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O2 HRD: Shift the talent conversation to potential

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Businesses need to move the focus of talent conversations from performance to potential, says O2's HRD

Pickering, who is listed on the 2015 HR Most Influential Practitioners ranking, told HR magazine that her organisation has deliberately brought in more young talent to help it fulfil its digital aims.

“In 2012 we realised that to be fit for the future we needed to treat and identify talent very differently,” she said. “We didn’t have the right skills and we didn’t have leaders who could manage in a frequently changing world.”

She gave the example of 5,000 customers a week using social media to communicate with O2: “Social media used to be something kids used. That’s a great example of how our world has shifted.”

In bringing in more young talent Pickering said O2 made the decision to “look at talent differently”, moving from performance to potential. “Looking at performance isn’t good enough,” she said. “It automatically puts women who have taken maternity leave at a disadvantage, for example. You need to look at potential.”

O2 introduced a model looking at three elements – judgement, drive and performance – which it has overlaid across all its talent development programmes. “By putting the lens of potential on we have a better view of how our people will cope in bigger and more complex roles,” explained Pickering.

“It’s about transparency; having a consistent language, framework and measurement,” she added. “It sounds simple but it was quite hard.”

Pickering said the most challenging aspect was helping people to understand the difference between being a high performer and being high potential. “You can be a high performer but it doesn’t mean you are high potential; you’re just good at what you do,” she explained. “Most people with potential have the ability to be a high performer.”

O2 now has a workforce with 40% of people aged under 30, which Pickering said has changed the organisation culturally and was “quite a learning curve”. “We [businesses] need to change for them [young people], not the other way around,” she said. “They are the future and we need to listen to them. They are the people we will be handing the business over to.”

She also said that “smart employers” should look for “the right attitude and train the other stuff” when looking for digital skills, given that technology is evolving so fast. “I don’t know what digital skills I’ll need in two years’ time,” she pointed out. “Getting people with the right attitude is more important.”