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Attracting talent in the era of online working

Ash Mohd
“When you're attracting talent, you not only need to say that you'll be market competitive, but also put a number out there. If you don't do that, you may lose out on the talent that you're looking for."

ClientSide’s latest episode features Ash Mohd, a People Engagement Global Lead covering Intelligent Platform Services and Ecosystems. Ash leads all people engagement for the Intelligent Platform Services and Ecosystems Group, which includes over 150,000 members. After featuring on our recent webinar which tackled digital ecosystems, he is back on ClientSide to discuss the ways in which companies can better source and nurture incoming talent.

Transcript:

Speaker 1:

This is ClientSide from Fox Agency.

Speaker 2:

Hit it. That’s what I’m talking about. Wait, okay. Now, from the beginning.

Nathan Anibaba:

Ash Mohd is the People Engagement Global Lead at Accenture covering Intelligent Platform Services and Ecosystems. Ash leads all people engagement for the Intelligent Platform Services and Ecosystems Group, which comprises of over 150,000 members. And he was also a recent guest on a webinar on ecosystems. Ash Mohd, welcome to ClientSide.

Ash Mohd:

Thanks, Nathan. It’s been a pleasure to be on the seminar and on your podcast.

Nathan Anibaba:

Yeah, we’re trying to extract as much value from you as we can.

Ash Mohd:

Fair enough.

Nathan Anibaba:

Thanks for being on it. Well, let’s jump straight in. The great resignation or the big quit as some people term it, it’s this ongoing trend of employees voluntarily leaving their jobs throughout 2021 to now. And I’m sure it will continue into 2022. How big a shift is this and what are the factors that have led to it?

Ash Mohd:

First of all, I want to profess the importance of this for the UK market right now, because while this has been going on globally, it was primarily focused on the US and parts of Asia, but since about November, December, we’re seeing the same kind of trends happening in the UK. And it’s mostly between the 18 to 40 age group, which is where I guess, I don’t know about your demographics, but might be where most of your listeners are. It’s definitely the one where I’m in.

Nathan Anibaba:

I’m just there.

Ash Mohd:

Yeah. The thing that’s interesting is people have faced a complete shift in terms of how they work over the period of COVID, especially people who do a lot of desk jobs and even others. Great resignation has mostly been about control going back to people. It’s not exactly the big quit as people have been talking about. It is a great resignation. It is looking for better opportunities that match people’s careers. There are pros and cons. There are going to be like, this is just one tide. There is going to be a responsive tide to this as well. And it’s going to be a massive, massive shift.

Ash Mohd:

Now to answer your question in terms of the factors that led to it, COVID is definitely one thing. It gave people a chance to reflect and think about what are they doing? What do they want in their careers? How are things moving? It gave people a chance to talk openly a bit more about what their compensation and what their earnings are. Those conversations have been going on, well, for the last decade, but these conversations have become more important. It made people question, what is the culture and value that they get from the work that they’re doing? In some people’s case, they just want to go ahead and be content creators and create their own thing.

Nathan Anibaba:

Sure.

Ash Mohd:

But that’s going to create another backlash once people realize the amount of work, as you would fully be aware of creating this podcast alone, that goes behind creating.

Nathan Anibaba:

Completely. It looks easy. It’s not.

Ash Mohd:

It’s not. Yeah. So people are looking at all of that and saying, what am I getting from my employers? Am I in the right place doing the right thing? And something that’s really interesting is that as people live longer, there’s fewer people who are in 10 plus year careers. There’s a lot of factors. Something that’s been interesting and something that I am definitely going to talk about a lot, not just on this podcast, but in general, is that with like the dot-com crash and then the Great Recession, a lot of people who came into the workplace at that time have faced a lot of uncertainty. The gig market pretty much rose. The gig economy rose. And people are working in careers that usually, not exactly careers, but jobs that span between two to five years. And in contractors’ cases, maybe even three to six months. There’s a lot of contract gigs.

Ash Mohd:

And with this kind of mindset, there’s no permanency exactly. So it’s not like the great resignation of everyone who’s been working in a job have continuously just decided, have all just decided, yeah, I’m quitting. It’s the smaller waves of the people who work in these smaller temp jobs, which is why you see a lot of it in retail. If you look at the current trends, actually I think this was published early in December, retail has seen greater people leave than join than even 2019. So this is a trend, and it’s a trend that’ll continue in the fact that the short-term employees will move quickly. And we may see these as a massive tide going. And the longterm employees in like nice cushy jobs, like the ones I’m in, will basically also start to reevaluate. So as all these shifts come, as COVID starts to recede and people will come back to workplace, where companies are now saying, get into the office, as opposed to looking at what individual’s specific patterns and styles are, we’re just on the end of the beginning of that wave, I would say.

Nathan Anibaba:

There are many ends and there are many beginnings. It’s just one long virtuous cycle. So talk to me then about, from an organization’s point of view, from an enterprise’s point of view, if they want to attract top talent today, what does this mean for them and how do they need to position themselves in order to attract the best people in the marketplace?

Ash Mohd:

You’ll find a lot of companies that do digital transformation, like Accenture and others have all been talking about virtual working for years. Digital transformation is nothing new, it’s been going on for at least two decades. The move to digital, that’s actually yesterday’s news, not today’s news. If you look at the fact about just before COVID, no one was thinking about having meetings with a doctor virtually. Everyone was like, you have to go see them face to face. Now you’re like, okay, I can just pick up my phone and talk to the person about what my issues are. That’s good. So when organizations are looking to attract top talent, the first thing they say is flexibility of working. But people have gotten that. People now are used to it. That’s not like a perk, that’s like a base. So when large organizations start to position themselves in this market, they’re not supposed to start with, we allow you with flexible working. It’s much more of like, we allow you to work in a style that matches us, and that matches you.

Nathan Anibaba:

Right.

Ash Mohd:

So it would be that you may be working remotely and you come in a few days a week or you’ll be completely remote. It needs to match both sides. And forcing people to do one thing or the other, or backtracking, which incidentally a major tech company has done in the last year-

Nathan Anibaba:

Not naming any names.

Ash Mohd:

I’m not naming names. A major tech company has done while another tech company said, you can work remotely forever in the future.

Nathan Anibaba:

Right.

Ash Mohd:

It’s just, companies aren’t entirely sure how to deal with that. The second thing is, with COVID, people have been working at any time, anywhere. The shift between your personal life and your professional life, that wall, that’s gone. And that’s something that organizations can start helping individuals as they build these in their journeys, because that is something that’s going to be attractive. And another thing that’s super important, which I didn’t touch upon, which probably should have been number one is compensation.

Nathan Anibaba:

Sure.

Ash Mohd:

Because everyone needs to like say, yeah, we will pay you better. Here’s an example. Goldman Sachs knows outright that their work-life balance isn’t great. And they’re not going to go and pony it up saying that our work-life balance is amazing. But what they do say is that we will pay you a lot. We will pay you a lot.

Nathan Anibaba:

Right.

Ash Mohd:

So when that comes in, the people who are okay to sacrifice that balance will take it.

Nathan Anibaba:

Yeah.

Ash Mohd:

So it’s a little more about being a bit upfront about what you can offer. While you’re in the company, compensation is a big no-no in terms of a conversation, because it’s really hard because it’s your performance, the company’s performance and everything. But when you’re attracting talent, you need to say that you will be market competitive, but not only say that you’re market competitive, put a number out there at least when the conversation starts. If you don’t put a number out there, you may lose out on the talent that you’re looking for.

Nathan Anibaba:

So the question for knowledge workers today then, is less, who should I work for and where do my values align with the employer’s values, but actually, the question that they’re asking themselves is, what value do I get from work in the first place and who is the best organization to fit that criteria? Whether that is financial remuneration or whether that is better work-life balance, it’s really getting an understanding of what is the value that I get from work, first and foremost, and then using that as the basis of how I make my decisions.

Ash Mohd:

Yes. And on that specific note, also, don’t mix your messages. A top consulting firm, not going to name any names again, literally had around a thousand people walk out because they knew that, I don’t know, about 50% of their clients were the greatest polluters. And while they say that, on the other end, the company just goes and says, we are trying to make the world a better place and we are being amazing.

Nathan Anibaba:

Sure.

Ash Mohd:

So the values misaligned there again. When you look at it objectively, there is nothing wrong in working with clients that aren’t amazing, but the younger audience is very savvy and very vocal. To avoid problems on both ends, it’s best to say, what do you get from working here? What is the kind of career that you can build? What is the kind of industries that you can work in? What is the kind of brand value that you get from working here that can take your career to different places? Maybe you worked here and you didn’t really like some of the companies that you worked with, but working here got you that brand value, got you that experience, got you that industry expertise that you can take through your career. So people will work there. People will not stop going there, but people may quit. That’s another thing.

Ash Mohd:

Another good thing that companies can respond with is building a good alumni network. Because if you build a good relationship with a company, people will always return. I have had many stories within where I work right now, within where I used to work before, where people have returned because they liked the culture, which, again, is a nebulous thing, which people basically like the way of working. That’s how I would put it. And they liked how they were treated. So they came back because they realized that this is the place that’s most aligned to what I want from my working life. And that’s a good thing.

Nathan Anibaba:

So what I hear you saying is, number one, it’s important for the organization to be transparent in their communication with their workflows. If you are an employer that values people spending their time at work and on work, then you need to be upfront about that, but communicate that and be really open with it, which is super fascinating. There’s also this trend, which seems to be that businesses are trying to fit their purpose into what they do, or at least create a purpose and then say to everyone, hey, this is what we stand for. And this is what we’re all about. Sometimes it’s disingenuous. Sometimes it misses the mark. And they’re doing that obviously in the attempt to attract, I guess, a more discerning millennial generation, younger workforce who are more discerning when it comes to who they decide to work with. What’s wrong with that idea in your opinion?

Ash Mohd:

I’ve come across a lot of purpose building within work. Work is one aspect of a person’s life. It is not the overarching purpose of a person’s life. A company can provide an aspect to a person’s purpose. They can provide the means for a person to build their purpose. And a company on its own can have their own, as we call it, environmental, social and governance roles, the ESG goals that they can do. We’ve seen a lot of that recently with COP 26 and stuff. And companies can also put a big warm vision statement of what they want to do, the kind of transformation they want to build, the kind of products they want to build, services, all of that’s there.

Ash Mohd:

And then there is also about something that’s really terrible, especially in professional services firms is they spend so much time talking about they are awesome, but not really talk about why a person or a client coming in, they’ll find them awesome. It’s more like, we have done all these amazing things. Great, but what’s in it for the client? What’s in it for the person? These are the key things that they’re messaging and the branding needs to convey. Some companies do it well. A lot of companies don’t. And it’s a very interesting space where if you want to attract the right kind of employees, all you have to do is tell what the employees will get from working with you. And when you’re building that value for the employees, just focus on what is important for each generation that you do provide by default, not try to create a new thing that may or may not work. Be genuine in that respect.

Nathan Anibaba:

And if you’re not genuine, there are so many tools out there now like Glassdoor that give job seekers an inside view into what it’s like to work within an organization. So if you’re not transparent, then actually, it’s never been easier in the age of social media for you to be found out. How much do job descriptions or poor job descriptions factor into the sort of talent that are attracted into an organization or the lack thereof? So much has been written about job descriptions being bad or overselling jobs. Talk a little bit about job descriptions.

Ash Mohd:

So here’s a funny story anecdotal. The job that I got hired for, which is not the job that I’m doing right now, it just had four lines.

Nathan Anibaba:

Which were?

Ash Mohd:

I can’t really remember all of that, but it was basically what I was expected to do in the job.

Nathan Anibaba:

Okay.

Ash Mohd:

And I looked at it and I thought, that’s really interesting because it’s just talking about it at a really high level. It’s not talking about all the details. So let me have a conversation and see what comes from it. Now this can work out in two ways. People who read it and know what it’s going to entail will be able to go for it directly. But people who may have the skills, but don’t quite get it, won’t. So how I would put it is this. The most senior you are, the less you need to describe each and every aspect of the role. Keep it short and simple, because you’ll either get headhunted or you’ll just look at a short description and think, okay, that’s for me. When it comes to hiring…

Ash Mohd:

So the meat of the work, let’s be completely transparent is, done by people who’ve just entered the workforce or who have been there for under 10 years. They’ll be carrying the burden of doing the work. They would like to know what the job entails. To them, instead of talking about all the skills, just mention what the clear skills are. Talk about what their responsibilities are. Like, what does a day in their life of what they’re doing look like? And then, give a range of what they can expect in terms of their basic package, including their salary. And you will find a lot of people applying for those kinds of jobs.

Ash Mohd:

I mean, it’s very interesting because last year, loads of people were applying for jobs that many people had to turn them away because there were fewer jobs. Right now, the same jobs exist. People are applying, but they’re not getting the right people because they got lazy. Because last year, a lot of people wanted the jobs, this year, people are being more selective. So companies and recruiters need to look at the kind of jobs that they’ve got. Think about it in a messaging structure, the who, the why, and the what. And if they get that right, then they’ll get the right kind of job applicant. Because one of the things that I can tell you as a communications professional is that very rarely do people think of the audience. Go with an audience first moment.

Nathan Anibaba:

I mean, you’re speaking to a marketer and a marketing agency.

Ash Mohd:

Yeah. Exactly.

Nathan Anibaba:

We’re always telling our clients to do that. People from a more technical background tend to explain the technical features and then wonder why no one is using the product. So, hence the need for agencies.

Ash Mohd:

Exactly.

Nathan Anibaba:

We’ll put our website at the end of this episode. Getting people to stay is actually, probably far harder and probably even more important actually, arguably, than actually attracting people in the front door, in the first place. What do companies need to do to keep people for longer?

Ash Mohd:

They need to help people with a career progression plan. People need to see what their career will look like at a firm like two years from now, three years from now, five years from now. Are they going to be doing the same thing or will they have opportunities to work in different areas of the same firm? If people want to work in different areas of the same firm, what skills do they need? How can they get these skills? Where can they get the learning support? Where can they get mentoring?

Ash Mohd:

Now, I do want to call out that both Accenture and Mars have got really good learning programs. They’ve got good training programs and they do both look at how people can move from one side of the business to another. I can literally tell you, there are senior leaders who have moved from marketing to the business side where I work right now, and vice versa. I’ve seen both happen. But those kinds of moves are kind of restricted in certain firms, which prevent their growth. Because if you’ve got a talented person, like if you’ve got a good marketing person, it’s likely they’ll be good at sales. If you’ve got a good salesperson, they could be good at marketing, because they’re very connect.

Nathan Anibaba:

A lot of transferable skills.

Ash Mohd:

Yeah. Yeah. It’s not like Michael Jordan going from basketball to baseball. It’s not like that. You’ve got transferable skills. Exactly. And people need to look at that. The other thing that a lot of companies, maybe most of them are bad at is mentoring support, which is where companies need to focus their energies to retain people. Especially junior to mid-career level people, you need to give them mentoring support so that people can see where their careers can go, how their careers can grow, and what they need to do there. It’s not just your line manager or as professional services firms go career counselor alone. You need a mentoring network to build this up and don’t expect to create something like a peer group mentoring level. That’s more of a career support group as opposed to a career progression group, because I’ve experienced…

Ash Mohd:

So I’m still active a lot on online forums and I see people talk about finding jobs is like soul crushing and all that. And all of them support each other, but that’s not mentoring. That’s more of a career support. So peer group support is needed, but what you need more importantly is you need mentors from, what do you say, a larger demographic, from an experienced demographic, and from people who’ve probably been in this firm for a longer period of time, because they will help you there.

Nathan Anibaba:

Very easy to say, Ash, much harder to do in practice. Larger organizations, really experienced people are busy, they’re time poor themselves.

Ash Mohd:

Yes.

Nathan Anibaba:

They also need mentoring and coaching themselves from other senior executives. How do you implement organizational-wide mentorship in a company, the size of a small city, 200,000 people, 300,000 people, et cetera?

Ash Mohd:

Well, if you look at how organizations usually work, they use various things. Some people use StrengthsFinder kind of stuff from Gallup. Some people use Myers-Briggs. Different companies use different methodologies to group people. That’s fine. They usually bring in organizational counselors to say, these are the kind of leaders your company wants. These are the kind of employees that your company’s looking for. If you’re paying an external group, and especially large companies do that, make sure that these people are also supporting, building a mentoring network because not only are they shaping their leadership, they need the leadership who are time poor to be able to have the right resources, to help the next level, who can help the next level and so on. A mentoring relationship they need to develop is going to be informal. I can tell you that across my career, the people who’ve had really successful careers had mentors at mid to junior levels and they’ve been able to progress really fast across… They’ve jumped companies from their mentors. That’s all the common thing. They’ve all left their mentors for another company.

Nathan Anibaba:

Amazing.

Ash Mohd:

But these people have gone so far ahead.

Nathan Anibaba:

Really interesting. So what can other businesses learn from the way that the best-in-class enterprise organizations deal with people management and talent attraction?

Ash Mohd:

There’s multiple things here to unpack. So let’s start with something that’s really beneficial across the board, as well as for larger organizations. Start focusing on inclusion. Don’t just call it inclusion and diversity, just focus on the inclusion part so that you are including people from different groups, so that you’re getting various perspectives. Once you’ve built that kind of inclusion, build a peer support group for people from different groups to come together, to talk about their experiences, personal and professional, to have a forum. This I’ve seen in a number of firms. I’m seeing it where I sit right now that they’re bringing in people from different backgrounds to have that forum, to have those conversations.

Ash Mohd:

Then, make sure that the person has a reliance, not just on their line manager, the line manager’s good, they’ll have experience, but the line manager themselves might just be sometimes just a career level above, or maybe even half a career level above that. They’re not necessarily the right people to give out the advice to their counselee, to their direct report. So find mentors, build a culture where their line managers are able to get support for their direct reports through a mentor or a mentoring program in the company. Make sure that this mentoring program is accessible. A lot of companies say they’ve got mentoring programs, I’ve seen and I’ve heard, but it’s not accessible. It doesn’t necessarily take an account for culture role differences, I mean, global cultural differences, not company culture, and also doesn’t take into account for like, what do individuals face personally and professionally that can actually work? I mean, finding a good mentor is almost like finding a good therapist. You may have to go through a few to get the right one.

Nathan Anibaba:

Sure.

Ash Mohd:

But only the culture that enables that, that embodies that can bring that to life. And a lot of companies are still struggling here, because they’re not really looking at it in that lens.

Nathan Anibaba:

Final question, Ash, before we end the interview. Looking back over your career, what would’ve been most beneficial or useful to you in your own career progression and development?

Ash Mohd:

In full transparency, I could say that if I knew what a career path looked like, if I had the right mentoring networks from universities and companies, I think I would’ve jumped onto certain parts a lot sooner rather than taking a lot of diversions, because I’ve had a few different careers to be honest. I would’ve benefited personally from a good mentor early on. I do have mentors now and I can see the difference. And as a person who was skeptical about mentoring, I’m advocating it now, because I see the organizational benefits. And I’m hearing people like Adam Grant, I’m hearing loads of like, I mean, thought leaders in the space, actually talking about this. And it’s true. It’s valid. It’s needed, really.

Nathan Anibaba:

Completely. We only see further because we’re standing on the shoulders of giants. Good place to end. Ash, thank you so much for being on ClientSide.

Ash Mohd:

Thanks for having me, Nathan. It’s a pleasure.

Nathan Anibaba:

If you’d like to share any comments on this episode or any episode of ClientSide, then find us online @fox.agency. If you’d like to appear as a guest on the show, please email zoe@fox.agency. The people that make the show possible are Jennifer Brennan, our Booker/Researcher. David Claire is our Head of Content. Ben Fox is our Executive Producer. I’m Nathan Anibaba, you’ve been listening to ClientSide from Fox Agency.

Speaker 1:

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