Posted on 28th August, 2017

by Michael Hayman MBE
Co-Founder Seven Hills


Talent is the new oil. It’s our most precious resource and the driving force behind Britain’s dynamic businesses. Survey after survey shows that the best way to turn a good company bad is to deprive it of great people.


That was a view that was widely shared when I chaired the recent Scale Up | Talent event. The second instalment in an event series held by venture capital firm VentureFounders featured luminaries of the talent and scale up debate.


Speaking on stage with Lord Flight (Metro Bank), Simon Calver (BGF Ventures) and Deana Murfitt (lastminute, Unruly), it brought home the sheer importance of people to the success of tomorrow’s businesses.  


The event focused on three themes affecting scaleups and talent in Britain today: the impact of on access to talent; how employers can source and retain the best in a competitive battle for talent, and the generalist vs specialist debate – what kind of talent do scaling businesses need?


Amidst wider political and economic uncertainties, it was refreshing to hear leaders answer questions about the role of culture in releasing talent and whether skills or attitude comes first with a genuine optimism about where the country’s businesses and people are heading.  


However, there are worrying signals that access to and retention of talent are becoming increasingly difficult for the UK’s growing businesses. The last Employer Skills Survey found that a quarter of job vacancies in the UK went unfilled due to a lack of skilled applicants. Meanwhile, according to the British Insurance Brokers Association, access to talent recently overtook finance as the biggest barrier to growth in the UK.


In Mission: how the best in business break through, the book I co-wrote with my Seven Hills co-founder Nick Giles, we spoke with some 30 business vanguards and visionaries who all stressed the importance of winning teams to winning businesses. From global tech pioneers to British success stories, leaders professed their people to be the precious commodity that sets their great businesses apart from good ones.


Along the way, we learned that the best workplace cultures are unique to the organisation, owned by people at all levels and always flexible. Be careful not to view workplace culture as an exercise in groupthink: it must empower, not deprive, creativity and innovation.


So what can leaders do to attract and retain quality talent?


Take inspiration from the iconic Apple anthem, Think Different: “Here’s to the crazy ones. The rebels. The troublemakers. The ones who see things differently.” Put ambition before experience. Give people opportunities to grow. Provide your team with chances to learn new skills. Champion mindsets that view opportunity amidst disruption. Understand that professional norms are fast being eroded: the US Department of Labour predicts that 65% of children entering primary school today will end up working in job types that don’t yet exist.  


The role of great leaders is to provide the tools and the opportunities for people to thrive and grow with a business. The last thing Britain needs is a talent drought. Leaders have to get out there and be the prospectors and explorers of the modern age, seeking out ways for talent to come to surface and be transformed into something with almost limitless potential.


A talent shortage would perhaps be the number one threat to the UK economy’s growth. The pipeline cannot be allowed to dry up. Leaders, get tapping.




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