The Economist Talent Management Summit 2013

As our talent management and leadership focus month begins, pharmaphorum provides an overview of the challenges and solutions raised at The Economist’s Talent Management Summit 2013 that was held in London on May 21st. 

pharmaphorum recently attended The Economist’s Talent Management Summit 2013, in order to find out what’s going on in the areas of leadership and talent management, as this is our discipline focus this month. The theme of the day’s conference was “the right people today for success tomorrow” – and the main question raised was, “how do you find the right people in the first place?”

Leading tomorrow’s global talent business

To start off the day, keynote speaker and Lenovo’s Senior Vice President of Human Resources (HR), Gina Qiao, took to the floor and shared her experience in retaining talent through mergers and acquisitions, especially when different countries and different cultures come into play.

For example: Chinese multi-technology firm Lenovo focused solely on the Chinese market for over twenty years, before acquiring IBM’s personal computer business in 2005. In Gina’s own words, “noone believed it would be successful“, partly because none of the leadership team at the time had any global experience or spoke any English. Gina shared some stories about the culture clashes between the Chinese and the Americans, and how important Lenovo’s three-word phrase “openness, respect, compromise” was when merging two companies.


“…the skill shortage across industries at the moment goes hand-in-hand with the war for talent debate…”


Next up was Will Hutton, Chair of the Big Innovation Centre at The Work Foundation and Principal at Oxford University. Will expressed his concerns at how every business model is being challenged by the current economic and political landscape, and that the increased regulations and policies affect the way talent is created. He said: “the only way out is to be an open innovator, and move into a world where we co-create solutions to face these big challenges“. The pace of technology is increasing rapidly – between 1900 and 2000, 9 general purpose technologies (GPTs) were created, such as electricity, motor vehicles and the internet, yet in the 21st century, around 20 GPTs have been created, such as the mobile phone. In Hutton’s opinion, “no one company is smart enough to navigate this new world alone” and that companies must ask themselves the following questions in order to move forward:

• What market is the company in?

• What ecosystem shares this market?

• How does the company define itself?

• What are our problems as a company?

An audience member questioned whether our undergraduates and postgraduates today are ready for this “new world” or whether they will need retraining – Hutton answered by saying that education does need an overhaul, and that those who go to Oxford and Cambridge have a head start – not by being elitist, but through the one-on-one education offered. Because in Hutton’s words: “the best place for open innovation is by having recognised a need for debate”.

The war for talent

Hutton’s beliefs about education were shared by Deborah Baker, Director for People at Sky in the first panel session of the day, when she discussed skill shortages and how this affects finding talent. Finding talent is all about the common sense principle of getting the right people into the right jobs, said Baker, but what if there aren’t enough people with talent to fill those roles? Baker believes that the skill shortage across industries at the moment goes hand-in-hand with the war for talent debate, as it comes down to lack of education and training for young adults. “For example, we know now that there aren’t enough people in science and technology,” said Baker. “So we definitely know there’s going to be a shortage of skills there and a war for talent for those specialist areas…What I’m really pleased to see is the surge in apprenticeship schemes, because I think that’s a good opportunity for those companies to start to rebalance those shortages.”

Another way to tackle skill shortages is to make sure you are using your own internal talent properly, suggested Baker: “All companies have some great people already in their businesses, but I think we’re a bit too quick to forget that we have these great people and always think there’s someone better.” One way to do this is to look into employees’ extra-curricular activities – such as organising charity events – and harnessing these talents inside the company. This point was later agreed by IESE Lecturer, Thomas Wedell-Wedellsburg.

And if you have to recruit externally, Baker thinks that while it’s nice to recruit someone with a lot of skills, she’d rather hire the person with the right attitude: “You can train skills, you can’t train attitude”.

“Baker thinks that while it’s nice to recruit someone with a lot of skills, she’d rather hire the person with the right attitude…”


What Russ Lidstone, CEO of communications agency Havas Worldwide London, looks for is potential: “For me, it’s about a war for aptitude… aptitude is fundamental.”

“In order to get aptitude you have to be adaptive,” Lidstone continued. “We lost 23% of women in the last couple of years who left our agency to become a mum, because the stresses and strains of working in our industry are tough. So we need to be able to offer a more flexible and part-time approach at working to ensure we retain our talent.”

You also need to engage your existing employees, says Lidstone, who gives examples of his company’s traditional ways, such as incentive schemes, as well as non-traditional ways, such as summer music festivals. Baker agreed: “It’s incumbent on the business to really make sure your making your company a really nice place to work, because frankly why would you leave an organisation to another one, unless they’re offering something really fabulous. It’s not just about the job prospects; it’s about the environment that that company is bringing to you. The values that you have – do people want to be part of that company? What the company stands for and how a company treats its employees and its customers are not only critical in attracting talent, but in retaining talent too.”

Making data analytics work for your business

Yet there’s still that burning question unanswered: where can you find talent?

According to Baker, companies aren’t “tapping into the whole pool of potential talent, because if you look at the statistics and data available, it will tell us that there aren’t many women in senior management positions and we’re still under representing minority groups.” And for Dean Royles, Director at NHS Employers, his company – the NHS – survives on people coming from overseas to work for them. For example, doctors come from Malawi to train in the UK and then down the line they may return to work in Malawi, taking their new skills with them. This is what Royles calls a “purpose balance” – managing talent in one country, can mean a higher return in another.

Another way to find talent is through the use of data analytics, because analytics is the difference between thinking your talent strategies and investments are paying off and actually having the numbers to prove it. This was discussed by the second panel of the day, which looked into the need for smarter decision-making and the importance of data analytics.


“…analytics is the difference between thinking your talent strategies and investments are paying off and actually having the numbers to prove it.”

Andy Albon, Director of HR at Birmingham City Council, began this panel by giving some context about the challenges faced in the UK public sector and how analytics help. Every year, Birmingham City Council spends £3.5 billion in revenue – it’s the largest UK council employer. The economy, as Hutton pointed out earlier, is financially having an impact on all areas, including the councils. Albon explained that his council is impacted due to budget cuts, which in 2009 were set at £320m and are expected to be cut even further. Therefore Birmingham City Council needs to find over 100 staff reductions, so how does he know which to retain? By using data and analytics. “You need a good knowledge of your work force in order to reduce staff – good metrics are need to retain individuals of value and lose those that aren’t,” explained Albon.

However, data isn’t only useful when it comes to choosing which staff to save, it’s also necessary in order to develop remaining staff members. At Birmingham City Council, this is done through a new performance and development review, which scores each individual, for example on aptitude and readiness for promotion, against a scale that the leadership team manage. A similar system is used by Marlon Sullivan, the Divisional Vice-president of Talent and Development at Abbott Laboratories, whereby Abbott’s employees enter their own core details and the leadership team use the system to mine talent for specific roles. Sullivan also shared how Abbott uses data analytics to search the external labour talent pool to see who’s available.

And while previously, Baker and Lidstone discussed that retaining talent was down to the company’s environment and incentive schemes, Matthew Jeffery, Global Head of Talent Acquisition, Strategy and Innovation, SAP, believes otherwise. The number one predictor for people staying in their jobs is if their friends work there or if they like their supervisor, according to Jeffery. So instead of giving more money, companies need to look at their managers and leadership team in order to retain their talent. “Change staff retention through staff training – not free soda,” Jeffery joked.

Building tomorrow’s winning team

The third and final panel of the day discussed the strategies being used by successful organisations in order to employ the best people.

KFC UK’s Vice-President of HR, James Watts, said that their approach to developing teams and talent was a simple model: “Strategy, structure, culture”. With 60% of the company’s employees under 25 years old and over 12,000 employees trained by the UK company every year, Watts explained that the company largely focused on collaboration and teamwork to keep the staff engaged.

The three-point strategy was also a favourite with Arjen Vermazen, Senior Vice-President of Human Resources and Procurement at Astellas Pharma Europe. “Attract the right people, select the right leadership and engage your employees,” he said. He also discussed how his leadership team used 360 feedback and mentoring to monitor employees’ attitudes towards the company values. In his opinion, business results come first, but in turn this, along with staff engagement programmes, creates a good company environment that retains talent.


“…how do you, as a leader, make innovation happen in your company’s everyday life, with the talent you already have?”


While these panellists discussed how to build a “winning team“, Robert Webb, the Chief HR Officer at Hyatt Hotels Corporation, has a different challenge. It’s not the leadership team at Hyatt Hotels Corporation that can manage whether it is “winning” or not; it’s down to the guests that stay in their hotels.

Hotel guests today have different expectations from the guests that stayed in hotels in the past – the goalposts are always changing. So in order to develop the business and keep up with the times, Webb explains that they use and need daily feedback from the guests. But also, said Webb, “you have to listen to your workforce” – these are the employees that meet and mingle with guests on a daily basis, not the leadership team in an office that’s perhaps in a different city.

Webb says that his company has an empathetic leadership strategy, by teaching its new generation of leaders to ask questions, be curious and have respect.

Another challenge raised was how do you, as a leader, make innovation happen in your company’s everyday life, with the talent you already have? “Some companies don’t have the budget to be choosy,” said Thomas Wedell-Wedellsburg, Lecturer at IESE. He believes innovation is “when you create results by doing new things” – so while 2-day team-building, innovation-creating workshops sound good in theory, in practice the innovation never returns to the office, because it’s not seen as an everyday task. “The real challenge of innovation is [teaching people] not to act differently, but to think differently,” Wedell-Wedellsburg summed up.

Human potential

To conclude the day, keynote speaker Phil Sherwood, gave an inspiring talk about his former role as Head of Volunteering and Workforce Training at the London 2012 Olympic Games.

His strategy, for putting together the “greatest show in the world“, was by firstly realising that people were going to be at the centre. The challenge of his task, was to make the work engaging at every level – how do you get a 3am taxi driver to believe he is part of the bigger team? By instilling the vision that “every volunteer has a part to play” – so if that taxi driver arrives 5 minutes late to collect an athlete, that athlete may then be 5 minutes late for training and that 5 minutes could be the difference between a gold medal and a silver medal. Plus, LOCOG chose their volunteers two years ahead of the London Games, so a strategy was needed for long-term retention.

Sherwood explained that for many companies, big bonuses can be a way to retain talent, but for a company that doesn’t pay? “It’s about collective impact and recognition,” said Sherwood. “Galvanising that single goal to keep employees happy and engaged for a long period of time.”

A member of the audience questioned how you can find this goal in every day, sometimes more mundane, circumstances. Sherwood’s reply was the motto “everyone has a part to play“, because this analogy can be used in all sectors, including the pharmaceutical industry where he currently works. In cancer care, for example, clinical researchers work in labs discovering drugs, which in turn are evaluated in clinical trials, which are then sent to regulatory bodies to be approved, if approved, the products are manufactured and launched into markets around the world and finally are prescribed by doctors and pharmacists to the patient. But for every single person involved in this timeline, the goal is the same: ensuring that the patient lives a long and healthy life.




About the author:

Hannah joined pharmaphorum in early 2012, after graduating with a degree in Magazine Journalism & Feature Writing in 2011, and leads our news coverage, in addition to liaising with new and existing feature authors. With over three years’ experience working within the journalism industry alongside university, Hannah has written for a number of different print and online publications, within the women’s lifestyle, travel and celebrity sectors. Now focussed on the pharma sector with her role at pharmaphorum, Hannah is embracing the challenges of working within a fast growing media organisation in this rapidly changing industry sector.

For any queries or contribution suggestions, please contact her here or via Twitter @Hannah_Blake2.

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