year, while two-fifths saw a rise in mental health problems – it’s believed both were linked to a ‘long hours’ culture.

“I felt I had to work harder than everybody else because I was a female senior executive, with children and a commute. I had to be available at all times; that was my brand,” said Vanessa Bailey, Interim CRO at NatWest Markets and former Group Chief Credit Officer at RBS.  

Last year, Vanessa was diagnosed with Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME), a chronic, fluctuating, neurological condition that causes severe and persistent fatigue. It affects an estimated 250,000 people in the UK and around 17 million people worldwide.

Before her diagnosis, Vanessa was working evenings, weekends and even during her holidays. She believed that’s what her role demanded. “That type of set-up does not allow the brain to switch off; it’s part of the problem. It’s the pace of work and the fact there is no let up,” she explained. 

It never allowed Vanessa time to recover, and after a bout of illnesses, she was diagnosed with ME. She had to take a year off work, but is now back working part-time and is passionate about wellbeing in the workplace. 

“For a long while, I didn’t want to tell people what was wrong with me,” Vanessa admitted. “But that’s no longer the case – if we’re all ashamed, mental and physical illnesses will never get the attention they need.” 

Next week, Criticaleye’s Community Update will provide The Global Outlook for 2018