What leaders think
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The Dynamism of Diversity

Diversity in its multiple formats and in the context of a changing global and multiple generation market, demands a rethink on the effective engagement of talent.

Many could be forgiven for not predicting Brexit or Donald Trump, however, there are some reasonable predictions we can make when it comes to the different generations and what drives them.

It seems as if strange forces are at work and the world is a little (if not a lot) upside down. The Baby Boomers are still working and Generation Y or Millennials, may have lost out greatly to the deepest recession since the Great Depression. Apparently Generation Y and X before it, have been betrayed by the Baby Boomers, who voted out of

Europe, are sitting on better pensions and refuse to retire.

Diversity of work force is now regarded as business critical and yet we are not making progress. Specifically, the year women will achieve parity was revised by the World Economic Forum in 2015, as being as much as 117 years in the future. Only a year before, it was predicted as only being 79 years away. Recent figures tell us that we still only have 8% of FTSE 100 board members who are non-white whereas the UK population is 14% non-white.

Why are we making so little progress on the diversity front and how will the “War for Talent” be affected across the different generations? The biggest question of all being – “How can organisations flex to ensure they have the skills for the future?”

Mother Nature

Should diversity be viewed dispassionately in much the same way, you might imagine, Mother Nature views it? A bio-diverse habitat is a healthy one and natural selection or survival of the fittest, governs by natural law.

Hence, when it comes to internal talent, external talent acquisition and subsequent nurturing of talent, the diversity of the existing leadership team’s thinking will determine how diverse an organisation becomes and thus, how successful the business is. The danger with quotas is people are asked to put themselves in a box. However, Nature abhors a vacuum and will consistently seek variation, which refuses to go neatly into the box you just created.

Generation Y

Who is Generation Y? Although different people use different start and end dates for those born as Generation Y, the consensus says they are born as early as the late 70s/early 80s but not after the early 90s. So the eldest of Generation Y are nearly 40 now.

How will you manage your succession planning when you know that Generation Y are apparently less loyal and more likely to question the ethics of your business and how it fits into their personal ethos than ever before? Considering we all recruit in our own image, how to do we tackle unconscious bias? Do we need quotas? Why are diverse businesses more successful in reality?

Lots of “boxes” do not yield Diversity

By viewing diversity as a richness, as opposed to a shopping list of gender, ethnicity etc., then being different in any way contributes to that richness. This broadness or diversity of thinking, means coming at talent acquisition from an understanding that ANY differences, according to Mother Nature, could be your next big thing. 

Categories or “boxes’ of people commonly talked about in the same breath with diversity are along gender, ethnicity, educational backgrounds, class backgrounds etc. If you think about things from the opposite end, how accessible are you for diverse groups? If your Executive Search habits mean that you task a certain set of older (Baby Boomers), white middle and upper class males with helping you select your next level of succession, how accessible or attractive are you to the wider and diverse global community?

So if we accept that Diversity and Inclusion are essential for business success, then what does this mean in relation to the war for talent and Generation Y?

Generation Y’s proclivities for changing jobs more frequently than their forbearers and aversion to a job for life, will benefit your quest for diversity.

Active Tenure

Does someone need to sit in the same job for a certain amount of time to drive tenure as a measure of employment engagement? Or should we be talking about “active tenure”? Measuring the wrong thing and then wondering why there is no correlation between length of tenure (engagement) and productivity output doesn’t seem the right approach. It is not just about moving people around every few years in order to satisfy succession planning theory. Or persuading people to stay within the organisation. Being truly diverse means thinking about engaging with talent differently. In the next few years, there will be no choice. Generation Y’s average tenure in a role is two years and they may identify themselves increasingly as “self-employed and mobile”.

Generation Y are less swayed by LTIPs than their predecessors, as the recession taught them they may not be around long enough to collect the mythical pot of gold in five years’ time. Pensions are no longer the golden retainers they once were. The Baby Boomers have sat firm and that was bad for Diversity of Thinking.

On the positive side, Generation Y are more flexible and more diverse in their thinking. By their very nature, they are more cynical and more adaptable. They are also more likely to engage in your vision and mission than your culture, if they buy into it.

So if diverse thinking about who and how you engage will increase workforce diversity and the richness of your talent and this is the philosophical solution, what is the practical?

Creating a healthily diverse culture means accepting that not everyone can be engaged in the same way and that measuring engagement itself may have to change. A well-known UK retailer had a philosophy a few years ago that dictated no one could ever be engaged as a member of the management team unless they were engaged on a permanent contract. The thinking was that in order for people to be truly engaged (read productive) they had to be tied in (read committed in a contractual sense) and that any projects or assignments where there was a need to solve problems and try new things should be solved from the centre with their “own people” and therefore, with thinking which was already in the business. Fast forward several years and investigations later and we can understand (of course with hindsight) some of the issues that ultimately stemmed from this lack of diverse thinking.

Right Talent, Right Scenario, Right Now

So how can the right talent, be acquired at the right speed for the current scenario? Default (and non-diverse thinking) says that if a role is business-critical, the person should be engaged permanently. Why are we so nervous when an executive is an ‘interim’? We don’t think ‘secondment’ is a dirty word yet this has a finite or defined time period in mind. Why do we think an interim is less committed? What happens when the business critical means this week or next? 

The only way to achieve real diversity is to not engage the same solution for every situation. Why do professional interims deliver against tight business critical timeframes, often working seriously long hours because of those timeframes and take a daily rate without LTIPS in the equation? It comes back to motivation and engagement and of course a different mind-set. Generation Y is not driven, generally speaking, by money alone and therefore, have different motivations to previous generations. In today’s post UK referendum world, they will have to buy into your long-term strategy too.

Diversity of thinking is achieved when there is diversity of who and how you engage and embracing different mind-sets. So the next time you have an urgent need or a problem that needs defining or solving, think about engaging with senior talent differently. Shape something together, which works for you now and accepts that you may not be married in 12 months’ time. Many senior executives who are engaged ‘permanently’ will see their role as having a distinct length of tenure, after which they will seek new challenges. The interim market gives access to a pool of executives who routinely move in and out of other organisations. They are going to see the issues very quickly as they bring ‘a fresh pair of eyes’.

By engaging with both permanent and interim markets, often simultaneously or concurrently, an organisation can determine the right approach in terms of who and how to engage. Interims will very often pave the way and assist in creating the right level permanent role. Important issues can be addressed now without waiting for a permanent person to join. By engaging with different populations, by default, there is more access to more people who move in divergent circles and who have access in turn, to more diverse populations. Executives who only engage on an interim basis bring with them experience of a great number of other organisations as they move more frequently from assignment to assignment. Their thinking may be broader (more diverse) by default. An organisation can then tap into a wealth of ‘seasoned’ experience without committing the business long-term and can instead, buy into the army of Interim Executive Consultants.

Are you diverse enough in your thinking to put the permanent contract back in the drawer? It is very often easier to engage international talent for short periods this way and it can happen more immediately than when people move themselves and their families internationally too.

The Way Forward

Interim Executives should make up a proportion of the senior talent in order to achieve diversity of thought within an organisation. A more flexible and fluid leadership team is not only more agile, it flexes and makes way and must be engaged/retained in diverse ways.

There is a wealth of talent accessible quickly to organisations who want flexible solutions and are prepared to think differently about how they engage Executive Interim talent. With Generation Y coming through, there may be little choice about thinking differently, just as Nature intended.