14. March 2022

‘Know Your Mountain Climbers From Your Explorers’: Personio’s Latest Think Thank

Think Tank - Let's Talk Talent

How do you create alternative career paths that don’t involve people management? Is there such a thing as ‘good attrition’? These were just some of the questions that came from HR leaders at our recent Think Tank series: Let’s Talk Talent.

It’s been well-documented that it is an extremely challenging time in both talent attraction and retention across the UK and Ireland. To help enable better organisations, we gathered HR leaders from both regions to discuss the biggest challenges and how to tackle them – here’s what we learned.

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What Common Challenges Came Up?

1. Making HR more human-focused

Successful HR strategy no longer hinges on the idea of executing plans from the top-down. As People Strategist Jon Ingham shared: “People at top are no longer the most important. There has been a shift down the hierarchy, a focus on the people actually doing the work for us.” Talent especially has moved from “something individualistic to the social fabric across our organisations.” This was echoed across the group. A few leaders had moved from large multinationals to smaller businesses in order to focus on what drew them to HR in the first place – helping people. One attendee shared:

In larger organisations the system becomes the end game – it’s all about numbers and not about people. There’s a huge opportunity to humanise the workforce and bring back values that matter to people.

Another agreed that their team wanted to be people-centric, not formulaic when it comes to talent: “You can teach someone skills but not how to be a human”.

2. Losing opportunities to dispersed systems

As these leaders tried to implement a more human-focused approach, their systems sometimes made it difficult to do so. One attendee shared: “None of our staff were engaging with our HR system, they put in holidays and that was it.” 

Most importantly, the lack of an applicant tracking system was making them lose out on talent. They shared that individuals were getting CVs that weren’t tracked. They described a lack of responses and that 99% would go into a black hole and they would never hear from them again. Another was missing any turnover or demographic data, which made understanding their younger talent pools more challenging.

3. Addressing widespread employee burnout

Previous, current and potential future stress can all act as pull or push factors for talent on the job market. A few attendees shared that employees are suffering a lot of burnout at the moment: “2020-2022 has been a tough couple of years. Emotionally people are drained and they don’t know where to turn.” 

Some attendees shared that candidates often ask about DEI initiatives and mental health, such as how many mental health days their company offered. Their company has chosen not to make a distinction between these and sick days as they want to reinforce that mental health is just as important as your physical health.

4. Challenging destructive impressions of HR

Our HR leaders connected on the frustration of sometimes being seen by leadership and other departments as a cost centre rather than the people who fuel the business. Some attendees shared that they have to deal with the perception that teams like sales are more important as they bring on new clients but HR are the people who help people embrace a company culture and stay in it.

This was especially important in relation to the increased role HR plays in finding the right tools for their employees. Some attendees shared that employees seemed astonished when their team introduced an HR system that was integrated with Slack: “There’s an idea that HR aren’t technically-minded just because their touchpoints with us may have been to send care packages or organise a social activity virtually.”

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Think Tank Insights & Exchanges

1. Realise that not all attrition is bad

A challenge for many companies when finding new talent can be mapping your cultures to what you actually look for in the people you hire. One attendee shared that they managed to keep churn down a lot by being quite fussy about hiring based on people’s attitudes, rather than the company they’ve come from.

They explained attrition can bring benefits: “We only want to be keeping the people we want to keep. It’s actually healthy for people to leave and go for other opportunities. We lost people who didn’t fit – that’s important.” Another agreed:

We don’t use the term ‘Great Resignation’ in front of senior leadership. Turnover isn’t our biggest issue – turnover of key people is. I make sure there’s a succession planfor all of our key talent pools.

2. Try to accommodate younger workers

Like every new generation, older generations can hold biases about them that aren’t always accurate. One attendee shared that younger generations generally care about internal mobility:

People think that Gen Z employees are really flighty. This is not a generational thing. This is a business thing. The nature of jobs has changed. 

Answering to this is extremely important when attracting talent. One attendee explained that they have just hit the tipping point where most of our new employees come from a completely different generation from those who are in charge: “They’re looking for purpose, they’re looking for meaning.” Their advice? “Live up to your values. Your culture and values have to be the same. We find great traction in terms of attracting employees.”

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What Key Takeaways Came About?

1. Approach talent as a business function

In relation to tackling misconceptions about the importance of HR, one attendee shared that HR are sometimes seen as an overhead rather than a revenue generator: “If you want to be at the table and influence strategy, we have to approach talent attraction with the same business rigour as any other function.”

Another explained how finding the right data was key: “We make sure that in the board reports we do, the board are seeing what they need. If they get behind us, they may offer more financial investment. We won’t need to fight for what we need.”

2. Offer different types of mobility

In relation to combating attrition, alternative career routes was key. One attendee categorises talent into two categories: 

  • Mountain climbers (who want to get to the top of the corporate ladder)


  • Explorers (who may just want to move departments)

Another attendee agreed that not everyone’s development is vertical: “Lateral and horizontal movement is just as important.” A different attendee shared that you need to build a landscape of talent and map where you are and where you want to be, realising that line management isn’t the standard and progression isn’t necessarily about managing people.

3. Break down your priorities by time period

As an HR team wanting to achieve so much, it can be easy to get overwhelmed. Jon Ingham advised: “Prioritise the most important things to do – you won’t have time for everything.”

Another attendee advised a granular approach: “We just had to break it down into: ‘What is today’s priority? What is the need now this week? And then, what can we deliver in the next three, six, nine months?’ For example, “If we fixed our HR platform as a step 1, we would be able to fix steps 2 and 3 – to get our performance management and applicant tracking systems in place.”

4. Give more freedom to employees

In order to enable a more people-focused organisation, one attendee shared that employees have to be empowered with technology: “This morning I paid a bill and booked flights, all from my phone. In an organisation we don’t trust people to do all the things they do outside of work. We need to think about how we empower people within the organisation.”

Giving this independence can even add to your employer value proposition: “The more employees can do themselves in a system to manage what they need is a measure of employer value proposition.”

Final Takeaway: Embrace What Change Brings

Although some HR leaders may experience ‘analysis paralysis’ with the need for a new approach, one attendee was adamant that these fundamental shifts in HR’s role are a good thing: “It’s about building an organisation with massive capabilities. The market doesn’t scare me, it excites me. We either look at this as a threat or an opportunity.”

For more fascinating HR discussions, why not register for our free upcoming webinar Retaining Top Talent: Using Performance to Drive Success? It kicks off on Thursday, 24. March at 1:00 GMT – save your seat here.

Hannah Popham

Hannah Popham

Hannah is a Senior Content Marketing Manager at Personio. She loves writing about the ever-changing ways that we work and how they intersect with our lives outside work.

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