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Indirect Tax – Facing up to The Talent Gap… by Guy Barrand

The market for Indirect Tax talent is candidate constrained as never before. Whether the Indirect Tax profession has grown to the stage whereby there’s simply not enough to talent to go round or whether nerves around the current political/national uncertainties are playing a part (a combination of both I suspect), there’s no doubt that ‘shortlists’ for roles are getting shorter.

The paucity of talent to fill the roles around has also had an effect on reactions when a valued employee resigns. This is often a disaster for a number of reasons – it’s tricky to find a replacement and even when you do find one, it takes a while to get that person up and running. Companies also often have to replace the incumbent with someone at a higher salary to secure the appointment (and that’s without taking the very reasonable BLT introduction fee into account too!). This article is to encourage Indirect Tax employers to be aware of the talent gap and to provide some handy pointers as to how to face up to it.

Retain right

It might seem a little odd for someone whose business is moving people from one job to another to be suggesting this, but BLT are nothing if not in it for the long run, so here goes. It seems obvious, but the best result for companies is not to find yourselves in the position where you lose a good Indirect Tax specialist that you then have to replace. By the time it gets to resignation time, it’s usually too late to persuade them to stay. So let’s go back to basics – why do people move jobs?

  • Fresh challenge. No matter how long the employee is with you, if they get bored, or feel that they’ve achieved as much as they can, you’re likely to lose them. Just because they were hired to do that particular job, doesn’t mean they want to do it for ever! Companies need to proactively think of new responsibilities, new adventures, new projects that these employees can do to help them continue to feel engaged – or run the risk of departure.  
  • The pay. People need to feel like they’re going upwards, simple as that. No pay increases; bonuses that are less than expected; not being paid market rate – all are of course bad news for retention. A freeze will usually mean you’re out in the cold yourself… fight your employee’s corner with your Reward departments like never before!
  • The environment. People need to enjoy coming to work. If the atmosphere is toxic, fix it. If people aren’t getting along, fix it. If workload is causing too many stress fractures, fix it. Or face the consequences…..
  • Promises not met. Don’t make them if you can’t keep them!

Ultimately, people decide to move on because of one thing:

  • The boss. Yes,you. It’s well documented that people don’t leave companies, they leave people. Whether you haven’t been able to meet your employee’s professional or financial aspirations, whether you’re a divide and conquer personality, whether you’re known for your moodswings or for the occasional rant, whether they think you’ve reneged on promises – ultimately it’s likely your fault that they’re going and there’s no getting round it! It’s crucial that companies get the personality profile of the person at the top absolutely right – and the ‘soft’ skills required to be an effective leader need to be to the fore like never before. The best leaders we’ve seen are hungry, commercial and creative, but also empathetic, humble, with ‘time’ to invest in inspiring and getting to know their staff. It’s a tricky tightrope to walk.

If none of the above apply, then you probably recruited the wrong person to start with. All the more reason to:

Recruit right

The resignation has happened, you missed the signs, you’ve failed to find enough convincing reasons to persuade them to stay (let’s face it, it’s too late when they’ve got to the stage that they’ve told you they want out as you’re automatically on the back foot). Best crack on with finding a replacement, but you need to get it right to avoid more painful times ahead! The key thing is to:

Articulate the sell. Why should someone join you? If you don’t know yourself, or struggle to express it, then you’ll find yourself losing the candidate talent to those who can. Some tips:

  • Company values. Be able to articulate them and show that these are put into practice by giving specific real time examples. There is a BUT though and it’s a big one. We live in an age where the vast majority of companies are so on top of this, that there’s no differentiators any more. When everyone’s messages are about developing talent quickly; providing early access to top work; seeking to employ a diverse cross-section of society, and where flexible working arrangements are the norm, the values start to lose their impact. So you need to find more specific differentiators, and that has to come down to….
  • Team values. What’s so good about the specific team the person will be joining? What are the personalities like, what’s it actually like to work there? Who will the person be liaising with, and will these people be included in the interview process? It’s not enough these days to tell the prospective applicant it’s a ‘nice’ team they’ll be joining. Why is it nice? And how does that manifest itself?
  • Job specification. Firstly write one. No-one wants to join a company where they don’t know what they’ll be doing. Worse than this (large companies beware) is producing one so generic, bland and awash with corporate platitudes that it screams: ‘we don’t care about this hire, you’ll just be one of a number, we’ve just copied and pasted this from one we made 5 years ago’. The best job specs feature a detailed list of responsibilities, typical projects that the employee might get involved in, a structure chart, as well as an attempt to express the company and team values and why someone would want to join. Don’t blather on about wanting good communication and team work skills as everyone thinks they have them even if they haven’t. And try not to be prescriptive about needing professional qualifications/certain types of educational background – the chances are that the best candidate may not have them, and quite frankly these are usually more of a ‘nice to have’ rather than an essential.
  • What’s in it for the candidate professionally? They’ll want to know about learning development prospects and where this role will take them. Think about career path for the successful candidate.
  • What’s in it for the candidate financially? Most companies get this wrong. Firstly you need to think about what the target audience will be earning currently, and be able to provide an uplift to attract. Secondly give a range (both lower and upper – that way you should attract both people who might be able to grow into the role, and those already there). Thirdly, you’ll need to be able to share the salary range you are thinking about to the external market. You’re unlikely to get many applicants if you can’t tell them what they’ll be earning as it’s the first thing that candidates ask about, even if financial drivers are not the main motivator for the application. And it’s not just base salary either, you’ll need to be able to talk in detail about bonuses (what it could be, what it has been and what’s realistic), pension, private healthcare etc. Don’t forget about holiday – its amazing how many prospective candidates say no to a job on the basis of it not matching their existing holiday entitlement.

Approach the market. This is where most of the recruitment pitfalls happen – get it wrong at your peril!

  • Engage with people who know the Indirect Tax market and have relationships with the people in it. With the best will in the world this is unlikely to be your internal recruitment department or some random headhunter. You wouldn’t go to a computer hardware store to buy an apple would you? If you don’t, you may find that the wrong people are spoken to (which then gets the wrong messages out into the market), or that time is wasted trying to find applicants from an initial low starting point. Result – stale apple.
  • Don’t rely on a LinkedIn advert. You’ll only likely to get those who are actively scouring the net for a new job – who are not necessarily going to be the best person for the job. It’s much more likely that the dream candidate is too busy to rifle through job boards, is probably perfectly okay with their current role, and only keeping half an eye on the market. It’s the more passive talent out there that you want access to.
  • Time kills all deals. The longer the job is out there, the more one gets closer to ‘stale apple syndrome’ where the market starts to feel there’s something wrong with the job! If you’ve wasted a month or so trying to fill roles by being reliant on responses to advertising and cold impersonal approaches to individuals by unknown quantities, then the less likely it is you’ll be successful at finding someone. Arrange interviews quickly and pass feedback on as soon as you can – chances are that the candidate you want to secure will have other options, and he/she is more likely to join you if they get to feel and know that you want them.
  • Sell sell sell. When you meet a prospective candidate, of course it’s super important to assess their suitability, but remember it’s a buyer’s market! In all probability you won’t have many candidates to choose from, and candidates will be reluctant to embark on interview processes that involve psychometric tests, written case studies, technical grillings – it’s only going to put them off applying in the first instance.
  • Be alive and expect to compromise. The perfect candidate is unlikely to exist…but you’re absolutely well within your rights to hope for ‘almost perfect’. At some point you’ll likely have to flex your parameters a little, within reason of course – but if you hang on dreaming the impossible dream, you’ll most likely end up back in stale apple territory I’m afraid.
  • But don’t compromise too much, no matter how desperate you are! If you’ve got doubts, don’t ignore them – employing someone that you have insurmountable concerns about will usually lead to rotten apples. Compost, if you will.
  • Don’t penny pinch. If you want someone, be prepared to make your best appropriate offer right from the start. No-one likes a bargaining exercise and if you come in low initially, then the result is that the candidate feels undervalued. A rather bruised apple.
  • Don’t overpay. No matter what some (but not all, I hasten to add) millennials may tell you, it’s unlikely that their appointment merits giving them a £20k payrise, no matter how amazing they feel they are! So if you’re tempted to give in – don’t! You don’t need a gold-plated apple.

We hope that these tips will go some way to help Indirect Tax employers steer their way through the choppy waters of retention and recruitment in a tight market. For more information about how to face (and fill) the Indirect Tax talent gap – do get in touch with Guy Barrand or Emma Wade at BLT on + 44 (0) 207 405 3404 or email


Bad Apple


The Future Of Indirect Tax – A survey!

How prepared is the UK Indirect Tax world for the disruptors ahead? Take part in the super-quick BLT survey, and we’ll report back with the results in our next newsletter. As an incentive to take part, the name of everyone who enters will go into a prize draw with a chance of winning £100 of Amazon vouchers!



Can you sum up your employer’s dress code in two words? by Catriona Cookson

Mary Barra who is now the CEO of General Motors, defined the dress code of GM in two words when she became Vice President of Human Resources in 2009, months after the company filed for bankruptcy.

“Dress appropriately”

You might have thought that a company which had just filed for bankruptcy would have bigger fish to fry than redefining a dress code. However, Mary Barra’s philosophy was simple “You really need to make sure your managers are empowered – because if they cannot handle “dress appropriately”, what other decisions can they handle?”

And so the 10 page (yes 10 pages!) dress code policy became two words ….and two very sensible words at that! Clearly if you work on the factory floor at GM your dress code is different to a colleague in marketing. As the world of work changes, boundaries become blurred, life becomes more flexible, then so our wardrobes should too, often depending on what’s in the diary for that day. We can all keep a jacket on a hanger and a different pair of shoes under our desk for when the need arises, but as with many things in life, trusting people to make the right choices is more effective than imposing “the rules”!


Retention of Talent – How do your fare? by Liz Watt

One of the key issues facing businesses today is attracting the right talent, especially in niche markets, and vast amounts of time and money are spent on creating a compelling brand to lure the brightest and the best to say ‘yes’.

However, what happens then? Do your company’s brand values, so carefully constructed in attracting talent, follow through once the honeymoon period is over? Research conducted by Universum to determine what the best global employers are doing to convince workers to join, and crucially to stay with them, found that most companies admit to focussing on the hiring and on-boarding experience, rather than ongoing people management and the employee life-cycle.

At a time when employers face the dual pressures of both needing to retain deep sector skills embodied in their experienced employees, whilst at the other end of the spectrum keeping the attention of their Millennial hires, devising a talent retention strategy should clearly be high on the agenda.

But is it?

So what elements help retain talent? Contrary to popular belief, it isn’t ‘all about the money’. Of course, remuneration is a key element of any talent attraction programme – people want to feel that they are being offered a competitive remuneration package that is fair and properly reflects the work they do.

And of course, people want to feel challenged and excited by their work and see that there is a career path ahead of them. In my experience, they also want to feel that they are working in an environment where they have a ‘voice’, that their opinions are listened to and acted upon, and that they are treated fairly and equally.

One of the biggest challenges in employee retention though is balancing the requirements of a multi-generational workforce – Millennials at one end, and at the other end, those who may well be working well into their 60’s and beyond. Add into the mix ambitious Generation X folk, career returners and employees taking parental leave and you have a truly diverse working population. This is great on many levels, as it brings a rich blend of experience to the workplace, but the challenge for the employer is to understand the requirements of each of these groups and offer them the incentives and support that will retain their talent, and all the while creating a harmonious workplace environment that fairly supports all. No mean feat!

As 24/7 working lifestyles have become the norm, employees are increasingly looking for an employer who will recognise the challenges this brings and support them in managing the balance of their work and personal lives. This reaches across generations. Examples of strategies demonstrating a commitment to retention include:

  • The quid pro quo for being available 24/7 is that the individual has access to first rate technologies and systems to ensure easy access to work as and when needed. The ability to work flexibly without raising eyebrows about commitment, treating employees as adults with the capacity to manage their work and domestic commitments in a responsible fashion.
  • An effective and far reaching wellness programme that offers real support – so this doesn’t just mean a fruit bowl on the desk and the occasional talk about mental health. It means a properly thought through programme that has C-suite backing and demonstrable options to support physical, mental and financial wellbeing at all life stages. Forward thinking employers are offering a pot from which the employee can select the options that are best suited to their particular circumstances, and that support their personal health and wellness goals. Making it easy to access this through effective digital programmes is crucial.
  • A diversity and inclusion programme that supports everybody within the organisation, and crucially, that the actions of the business are in line with the public statements that the business puts out on its website and social media platforms. Pay lip service to this issue at your peril!
  • The opportunity for continued learning and development. This doesn’t necessarily mean technical or job-related training. It could be a programme that supports personal development in an area of interest to the individual, development of language skills, Executive Coaching, soft skills training – the list is endless. The key point is that the opportunity for life-long learning is proven to have long term physical and mental health benefits, and to increase loyalty.
  • Tailored support at key ‘points of change’ – for example, preparation for promotions and support once promotion is achieved, post maternity / paternity leave, return from long term health absence, pre-retirement planning.

Employee retention is a constantly evolving issue and one that the best employers, whatever their size, are playing close attention to.

We are operating in a resource constrained environment that is set to get tougher. The blurring of lines between work and personal life means that the workplace experience has to be different, and a multigenerational workforce means that a ‘one size fits all’ strategy is no longer enough. So whatever your business size and budget, it is vital that you think creatively about how you retain the talent you have fought so hard to attract.

If you would like to review your retention strategies in more detail, please contact me for a confidential discussion :


Life Balance – by Liz Watt

The term ‘work-life balance’ has become one of those slightly cringey management speak phrases (‘think out of the box’ ‘singing from the same hymn sheet’) that we have a bit of a love/hate relationship with. We hear it so often that it can seem trite and meaningless.

However, setting aside its somewhat hackneyed use for one moment, it is actually an important concept to think about, especially in our increasingly 24/7 work life. Maybe we just need to re-frame the concept a little.

From my own experience, I have long had to accept that I cannot package my ‘work’ and ‘home’ life into neat bundles and turn off the switch as I move from one to the other. As in many things, I recognise I have no ‘off’ button! And so inevitably one seeps into the other, and I will frequently be working at night or at the weekend, and thinking about ideas or issues at all times of the day and night. But I have also reached the stage where I (try not) to feel guilty about taking time out from the working day to do something domestic, or working from home on occasion. I actually wrote this while taking an extended holiday in Spain, where I combined time off with some specific work projects.

And clearly I am not alone. I receive many e-mails from business associates at weird and wonderful hours and have conversations with colleagues and friends who are open about the struggle to balance the many demands on their time and attention.

In my coaching practice, I am often party to the very real difficulties that trying to orchestrate a balance can create and the genuine heartache that can ensue when people feel they are getting it ‘wrong’ or trying to do too much and succeeding at nothing. Putting pressure on ourselves to be perfect in this regard is a real issue.

And it is apparent that well intentioned agile working strategies are frequently ineffective or not taken up by employees. The way in which businesses successfully implement agile working or working from home policies can vary wildly, and there can still be a reluctance for men and women to take advantage of them, especially if, for example, they are on the cusp of promotion. There is a sense that they must be visible at all times and show no vulnerability. People are often reluctant to ask for flexible working in case this is perceived as being less that 100% committed to the business and their career.

Maybe we need to pause, stop wrestling with creating a work/life balance and instead, invest this energy in creating a more realistic approach to life in general that enables us to fit together all the pieces of our own life jigsaw in a way that works for us a individuals, rather than forcing the pieces to fit in such a way that is inauthentic and unworkable.

To achieve this of course is easier said than done! It means creating a business culture where corporate and personal strategies are aligned, where there is clarity between the two, and where both sides feel they can achieve their objectives by working together. A culture of co-operation and communication is essential in this regard. And it means accepting that not everyone one wants to reach the highest levels of an organisation, but are still valued for doing a great job. So it means not making assumptions about what people want from their work and career, but actually talking to them, and working out a strategy that works for both parties.

Utopia? Maybe! But the best things are always achieved by starting with a high ideal and then working out  a practical pathway to get there. And as ever, the best place to start is by communicating. Open dialogue, without fear of judgement or recrimination – wouldn’t that be a great place to start?

If you would like some input into how you might achieve a better life balance, or you would like to implement strategies for your team or business and need a hand getting started, please contact me for an initial consultation :


Life Balance

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