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If you love someone – set them free

If you need somebody, call my name.

If you want someone, you can do the same…….

If you love somebody, if you love someone – set them free.


Sting_The_Dream_of_the_Blue_Turtles_CD_coverWhen Sting finally freed himself from the three piece confines of the Police and set out on his jazz adventure he sang: “If you love someone – set them free” on his album Dream of the Blue Turtles.

That notion of setting talent free came up in a recent panel discussion about that perennial topic – the technology skills shortage.

Much to the dismay of those in the audience who hide behind this topic as a way of bemoaning their lot, I offered up an different view. You see after two and a half years  in the startup and scale-out world I know there’s plenty of highly skilled individuals, teams and companies out there doing amazing work. And not just in the trendy business to consumer / product arena, but in the very areas where CIOs complain that they struggle – cloud architecture, security, identity, event data and sentiment, micro-services, containers etc.

The problem is – they don’t want to work for you !!

And frankly why should they ?? What have we done to make the corporate world attractive and inspiring to this talented, purposeful and driven generation ??

We’ve simply served up the same old mantra, created in same old tired HR departments, that a career with us is a path to euphoria and enlightenment. Come climb our greasy pole to mid-management obscurity, come fit into our wonderfully engineered competency frameworks and bell curve distributions, close down your powerful and productive networks in favour of our outdated corporate hierarchies and everything will be just fine.

Well, my friends that time has past. The debate is over. “Recruit and retain” is a failed HR experiment and it’s time to move on. There’s a new way of looking at talent and it’s has a whole new cadence – attract, engage, learn and return.

It’s time we worked out how to be attractive because “the talent” hold all the cards and the vast majority are more concerned about who they work with, how they work and why – their purpose – than simple pay, rations and promotion. Sure some will want to come on our journey, but that will be their choice.  We need to be ready to engage those people, learn from them, understand their networks AND then ultimately celebrate when they leave because, if the experience has been positive and additive for them, you’ve just returned an advocate for your company into the wider talent pool.

Understanding and developing this new world of attract, engage, learn and return is a new management discipline and it’s going to take time to but some companies are starting to understand the narrative… and they recognise that to truly change you have to be prepared to set your talent free.

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About Ian Cohen 3 Articles
A commercially astute and technology savvy executive who has been directing and delivering “digital enabled business transformation” for over a decade. I have held Group / Global CTO, CIO and Digital Leadership roles with some of the UK’s biggest brands including Lloyds Bank, The Financial Times, Associated Newspapers and insurance leader - Jardine Lloyd Thompson. Currently working in Board Advisory and Non Executive Director roles with start-up, scale out and large corporate companies, I am always LOOKING (to drive innovation and disruption), SEEKING (exciting challenges) and AVAILABLE (for interesting opportunities) Professionally recognised by industry analysts, peers and colleagues as one of the UK’s leading digital leaders, key strengths include • Driving digital adoption, exploitation and transformation • Delivering sustainable business value (to start-ups and corporates alike) • Bringing the agility of the start-up / scale out world to traditional organisations • Creating business and technology innovation • Directing complex turnaround, integration and strategic sourcing activities • Leading global, regional and national operations • Attracting, engaging and developing talent
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