We attended the Future Talent Conference last Tuesday 1 March (an auspicious day as not only was it St David’s Day but also Justin Beiber’s birthday).It was a day of inspirational speakers who shared many fantastic, simple and innovative ideas that can be applied to any business to attract, retain and promote your people.

Experiences to inspire


First on the stage was Martine Wright, 7/7 survivor and Paralympic athlete. She gave a really honest account of how she felt after the incident and how she had to pull herself out of the black hole she found herself in after such a life-changing event, to become a Paralympic athlete. The message was clear: anything is achievable if you put your mind to it. 

She has a seven point principle (no coincidence):

  1. Choices
  2. Opportunity
  3. Change
  4. Power of sport
  5. Team
  6. Team me
  7. Belief

A similar message came from Lord Chris Holmes (and his guide dog Lottie). He woke up one day and literally couldn’t see anymore. Instead of becoming a piano tuner (he was advised that this was a best case scenario), he smashed expectations and became one of Britain’s greatest Paralympians. 

Personal to corporate


We were all moved by these personal tales of triumph over adversity, but our interest was further piqued by the then shift – to how organisations can find and promote some of these finest talents and personality traits. Helmut Schuster, Executive VP and HR Director at BP, talked through how BP is embracing the era of machine learning and technology - what this means to an organisation and how BP is preparing for the future using technology to attract and retain the best talent. He believes that in future, HR’s most important relationship will be with the CIO and not the CFO. He thinks every organisation should ask a key question: Who in your organisation can articulate your people strategy in 30 seconds? 

This message was reinforced by Sir Clive Woodward who said that talent alone is not enough. It’s how you leverage that talent, including the use of technology. He talked through the four criteria that he believes characterises a champion – talent, teachability, calmness under pressure and a positive mental attitude. Being a cohesive team is crucial.

Amy Sawbridge, Head of People Strategy from Virgin Group focused on internal brand and how, for your brand image to be believed, it needs to be mirrored by your employees. You have to invest, be agile, innovative and keep moving: happy employees = happy employers = happy shareholders.

Yvonne Agyei, VP on International People Operations, highlighted the award-winning approach Google takes to recruitment. Hiring is the most important thing you can do, so why do so many companies do it badly? As many as 60% of the people operations team at Google are involved in recruitment and managers don’t do the hiring for their own teams, committees do. It’s not about academics or which university you went to, it’s about inclusiveness, ability and “googlyness”. 

Ruby Wax talked through mindfulness. The key to being an exceptional leader is curiosity – everybody wants to feel heard and understood. But you also need to understand yourself to understand and get the best out of others. Alain de Botton talked about a good kind of capitalism (there is such a thing!) and how we should invest in ways that energise and enthuse people. Dr Alan Watkins questioned that if you don’t know who you are, then how can you be authentic? Self-reflection asks ‘what’s the point of me?’  

Lasting impressions


The key messages we took away were:

  • Believe in and challenge yourself
  • Believe in and invest in your people
  • Keep moving, embrace innovation and technology
  • Challenge the everyday norm/business as usual

There was a lot in this packed day about embracing the future, the possibilities of technology and the opportunities of change. But it was also an event that was deeply embedded in the best feats of human endeavour – and how to bring the best of that out in ourselves and others. It left us feeling like the future of HR could truly be a balance of technological advances and a better and uniquely human understanding of each other.

LC and KHW


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