Blown Away

I’ve just attended a session on ‘Developing Internal Talent’ at the CIPD HR Development conference. There were two speakers, Nick Pascazio from the BBC and Andy Lancaster from Hanover Housing.

Nick’s talk didn’t really do it for me. Maybe it was the appearance of a nine box talent map, maybe it was that only the top four layers in the Beeb are ‘mapped’, or maybe it was Nick talking about the BBC as the ‘place where conversation happens’ against a slide backdrop of an audience sitting in theatre style, not very conversational, huh?

Thankfully we had much better to follow. Andy Lancaster was up next, talking about the challenges of developing talent in a smaller organisation. Andy opened with a question for the audience – what do post it notes, clingfilm, velcro,¬†anesthetic,¬†cutlery and dynamite all have in common? They’re all accidental innovations. Andy went on to suggest that new ideas are often stumbled upon and that genius and innovation are often more plentiful in tougher times.

So how can you create opportunities for talent development in smaller, flatter organisations? And before continuing, it’s worth sharing that 99.2% of all UK private sector businesses employ fewer than fifty people. This is just one of a number of powerful stats Andy used as he told his story, he got this one from the Department of Business Skills and Environment 2012 research on UK company sizes.

At this point Andy revealed that the research he’d done to back up his talk was all linked up to his Twitter feed for us to reference later. I thought this was a really neat touch.

So – back to the challenge. Andy researched and discovered talent development possibilities for smaller flatter structures include, gathering people from across the business to solve complex problems, mentoring and secondments. Basically – he suggested that organisational problems present brilliant talent development possibilities.

In the case of Hanover Housing, Andy proposed to spread a culture of learning and development through growing their own ‘developers’. Staff were invited and encouraged to apply for this opportunity through pitching ideas. The idea itself was less important than the possibility the candidates displayed, and the people who were invited to come on board were given trust, the space and expectation to fail and make mistakes, and an abundance of encouragement, no for results delivered, but for effort invested.

The response exceeded expectations with people rating the training really highly, and over 60% believing it would directly benefit customer contact ‘a lot’. Beyond this though – Andy and his team now have a bigger pool of people to draw on (who importantly sit all over the business) as they continue to build opportunities for learning and development in Hanover Housing.

Andy delivered his talk with energy, enthusiasm, and a humility that gave his session bundles of authenticity and belief. For me, and judging by the enthusiastic response afterwards, for many others too, this was a high point at this conference. And perhaps most importantly – Andy was speaking for and to the 99.2%, not the 0.8%.