“You Can’t Pay too Much for Great People…”


Good morning – and do you by any chance have a spare £145,000 lying around? 

Why? Because – according to a recent article in City AM – that’s how much a shortage of skilled employees will cost each UK SME next year. 

It is a frightening figure. But, say the recruitment firm who carried out the relevant research, it is an inevitable consequence of a shrinking talent pool and ‘increased digitalisation’ of the workforce. 

This ‘skills gap’ is manifesting itself in the UK’s productivity crisis – still well below the level of its major competitors – and all of us running businesses are going to pay the price. 

As most of you know, I still run a TAB board. We had our regular monthly meeting last week and the ‘battle for talent’ was a phrase on everyone’s lips. 

“You can’t pay too much for great people,” one of the board members said – as you’ll see from the title, I immediately stole it – and six sage heads nodded their approval. 

I was thinking about the phrase as I headed home. There’s always been a battle for talent, especially for senior people who help to steer the business – but right now that ‘battle’ feels like it is being fought more keenly then ever. 

You won’t be surprised to hear that one of the reasons cited for the shrinking talent pool was Brexit – and here a note on timings might be appropriate. Commitments dictate that most of this post was written early in the week commencing October 14th. In between writing and publication there will be the EU summit and – I suspect – plenty of late-night negotiation. My apologies in advance if the post has been overtaken by events come publication day. 

But whatever happens in Brussels, Dublin and London the fundamental point remains the same. There is a shrinking pool of talent, and if your business is going to prosper in the medium to long term you need to get your hands on some of that talent. 

So what are the key skills and characteristics we’ll all be looking for as we hire new people?

As it says in the City AM article, “At a time when change is the only constant, adaptability and resilience will be the key soft skills to develop.” 

Resilience was something we discussed at that TAB board meeting. Looking around the table – at people who had been round the block a couple of times – resilience could be taken for granted. But resilience is a going to be a precious commodity in the next few months especially if – as seems entirely possible – we see a recession. 

What about the new people you’re going to recruit? The chances are that they won’t have been round the block a couple of times. Statistically they’re far more likely to be from the millennial generation. 

It’s too easy to use a pejorative term like ‘snowflake.’ But there’s no doubt that there is a generational difference. Millennial employees want to feel that they belong, that they’re making a difference and that the company they work for shares their values. And as I intimated in the last post on climate change, that feeling is only going to increase. 

Fortunately, the millennial generation does come with one advantage. By and large they have grown up with – and embrace – the idea that they are not going to have a ‘job for life.’ They’re open to different career paths and – if you choose the right person – they like to learn. 

I have no idea how our MPs are going to vote on Saturday morning when they’re faced with what looks like a ‘deal or no deal’ scenario – but whichever way they vote, it will herald a period of significant change. 

That may be in markets, it may be in legislation or in the labour supply – or quite possibly all three. So members of your team who are open-minded, adapt quickly and who very definitely see the glass as half-full are going to be worth their weight in gold. 

One final comment: let me reinforce the point I made a month ago. Going forward it will be absolutely essential that your key people are doing what they are best at – and that everything else is delegated. 

You’re paying a lot for those ‘great people’ – so they need to be working where they’re making the most difference. Which means that everyone’s ‘not to do’ list will be every bit as important as their tried and trusted ‘to do’ list. 

If you haven’t done yours yet you need to make a start…

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