TTT – Engaging and Developing Senior Leaders in Uncertain Times

These are the thoughts and takeaways from the latest Talent Think Tank (TTT) held on Wednesday 7th November 2012 hosted by RSA’s Anna O’Neill (Group Head of Emerging & Specialist Talent), titled ‘Engaging and Developing Senior Leaders in Uncertain Times’.

The following summary, written by our  TTT partner Chemistry Group, has been prepared to reflect a segment of the discussion held amongst senior HR and Resourcing professionals from leading UK and other international businesses.  Specific company details, experiences and examples have been omitted from this summary as all discussions are held under ‘Chatham House Rules’.

Last week’s Talent Think Tank centered around how organisations are grappling with the need to engage their Senior Leaders during the current climate of uncertainty and ambiguity.

Despite the doom and gloom experienced with the double dip recession, we kicked off the session with a more optimistic view that we are likely to see an upturn in the economy in the near future. With this in mind, it is likely that we will see a movement and shift in people who want to harness this growth and seek new career opportunities outside of the organisation. Whilst this will spark fresh investment in talent, the risk is that organisations will find themselves vulnerable and dealing with a shock talent shortage, as their top talent leave.

What is apparent is that change is becoming inherent to the way in which we define, manage and engage with talent today. Organisations therefore need to be proactive in making themselves agile to this change, rather than reactive.

Engaging Ex-Employees

It was quickly acknowledged that today the tenure of employees is becoming shorter than has ever been experienced before. With this in mind, we discussed a growing trend for organisations to maintain the relationship with ex-employees, and to invest time in engaging and developing them. More businesses are recognising the value of this for two reasons; firstly the individual is more likely to return to the organisation once they have progressed further in their career, and secondly to ensure that their ex-employees speak highly of the company.

Upward Mentoring

In addition, it was noted that there is a shift in mind-set towards upward mentoring. It is widely acknowledged that there are big generational differences that exist in the workplace today, and both experienced employees and the younger population have a lot to learn from each other. The rise of social digitisation at work is a classic example that still many are coming to terms with, and that the younger generations can offer great insight to. Not only does this build capability, but it helps break down the usual hierarchy and barriers that can discourage open and honest development/business conversations.

Holding Leaders to Account

Building a culture where senior leaders engage with coaching and developing others is a challenge that many companies face. Creating structure by targeting leaders and linking bonuses on how they engage and retain their talent was one approach that was raised, however this can produce behaviours that are based on conformity rather creating sustained, long-term, intrinsic behaviour.

Other ideas discussed included holding leaders to account for creating sustainable change, and therefore taking a deductive approach against what is expected of leaders. This means that Leaders are then held to account on what more they can do to engage and develop their talent.

Ultimately, if we are to truly engage leaders and foster a coaching culture, it is important to understand what is meaningful to them as individuals.

The challenges of E-learning and the rise of Gamification

When asked whether E-learning works, almost everyone in the room disagreed and were quick to shake their heads. It was suggested that E-learning is good for compliance only.

However as discussions progressed we questioned the definition of what e-learning really means. The up-rise and interest in gamification suggests that engaging individuals at work with their development is transforming the way in which we have thought of e-learning. Moving from a passive space, to an immersive, interactive, social and challenging space to provide learning traction.

In addition, more and more organisations are looking for an online social platform to engage their workforce. Within our discussions we recognised that this approach still raises significant challenges to senior leaders who are more cautious due to sensitive information being shared, and the shift towards a more technological focused approach.

It seems that there still remains a gap, and that presenting this approach for investment in the current climate is difficult to gain support for. These contextual factors are therefore a real barrier today.

Driving Learning & Development

Finally, we closed the Talent Think Tank session by considering what trends we are seeing in organisations creating their own Colleges, Courses and Universities for their workforce to engage with.

While this is very costly, there has been an interesting shift towards taking a collaborative approach to building these learning environments, across organisations. A solution that not only contributes to engaging employees, but creates a unique way of networking and building support groups across industries and sectors that face the same challenges.


What is clear that many businesses are currently experiencing similar challenges in engaging not only senior leaders but in adjusting to the changing contexts that businesses exist in today. While the economy is still recovering from its recent crisis, it is critical that organisations take action today to secure and find their talent. There is a fine balance between waiting for the economy to grow for investment in talent, and the natural need for talent to leave and seek new opportunities. Companies that do not address this will soon find themselves in a precarious position.

Oasis HR

Written by , Network Driven HR Recruitment

Oasis HR is a multi-award winning HR Recruitment Agency based in London that delivers Contingency and Search services within the Human Resource and Business Change Markets. Our client base encompasses all industry sectors and we have a proven track record of delivering permanent, interim and temporary professionals at all levels across all HR disciplines. From a £20k HR Administrator to a £200k HR Director, Oasis HR is well placed to identify, approach and secure the best available talent in the market

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