The 2nd Sherrington Associates Autumn Reception

Posted on 5th October 2018 | Latest News

On the evening of Thursday 4th October, Sherrington Associates hosted their second annual Autumn Reception. Welcoming over 100 senior leaders and HR professionals to the Brasserie of Chester's prestigious Abode Hotel, guests enjoyed an insightful of evening of discussion from an impressive collection of leadership speakers. 

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The theme for the evening was 'The Executive Talent Landscape' and the first speaker was Katrina Michel, CEO of Marketing Cheshire the destination-marketing body for Cheshire. Katrina gave an insightful portrayal of the strengths and weaknesses of the region in relation to it's potential as a hotbed for top-flight executive talent. Emphasising the importance of the local talent-pool for investors when considering where to locate their organisations, Katrina described how over 40% of Cheshire's working population consists of graduates and how over 50% are working in occupations deemed to be 'highly-skilled'. Add this to the productivity rates in the area being at around 21% above the UK average, Katrina's talk made the case for Cheshire being a very desirable location for investors. She went on to describe how Cheshire represents an excellent base for the senior executive talent pool based on it's rich sectoral strengths in fin-tech, advanced manufacturing, logistics, energy, science, lifestyle and agritech, as well as an unparalleled quality of life. However it wasn't all rosy as she highlighted key concerns with regional transport being the area's primary weakness with slow and ancient trains, crowded motorways, polycentricity and a lack of suitable housing stock. 

Finishing with three suggestions for how the Cheshire and surrounding North West and North Wales regions can give themselves the best chance for attracting and retaining top-level talent in the future, she described the importance of fostering an educational environment that encourages creativity within youngsters if we are to meet the demands of an increasingly tech-orientated and creative workforce in the future. She highlighted the importance of capitalising on the region's already prosperous STEM sectors referencing the advent of the 'New Golden Triangle' between Manchester, Liverpool and Cheshire. Finally she raised the importance of developing a strategy for 'Under 35's' in order to support the growth of emerging sectors and shifting hiring requirements in the future.

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Following on from Katrina's regional SWOT was a fascinating talk from Ian O'Doherty, CEO of £400m fin-tech business Park Group Plc and former CEO and Chairman of MBNA, one of Chester's largest white-collar employers with over 2,500 staff during Ian's latter years in the business. Ian gave guests an intriguing insight into the challenges and highlights of recruiting executive-level talent during his 25 year career at MBNA and his more recent experience at Park Group, beginning by explaining how culture is key...

"The biggest impact you can have on attracting talent is by creating a high-performing, great place to work.  This doesn’t just happen, you have to work on it.  It takes ongoing effort and investment.  But ultimately, your employees are your greatest ambassadors and people will not want to join an unhappy workplace. If you have or are building a high-performing, great place to work use that and tell the story.  If the candidate isn’t engaged by that, then he/she isn’t right for your organisation anyway. Tell the candidate about your grand designs; tell the candidate about the behaviours you expect and the ones you won’t tolerate – don’t be worried about scaring them away.  You may lose someone who looks like the ‘perfect candidate’ but you will also avoid a significant challenge in the future."

Ian highlighted how when developing executive hiring strategies leaders need to consider whether to buy, build or rent - in other words whether to recruit full-time senior executives in order to acquire essentials skills to give the business a competitive advantage, build the skills internally by investing in the existing workforce organically, or to plug skills-gaps for short-term needs by utilising highly-experienced interim managers and freelance directors.

Ian concluded his speech by emphasising the importance of robust succession-planning linked to talent-analytics and being open-minded in terms of 'what' and 'who' we hire in senior positions and not always prioritising the technical skills of the role above more valuable long-term assets such as the right cultural-fit and mindset.

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Finally the audience listened as Sherrington Associates Managing Director Rob McKay finished with a holistic overview of market conditions as seen through the lens of the executive search profession. Focusing firstly on the increasing levels of market uncertainty and their implications for employers looking to hire the best executive talent, Rob described the parallels between the current picture and some of the trends we saw as executive recruiters during the aftermath of the financial crash of 2008. With more and more market uncertainty leading to an increasing level of risk-adversity amongst many of the highest-performing senior executives and directors making them more 'passive' in the job-market and subsequently harder for employers to find and indeed engage their interest in new opportunities, Rob described how the executive search profession was being called upon more and more to provide employers with more 'proactive' means of recruiting A-players in the market. He went on the describe how executive-search was having to provide far more meaningful answers to their client's senior talent puzzles such as supporting clients to define innovative employer value-propositions (EVPs) to differentiate themselves from the competition and create a far more compelling case with which to engage the interest of 'high-performing' yet 'passive' A-players in the market.

Secondly, Rob highlighted the impact of unprecedentedly low levels of unemployment in the market right now (less than 4% - the lowest since 1975), leading to a particularly 'candidate-led' market, meaning far more choice for candidates which translates into far more competition for top-flight executive-talent. The answer? Rob explained some of the interventions Sherrington Associates was providing for it's clients such as mapping, talent-pooling and pipelining projects in order to put their client's on the front-foot when having to react to strategic hires and/or surprise vacancies throughout the year and allowing for speedier yet more informed hires made from a position of knowledge and insight.

Finally Rob described the impact of the rise in flexible working citing the ever-increasing number of freelance directors, interim managers and the appeal of the portfolio career, making it more challenging for employers to gauge traits such as longevity, loyalty and staying-power when scrutinising CVs deemed to be 'too transient' or 'too independent'. Rob explained how the opportunity to acquire rich talent with experience of delivering intensive short-term assignments across diverse environments shouldn't be neglected when considering CVs of more 'project-focused' directors alongside the perceived 'safer' more linear CVs. Encouraging employers to become more 'progressive', more 'proactive' and more 'pro-partnering' in order to answer some of the challenging conditions that exist in the current market, Rob described how robust talent-planning, more inclusive hiring strategies, talent-pooling and partnering with a search business whose values align with those of the employer, were just some of the things employers can do to give themselves the edge when it comes to hiring the best possible senior team to grow the business through the uncertain landscape of 2019 and beyond.

A poll of guests who represented a cross section of industry sectors including manufacturing and engineering, fin-tech and financial services, third-sector, housing, professional services, maritime, and logistics, defence and security, asked the question "Do you think hiring executive talent will become easier, harder or no-change over the next twelve months?". The result was that 14% believed recruiting senior talent would become easier, another 14% felt there would be no change and the vast majority of guests at 72% believed that recruiting executives would become more difficult over the next year.

The event raised £550 for local charity 'Chester Women's Aid' (Registered Charity #504854) to support female victims of domestic abuse with grants to help with rehousing and emotional support.

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Thank you to all who joined us for this year's reception. We look forward to welcoming you to our third Autumn Reception in 2019. For more information on future leadership events, please follow our social media channels...

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