Talent 2020 : The Future Is Unwritten.

Back in 2015 I wrote a prediction piece for Cornerstone and HRZone. Mervyn Dinnen, Rob Briner, and Dr. Tom Calvard also contributed. I rediscovered my scribbles this morning and thought it might be interesting to take a look, five years on, and see how right or wrong I am.

Talent 2020 : Then

As someone who relies on improvisation in my work, and someone who practices meditation, I enjoy going with the flow, and trying to be in the moment. The idea of trying to see five years into the future for any reason, let alone what that might mean for talent at work, is therefore a challenge for me. Here are a few thoughts about what talent should mean for an enlightened organisation in five years time, and some things that need to shift in order to make talent the dynamic, wider opportunity it should be.

Talent 2020 : Now

I no longer meditate, at least not consciously. Currently I find peace in good work, art, and walking. I still cannot see into the future.

Talent Bubble: Then

I find the notion of talent as some exclusive club into which only a few can pass, quite abhorrent. When I worked for BT I refused to join the talent community, because it felt like a secretive, invitation only club, into which you were quietly drawn, rather than something everyone knew about and could take advantage of when needed.

Everyone has something to offer, and I prefer to think of talent as an all encompassing notion which we should use to encourage everyone to bring their best, and be the best they can. It’s a fluid concept, my talents may be particularly useful for a given time, and for a given set of requirements. I’d like to see the idea of talent as something highly permeable through which I, and indeed anyone, can move, to achieve mutually beneficial outcomes.

Talent Bubble: Now

I no longer feel so repelled by the idea of a talent community, but that’s more about me becoming more comfortable with who I am, and focusing on the things I can influence, not because I’ve grown to like the idea. I still believe talent is fluid, and we need to be better at letting it flow to where it’s needed. I’m also much more appreciative of hard work now.

A Shift – From Employee to Freelancer: Then

According to a 2014 report published by the ONS, self employment in the UK is at its highest level since records began. There are 4.6 million people working for themselves, with the proportion of the total workforce self-employed at 15% compared with 13% in 2008, and as few as 8.7% in 1975. This shift looks set to increase, with some predicting the number of people in a freelance role could be as high as 50% by 2020. I think what this means is that the bubble in which talent currently operates will burst.

The idea of a ring fenced, invitation only club for talent within an organisation will no longer be practical as organisations increasingly look outward to freelance workers to help them deliver. How willing will these organisations be to invest in talent that they don’t ‘own’? I invest frequently in my own ‘talent development’. I’ve spent time and money with The Improvisation Academy this year developing my improvisational skills. I’m investing time and money learning more about Organisational Design and I’m also investing in improving my artistic skills as demands for these is increasing from my customers. Currently I fund these activities directly from my freelance income, and I’m wondering if maybe, my freelance arrangements should be tweaked so that clients who invest in my talents can see that part of their fees is a direct investment in me, and therefore, the service I give them? 

The same ONS report which confirms the current levels of 15% self employment in the UK also reveals that income from self employment has fallen by 22% since 2008/09. There could be all sorts of reasons for this – and maybe, just maybe, if the buyer could see that the freelancer was committing to his or her ongoing talent development, this fall could start to become a rise.

A Shift – From Employee to Freelancer: Now

Sadly The ONS don’t appear to have updated the report I referenced five years ago. I can see from their website the number of self employed has since risen to 5 million, with the proportion of the total workforce steady at 15%. So much for bubble bursting and us lot taking over the world eh?

A Shift – From Being Trained to Learning to Learn : Then

Within organisations, there seems to be a move towards a more self determined approach to learning and development, albeit to me, this currently feels quite slow. As we can see in this article, technology is a clear enabler for this, and By 2020, I think this will offer a challenge to people in traditional organisational talent communities, for whom membership often means access to an enhanced training programme.

For some – the idea of cocreating and co-owning this facet of talent development will be very exciting, yet there’s a degree of arrogance that comes with admission to the club, and an expectation that stuff like training, learning and development, will be done for you. People with that mentality may see this shift as a cheapening of the talent experience, but then I’d argue they are not the kind of people you will be looking for in future. A move to more self determined learning should make talent communities more open, and make it easier to connect with relevant talent at relevant times, personally and professionally, organisationally and individually.

A Shift – From Being Trained to Learning to Learn : Now

I feel like there’s been at least some progress here. Technology is indeed an enabler for the curious, and it’s becoming easier and easier to learn new skills for ourselves. Youtube is a fantastic ‘how to’ resource which many of us use often. There is a growing acceptance of the need to work with uncertainty – and be comfortable with not knowing too. Another thing I see more of now is online communities and chats which can be useful for knowledge sharing. Beyond that though – there is still a demand (which I think we’re sometimes too quick to respond to) for sheep dip type training and learning.

Clarity in the Hiring Process : Then

There is already a need for greater clarity in the hiring process, specifically around making sure the role description is tangible, and matches the needs of the employer – regardless whether this is for a permanent hire or not. I think recruitment agencies need to work much more closely and robustly with their customers – not only in making job descriptions fit the role better, but being generally more responsive and accountable too. A failure to achieve this will mean that talent increasingly bypasses the recruitment industry and goes direct.

Clarity in the Hiring Process : Now

I don’t get the sense that much has changed here. I look for contract/interim/part time work so I’m registered with a number of online agencies, and I’m no longer surprised by some of the completely unsuitable jobs they point me to. A week or so ago I was sent details of a funeral director and a nursery worker in the space of 24 hours, whuh?

Did I Get It Right?

This predicting the future lark is hard work. By all means, hire me as an artist and facilitator, but based on this look back at a look forward five years ago, a futurologist I am not. If I’m approached to do something similar in future, I’ll refer back to the late great Joe Strummer, ‘The future is unwritten’. Maybe it should stay that way.

Photo credit

What Really Matters?

A Sneak Peek Behind the Scenes of Board Meeting Preparation.

Taking a train into London during the rush hour, I overheard a conversation about today’s board meeting at Megacorp, and more specifically, what kind of sandwiches each board director requires. Huge attention to detail, many different requirements. The giver of the information knew everything there was to know, she had clearly done this many times before, and duly passed it on, name by name, sandwich by sandwich. Without missing a beat.

Joe: Cheese and Pickle. Debbie: Ham. Peter: Prawn….etc etc.

One of the Directors is called Nick, and the chat about him really caught my attention. Apparently he doesn’t like lettuce, and if you get him a sandwich with lettuce in it, he really complains about it. Really complains.

Photo credit: https://flic.kr/p/6SKkC9


Poor Nick, I really feel for that guy. Fancy going to all the trouble of being paid to attend your own board meeting, only to find that someone might bring you lunch with *shudder* lettuce in it. Imagine that happening. Imagine the humility of having to pick the lettuce out in front of your fellow Directors, you’d lose all respect, wouldn’t you? No wonder he really complains.

I get off the train at this point and leave all the high level stuff behind me. Whilst it was great to get a brief insight into the strategic planning behind a board meeting, I confess things were getting too exciting for a mere worker like me.

Before my attention drifted to what sandwich I might want for my own lunch (note to self, I need to recruit a sandwich advisor), two thoughts flashed across my mind. The first was this: If the board’s sandwich requirements are so utterly predictable, what might that tell us about the rest of the meeting? Board meeting? More like bored meeting. And second, I can’t help but feel that the world might be a better place if once in a while, we told people like Nick to go and get the sandwiches.

I first published a version of this post on Medium back in 2015. I was inspired to revisit it after reading this excellent piece titled Minutes, Meetings and Minutiae, by Gemma Dale, which challenges that persistent behaviour whereby women are so often expected to take the minutes, get the sandwiches, etc.

ChangeBoard Conference : Mental Health, Inclusion and Good Work.

I’m spending the day at the ChangeBoard Future Talent event. The key themes for today are, the fourth industrial revolution (I confess I didn’t even know that was a thing), inclusion and mental health.

A few points which have resonated with me so far.

Mental Health

Sue Baker from Time to Change (TTC) talked about how mental health conversations are now much more commonplace at work. The Time to Change movement is big, and growing, currently 750 organisations are signed up. Sue spoke about how we need to think of mental and physical health as parts of the same whole, I like that. Here is a stark display of how far we’ve yet to go. Sue asked us, by way of a show of hands, how many people in the audience would discuss their mental health with extended family. Many many hands were raised. We were then asked would we discuss our mental health at a job interview. I didn’t see a single hand raised.


Deborah Frances-White spoke about inclusion. Her talk was very well delivered, very funny, and I’m conscious I was perhaps too busy laughing to make useful notes. Here are a few snippets I caught:

Children assume inclusion – we seem to lose that during our school/teenage years. Why?

In organisations we rarely discuss and contribute to change because we’re often only peripherally included. There’s a high risk our idea may go ‘wrong’ and we’ll get the blame for that, so we wait, stay silent or agree with others.

Women apply for jobs when they believe they can meet 100% of the stated requirements, men will settle for 50%. How about we all aim for around 80%? Leave room for growth, and discourage men from over including themselves?

When the door won’t open :  there are three typical responses to routine exclusion. We self exclude – this is the easiest choice. We get angry. We get persuasive, try to charm our way in.

Inclusion is about helping others feel better about themselves.

What Does Good Work Look Like?

Matthew Taylor suggests key things which will make work better. Social contract, wellbeing, productivity (being held back in part by poor quality of management), active citizenship – and this cannot stop at the office/shop/warehouse/factory door. Tech – being positioned as an overwhelming force – get with it or get out of the way. We need to consider tech as an enabler of better things, stop positioning it as a threat.

Self employment v employed. Rights (and taxes). Precarious self employed and privileged self employed – the older white man as a freelancer is a growing workforce. Chancellor is onto this and busy picking apart the tax benefits, this will further take the shine off self employment. Another reason offered for a plateauing of self employment is simply that we like to work in organisations. We are motivated by authority, belonging, and ambition, and organisations can provide those things. The tricky bit is aligning them – MT suggests this action should be the core business of an organisation. A good workplace is a ‘creative community with a cause’. Sadly – many people who leave organisations say ‘they’re simply sick of it’.

More to follow…