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Winning the war for talent

Change management consultant Gerarda Van Kirk has some advice for consumer goods companies.

Originally from Newfoundland, Canada, Gerarda grew up in Codroy Valley, on the coast overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, where the summer lasts a day (or feels that way). An animal lover at heart, Gerarda had quite the collection of pets that she rescued on the rocky coast including a pet seagull, a family of geese and a baby seal, she named “Salty.” Gerarda grew up on a small farm where everything was organic. She says as a poor kid organic was the only option—interesting how much the consumer food industry has changed since then.

Considering your world travel and your work in food and beverage, have you had any interesting experiences?

I love to travel and experience new things. My family and I have travelled to most continents and have had the opportunity to try some new activities. In South Africa, we did shark cage diving among the great whites and bungee jumped off the world’s highest bridge. In New Zealand, we went Zorbing—basically rolling down a hill in a big plastic ball—you should try it at least once and once is probably enough. But nothing compares to lowering yourself 100 ft. into a cave, in the Blue Mountain of Australia. Recently I raced my dogs in a skijoring race in Minneapolis. My dog had more fun making snow angels (yes, turns out dogs do that).

What do you like about working in the food and beverage industry?

Over the last 26 years with Accenture, I have worked across many industries (Consumer, Travel, Retail, Resources, and High Tech). The common thread in all cases is working with clients to manage Talent issues and drive greater adoption/engagement of change agendas. I think the cross industry perspective is helpful as I have settled into working with Consumer clients as I have a much better understanding of the views and ways of working of a customer, supplier and even new competitors from tech companies. I find the implications of digital and disruptive thinking required to stay ahead in the Consumer industry today fascinating both as a consumer and also because of the implications to talent—which for the most agile companies is going through a disruption in its own right.

What industry challenges do you see related to talent?

Almost every consumer company these days is in the midst of tremendous changes whether it be related to becoming more digitally relevant, defining new go to market strategies, aligning organization models or striving for greater product innovation/disruption. To win in this ever changing market, I believe that incremental changes to talent strategies are no longer going to be sufficient. A few thoughts:

  • The company that wins the war for talent will win in the marketplace. You have to bring the “A” team in the areas where you intend to win. But everyone wants that same “A” team so why will they choose your company? This is can be an uphill battle, when the face of talent is changing,—75% of employees will be Millennials by 2020 and only 15% of them say they want to work for “BIG” companies. And by the way, BIG does not necessarily just refer to size, but more how it feels to work at a company. To meet this challenge, many companies are implementing creative techniques/programs that give employees the sense of working in a smaller, more collaborative and agile organization and with great results.

  • Digital is changing Talent Requirements. Did you know that 81% of employees expect digital to change the way they work in the next 3 years, and yet they are not prepared to make the most of it? Companies continually fall short in this area—they’ve invest a lot into technology but don’t think about the talent shifts needed to get the value. The interesting thing is that more and more, it’s not just about how to use new technology, but how to build an agile workforce that can adapt to the ever changing environment. I refer to this as liquid talent. Companies should be cultivating these core skills now to enable greater workforce agility—a workforce that can seamlessly move between projects and flex when newer technology advances show up. An adaptive workforce whose skills are never “obsolete”. Key skills like—ideation, communication, analysis, experimentation, and the ability to make sense of data.

  • Workers who aren’t employees at all. 44% of high-growth companies now use temporary teams. By bringing in people when they’re needed who can hit the ground running without time-consuming training, your business can get a product or service out in front of the competition. Winning companies put focus into building loyalty with the right extended talent—establishing the right relationships and programs that enable them to have the first choice of the best resources when they need them.

  • In the end, I think the key to the kingdom is how well equipped your leaders are to navigate the ever-changing landscape. - 62% of top-performing companies say the most important factor to improve their organization’s agility is their leadership team. As a matter of fact, digital gives greater prominence to the practice of “horizontal leadership”—that is, the ability to exercise influence without formal authority. Horizontal leadership encourages collaboration and decentralized decision-making—vital elements of the digital enterprise Leaders build effective teams by deploying executives and managers in a network that can flexibly shift and re-form to address challenges and opportunities as they arise.