We see the battle for talent globally and it’s no different for Grant Ecker, Chief Architect at WBA and Rich Corbridge, CIO at Boots who both acknowledge the criticality of building strong teams and the paradox that exists in finding, developing and retaining top talent.

If you’ve recruited the best talent in the market, these individuals won’t stay stationary in their roles, so how do we build strong teams on a foundation of constant change?

Grant and Rich are at it again this month, discussing how they seek to build resilient structures on the foundation of continuous change to create a team structure and cultural environment where top talent can grow, be continuously challenged and deliver for our business every day.

Let’s get into it shall we?

Finding and Recruiting Diverse Top Talent

Grant: Building strong teams starts with finding and recruiting top talent. In this effort, I often see leaders making the mistake of jumping straight into the candidate pool for their open roles, thinking they will “know good talent when they see it.” Additionally, leaders often overestimate the attractiveness of their open role in comparison with the numerous opportunities available in today’s job market.

As IT leaders, we need to fight the urge to dive directly into the candidate pool in our search for talent. Trying to find talent, without a firm understanding of the core job and the value proposition we can offer, is like seeking to buy software without requirements. This backwards game of basketball demonstrates the issue. Each of these approaches exemplify throwing the basketball hoop at a stationary basketball. It’s heavy, cumbersome, and it seldom works out in the end.

Instead of starting with the talent pool, creating a job description is the best place to start by developing a firm understanding of the role’s outcomes, duties, competencies as well as the soft skills required. This document will enable HR partners to apply sandpaper, establishing the minimum requirements and leveling the grading consistently with other jobs at the company. The outcome of this work creates a closer alignment between what external candidates will be seeking from the job market with what the role offers.

While generally considered lack-luster work, this effort is crucial to reducing the implicit bias in hiring decisions. A robust job description provides a clear set of requirements which enables the objective review and hire across a diverse set of candidates who might approach the job differently. Over time this approach directly contributes to building a balanced team who represent a broad set of perspectives. Without hard requirements, leaders tend to make emotional hiring decisions, this amplifies the biases of the leader and may result in a hire who isn’t well positioned to succeed in their new role, nor in the creation of a diverse team.

Once the job description is complete, take one final step! Envision yourself in the position of your ideal candidate… and remember that they have choices! Ask yourself “Why would I pick THIS role at THIS company?” and “What unique opportunities does THIS role offer me?” Now you’re ready to post! Be sure to highlight the unique and differentiating elements of the opportunity when promoting the new role across your network.

Rich: That last bit Grant I love that, it’s something we are trying to open up here at Boots, we have, in the past, been a closed box and I think it would have been hard for an external candidate to envision themselves here, we are a retailer of old, what could IT there possibly look like, but now, as we try to open up the box so people can see in we are increasing the number of people who are seeking to work with us exponentially, and before that first interview they actually know something about IT here.

It’s interesting in the UK we are seeing a resurgence in the attractiveness of the ‘mission’ role, new talent want to feel like they are involved in an organisation with a purpose that equates to the building of good for humanity. We need to find ways to promote this when attracting talent, for us it’s not too hard which ‘just’ need to remain committed to do it.

In recent weeks we are also seeing a need to appeal to candidates who want a career not a job. We are seeing top talent asking us as the needy organisations asking for clarification on how long they would be in this initial role for and what development we as an employer can offer them.

Building and Fostering High Performing Teams

Rich: Do you remember when the role of CIO was openly talked about as a three-year role? Once you had done your three years you should either move on or at the very least truly reinvent what you are trying to do. As we bring new talent in, we need to help them understand that they are joining for a career not a job, that we are here to help them grow and evolve and have experiences of a wide collection of areas. In our collective organisations we are lucky we can offer that width more easily than many. One of the joys I have working in Boots is how close IT is to the business, whether we are talking about trading, marketing or pharmacy the technology team has broken down the barriers very effectively, we have qualified pharmacists leading some of our most important innovation programmes as entrepreneurs with a back ground in IT, what can be achieved with this skill set is phenomenal and that has been enabled by that open culture to professionalization and learning that we have created, we have the most embryonic stages of a group growth mindset where IT touches the business and that’s something I think helps us build and foster high performing teams.

When I look at healthcare organisations I have worked with in the past a lot can be learned from them in how the Chief Clinical Information Officer (CCIO) role has evolved. Enabling this role to be a leader of IT has helped ensure that the customer focus of the team is paramount however an unintended consequence has been the opening of the black box that is IT as a profession which in turn has led to a state of continuous development of the role. The opening of the box I think is key to us moving away from the IT of the three Ps (PowerPoint, projectors and power) in the boardroom and into the transformation space. 

When we foster great talent, we, as leaders and managers, are there to get stuff out of their way so they can be at the top of their game as frequently as possible. The whole point of creating great talent is to bring diversity to the results we want to achieve if our organisational construct stops ‘new’ from happening then we as managers become deflated but worse still our talent losses interest and either walks or falls back into a ‘do it as its always been done’ mentality; recovery when that happens is very hard indeed.

I was reading the foreword of Monk: Light and Shadow on the Philosopher’s Path (By Yoshihiro Imai) recently and it spoke of the concept of niji-riguchi (the low narrow doorway of a Japanese tea room that one must duck under to enter, with the idea of leaving your ego behind as you pass through). I love this as a metaphor for what we must do as leaders when we interview new candidates, in particular external candidates, we must, under all circumstances find new ways to duck under the door and leave our egos, our preconceptions and our bias behind, and ‘go at’ the interview with a new starting point, how do we enable the candidate to be the best we have ever seen.

Grant: Spot on Rich, I love the CIO reinvention part of your story! It reminds me of how we encourage our talent to reshape their roles every few years and we enable that by continuously adapting ourselves and our organizations in the same way. This mindset of constant change space creates an environment where our teams can perform and grow within our always-in-motion team. We also try to remember what our top-talent leaders are navigating in their new or expanding roles! Building empathy for their onboarding obstacle course is a crucial perspective to hold in ongoing support of their growth.

Support Growth Aspirations within the Team

Grant: Imagine any job on the team is like its own fish tank. The employee in that job has a tank that needs a leader’s support to grow in line with their potential, not simply within the limitations of the needs written at the time their job was created. Adding robotic wheels to the employee’s fish tank won’t provide an employee with growth, instead it provides a new location to do similar work. As Joel Wilibanks replied to this creative contraption, this can result in a situation where, the employee, “the fish, is just trying to find calm water” to swim in. 

The cure is to create enough space for employees to experiment and gradually shape their role towards their desired outcomes. I have a Plinko story that takes this concept into more detail as advice for employees. The important things leaders need to do is to allow that employee’s fish tank to slowly expand so our team members can invest to grow themselves to qualify for expanded roles both inside and outside of our teams in line with their potential. The truth is, if we don’t grow the container for our top talent, they won’t stop growing; rather, they will simply outgrow our opportunities. 

Rich: I love the fish story Grant, to follow it up we need to allow the tank to be an adventure for all of the fish so that there is something new to ‘look’ at every day, not quite releasing into the sea to find their own way like Nimo but definitely the adventure needed to learn new things and bring them back for us all to build onwards and upwards from.

I want our organisation to be known as the most career supportive organisation in the business in 2022, I want that to be one of the reasons people come here, maybe even the top reason. We have some great examples all ready, new graduates that have stepped through different roles into leadership positions, pharmacists who have stepped into business change and digital leadership roles and the fluidity we have created internally through the specialisms. I think a great example is our ability to move our own people around different teams to build experiences, Enterprise Architects into enterprise delivery has seen great rewards as has data scientists in leadership roles fostering that professionalism of the data role from within the team.

We must champion the value of new roles for external new talent and our own colleagues though, I believe we sometimes get this wrong at the moment, like so many organisaitons that didn’t come into being as a tech organisaiton we under value the role of IT professional at a salary and at a recognition level, we strive to fix that but we are not there yet. This gives us a steep hill to climb when we try to attract talent and if were honest can make it awkward inside the organisation as the challenge as to why do we need to pay IT people more is always a difficult conversation to have. I think there is a grease that can be applied to the talent attraction wheel here though tat we miss sometimes, the experience of working in an orgnaisaiotn that isn’t ‘just’ a tech firm really truly does expand the transformation muscle at a much more rapid pace.

That’s a wrap!

As our next article comes to a close a few reflections and closing bits of advice…

Grant: I believe the sustaining source of a team’s and a company’s differentiating success comes from employees who are aligned with their purpose and who are fulfilled with belonging, appreciation, accomplishment, and growth in their current roles. This starts with hiring aligned with the candidate’s purposeful fit, sponsoring their integration into a high performing culture and supporting their career growth far beyond the confines of the role they were initially hired to fill.

Rich: Ah, I think we need to finish with a quote that sums up the challenge (and opportunity) ahead,

“You’re traveling through an other dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination. That’s the signpost up ahead – your next stop…”

The high performing and integrated IT function that the business sees as intrinsic to transformation, today, tomorrow and the next year! Got to love The Twilight Zone by Rod Serling, the answer to all our actions is ‘just’ down the road with us all behind what needs to be done. 

What thoughts, tips or advice do you have on this talent paradox? We want to see what you think too…