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Three big ideas that will influence your talent strategy – Part 2: The significance of experiential careers

Olivier Herold

04 March 2018

In my conversations with clients about the challenges they face in developing their talent strategy, three key themes keep appearing:

  1. The new world of diversified career journeys: changes in the employment market are influencing how talent think about and form their careers.

  2. The significance of experiential careers: how experience is having the biggest emotional impact on engagement for people coming into the workplace now.

  3. Personal and organisational narratives: how employers need to consider presenting the experience of working in their organisation.

Understanding these themes in depth is a critical first step in developing stronger, more responsive talent strategies: a task I’ve broken down into this three-part series.

In the first article, I explored why and how careers have changed drastically and what this means for organisations in terms of development and retention strategies. This second article addresses the shift from traditional ladder-based careers to those which fulfil an employee’s need for certain experiences.

 

The significance of experiential careers

The experience an employee has at work every day is central to their level of engagement, loyalty and career goals – and is even more important than progression. Employees are constantly asking themselves “Is this working for me now?” The more talented the individual is, the more opportunities they have (particularly in such a fast-moving employment market) and, the shorter the timeframe for ensuring employees are happy with their experience.

People have far greater expectations for it to feel good now. It is no good focusing on how great it will be in a few months or years’ time. Employers need to ask “How can we create an experience from day one that is experientially satisfactory.” Employees are no longer satisfied what their role or job title sounds like to others at a party (and how many parties do we really go to now?). If the experience of working for you isn’t wonderful in practice, and straight away, they will channel any discretionary effort into searching for a new role.

Careers are a fluid concept now, and employees are prepared to have multiple short-term roles on their CVs if it means finding an experience that is right for them. However, recruiters still appear to be worried about gaps and ‘job-hopping’. The psychological contract of loyalty between an employee and employer is now far more conditional, brought about in part by a lack of job security. The need to respond rapidly to the changing business environment and rise of contract-based work has dissolved the traditional paternalistic employee/employer relationship. When individuals know that they could lose their jobs regardless of how well they are doing, they no longer feel they owe loyalty.

Any loyalty the employer does have hinges on promises that reach back to the recruitment process. Overselling a role in an interview and promising projects that never materialise can be disastrous.

Furthermore, people are now seeking the opinion of peers asking “How is it here?”, rather than accepting what they have been told in the interview. One corporate banking executive I met recently was promised to be doing X within 2 months of joining, which never materialised. Less than a year later she started looking and quickly found a new job.

The impact of this focus on experience is two-fold. For the employee, there is an increased need to be flexible and focus on where they can best use transferable skills as their current area of expertise or career path may not deliver the experience they are seeking. This new focus should also help them develop a more entrepreneurial mindset so that they can ask their employer about how best they can serve the business.

On the part of the employer, organisations need to focus on recruiting for cultural fit, mindset and attitude, rather than with a particular role or project in mind. The recruiter needs to question the candidate on what type of experience they are looking for. Conversations around what candidates or employees feel their strengths are and how they can be used, and what their ambitions are will be essential.

This does beg the question: “Can larger organisations change their short-term recruitment mindset and desire to recruit quickly to remedy gaps and focus on building a great experience and recruiting for cultural fit?

We hit a sweet spot when we first started recruiting in 2006. There was no qualification for what we did, and no handbook for how to do it so we had to select people for their attitude and general love of data. We were a small team so cultural fit was essential. We weren’t recruitment experts so we went with people that we felt we could work with and that talked about data the way we did. We were expanding rapidly so we needed them to be independent and self-starting, and not afraid of being thrown in at the deep end. There was so much to do that we couldn’t be there to run every part of the business. We also didn’t have a lot of money for big salaries so we rewarded people with responsibility and ownership. We thought this strategy would change someday however it continues to be the case, but fortunately it seems to be the magic blend of things that young employees seem to  want from a career. In the past we had no other choice but to trust the team with important work and clients. Today, knowing what we know about employee satisfaction we have no other choice but to trust the team with important work and clients. They want autonomy, challenges, responsibility and constant learning, all from day one! If new starters aren’t delivering on a project within a month of joining we see huge dissatisfaction. We still don’t have time to run every part of the business and the industry is so faced paced that we are reliant on the innovative and entrepreneurial spirit of the team. For our employees this means that we are a safe place for them to try new ideas and create, something that they need from a career. The challenge is to keep the team feeling challenged and learning. One way to do that is making the evolution from being rewarded by external experiences to leveraging the internal reflective experience, challenging oneself and learning even when the external experience might be the same. Secondly we have a constant flow of new employees who are eager to learn, so our senior team can learn new skills in the form of delivering training, coaching, mentoring, people management and leadership. We progress people based on their ambition to maximise the opportunities that come their way. In many ways our strategy is to let the talent manage themselves.

Rob Ferrone, Co-Founder, Quick Release

In the next, and final, article in this series I will explore the importance of having a strong organisational narrative as the backbone for your talent strategy.