As the global economy slowly moves out of recession, companies are now facing multiple challenges, ones which in many ways are more difficult than those they have faced before. Against a back-drop of sluggish economic growth and intense, often global competition for each small percentage of the growth cake, they recognise that they have to provide more innovation, greater value for money and more personalisation of products and services if they are to connect with customers and secure competitive advantage.

Access to highly capable and highly motivated talent, which is organised in such a way to maximise innovation and productivity, is key to this business agenda. However, demographic changes mean organizations will be “bleeding” experienced talent over the next few years. A lack of investment in learning and the stagnation of internal development processes over the recession years has meant that experienced internal replacers are not readily available. There is also the issue of new generations entering the workforce may be less prepared to accept traditional hierarchical and “one size fits all” approaches. All of this adds up to the perfect storm. Talent will be the most valuable business resource but it will also be the most unpredictable resource.

Against this complex background, progressive firms recognise that within their regionalised business ecosystem, the sharing of resource and knowledge amongst HR professionals, academics and business leaders to tackle these challenges can be mutually beneficial. Firms increasingly recognise that rather than taking a propriety approach to HR best practice it can be more advantageous to share knowledge to ensure core competencies are instilled within as many companies as possible in a region.

Organisations recognise that the attrition of employees from one firm to another, the employment Merry-go-round, is an intractable feature of modern business. While employee retention, minimising churn, is to be welcomed, it is inevitable a percentage of employees will migrate to new employment opportunities each year. The solution then is not to fight like cat and dog over a diminished pool of talent, but to collaborate together and with the public authorities and academic institutions to increase the depth and breadth of talent available.

The logic for a collaborative approach at the micro- company level finds resonance at the regional level too. Progressive public authorities recognise that their regions are in an intense global competition to attract, grow and retain investment. Jobs cannot simply be created; the conditions to support jobs growth must be put in place. The critical factor for future success in the global, modern, knowledge economy will be the availability of ready supplies of talent to support business development amongst companies in the region.

There is then a coming together of interests between companies in a region and the region itself. For companies to attract, engage, develop and retain talent, place (the region) is a key ingredient. For a region to grow and prosper it must work with the broadest possible coalition of interests to ensure globally competitive talent pools are available to support economic growth.

In Hampshire, Dorset and the M3 Corridor, this theoretical approach is being brought to life. An HR Forum has been established under the banner of Business South, a business engagement organisation, which connects leading employers to drive economic growth in the region. The Forum is “staffed” by HR volunteers from across the companies in the Region and there are four ‘Action Groups’ which are looking to drive collaboration and collective progress on the following themes:-

  1. Knowledge Sharing and the sharing of best practice amongst the wider HR Community;
  2. Connecting companies and strengthening the effort of companies around the Corporate Social Responsibility agenda;
  3. Competence and Employment, which looks to clearly identify where demand for talent is headed, particularly in terms of generic employability competence and also intends to create and pilot new innovative approaches to learning in the region;
  4. Great Place to Work, which intends to develop and share leading edge thinking about different approaches to work and the Alternative Work Environment.

The progress of these groups is steered and monitored by an HR Forum Steering Group, made up of representatives from both companies and the public sector.

The overall objective of this activity:

  • To distribute globally best in class HR thinking widely across the region
  • To share proprietary methodologies
  • To generate common high standards for employment and employability across the region
  • To create coalitions of the willing to tackle problems, which appear intractable at the individual company level

This is one model for HR to HR collaboration. Of course, there can be many more, for example,  including a more ad hoc sharing of ideas or best practice. However, the collaborative approaches are more likely to develop further. With the rapid pace of change in the world and the seemingly continual reduction in the half-life of knowledge, companies and regions will need to ensure they can get accessible learning to more people, more often and at a lesser cost. There is only so much progress that can be made on this type of agenda within the walls of one organisation and single company action will not alter the dynamics of an entire region.

Collaborative approaches to learning would appear to be the solution. This principle could be extended to having a standardised approach to workforce planning, with outputs being used to inform the learning supply side of the aggregate movements in the demand for employability skills, standard appraisal formats, or the adoption of a standardised skills passport across a region. Such knowledge and approaches could be made readily available to SME companies. After all, the beauty of knowledge as a resource is that it is not reduced when shared. In fact, sharing can lead to its enhancement!

While firms will obviously wish to have bespoke add-ons, bringing together HR professionals and academics to share knowledge can generate tangible benefits at a micro-level for individual firms and at a macro-level for a region. In an era where process is ever more important to remain compliant with regulation, developing methodologies to prevent an associated incremental rise in business costs is to be welcomed.  In addition, firms recognise they can help build a ‘halo effect,’ creating regionalised networks of ‘great places to work,’ which will help to attract leading, skilled talent to a region.

HR in the 21st Century will, in so many ways, be all about connectivity. For example, finding ways to connect talent within organisations to enhance innovation as well as connecting with potential external talent at a very early stage in its development for future hiring activity. Furthermore, staying connected to “lost talent” as a potential recruitment pool is also important.

Talent, connectivity and collaboration in a complex and challenging world is not a bad agenda for HR for the future.

Geoff Glover, Chair of Business South’s HR Forum