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What is “Mentoring of the moment?” and what are the benefits? by Catriona Cookson

This article from Professor Brad Johnson in the Harvard Business Review is well worth a read.

His key message is this: “Mentors-of-the-moment help to promote a mentoring culture where all members of the organization — especially those in the middle to upper ranks — seek opportunities in daily interactions to develop or grow junior colleagues and peers.”

In this way mentoring switches from being a formal programme of individual responsibility to a culture which promotes informal mentorships across shorter and more regular exchanges. Mentors of the moment take advantage of daily opportunities to first notice and then engage junior colleagues. Some of it is very simple, basic behaviours – learning people’s names, showing an interest, some words of encouragement.

The cumulative effect can be very positive particularly for a generation which thrives on immediate and short interactions which promote further development and leads to a wider network of contacts. And the benefits to the business as well as the individual ? – well, there’s greater diversity and inclusion, better retention and stronger succession planning.

As with all initiatives …the success lies not in the idea itself ….but whether the culture of an organisation promotes (and rewards) the behaviours for ongoing success.


CEC blog 1

Supporting Emerging Talent: Mental Health in Young Workers…by Liz Watt

An article I read recently by Barbara Harvey, an MD at Accenture Research about supporting the mental health of young people entering the workplace, really resonated with me:

It seems of fundamental importance to me that businesses take the mental health of their new joiners and emerging talent seriously. The world of work is ever more challenging, and the expectations on Generation Z as they enter the workplace are high. These people are our leaders of the future and so ensuring we have a healthy, happy and robust pipeline of talent able to take on the professional and environmental challenges of a post-Brexit landscape is a bit of a no-brainer.

In the Coaching and mentoring work I do, I come across a number of recurring themes that this strata of the workforce talk about. Issues include:

  • Imposter syndrome
  • How to balance a burgeoning career with family life
  • Caring responsibilities / creating a manageable life balance
  • Financial pressures – student loan debt, house purchase affordability, lack of saving and investment
  • Anxiety around business imperatives such as business development, networking, dealing with confrontation
  • Career management, how to make a positive impact, developing your personal ‘brand’

Of course, many of these issues are not new and those of us who have been in the workplace for some years will have come across variations on these themes many times over. However, I think that there are added pressures on this generation’s shoulders, not least that they can expect to experience a much longer working life, non-linear career paths and quite possibly a number of changes of career direction throughout their working lives. Then there the is the relentless nature of social media which means you are constantly on-call. And let’s not underestimate the impact of an uncertain political and social landscape.

Harvey’s article suggests 3 key actions that can be taken to help tackle this issue. I would agree that all of these are very relevant.

To these, I would add:

  • Introducing 1-to-1 coaching programmes at a much earlier stage of career development. Historically, Coaching has been seen as the preserve of senior or board level executives, but I would argue that introducing coaching at a much earlier stage would provide young employees with a safe space to discuss and find solutions to issues that are concerning them. Harnessing technology to deliver on-line coaching programmes can make such initiatives more widely accessible and cost-effective.
  • Establishing and supporting networking groups, discussion groups, industry related forums and events – anything that will encourage people new to the workplace to establish networks with their peers and extend their connections in ‘real-life’.
  • Mentoring schemes within organisations, including upward-mentoring. These encourage 2-way knowledge sharing and break down barriers in a multi-generational workplace. I am always amazed at the lack of communication that can exist within businesses and sharing ideas and encouraging positive communication amongst all employees has got to be one of the easiest and most cost-effective ways of fostering open and healthy dialogue amongst colleagues.

The fact that so many people in the public eye are prepared to speak up about their own mental health challenges – from royalty to sports stars and celebrities – has got to be a good thing. However, it’s important that we whilst we appreciate their candour, we don’t forget to look closer to home and recognise that our colleagues and co-workers might be labouring under similar challenges. We can’t applaud those in the public eye if we don’t extend the same support and generosity to those we’re with every day.

So my challenge is this: What could be the one action you could take to help support a younger colleague who might be facing a mental health challenge?

If you would like to discuss any of these issues for yourself or your team, please contact me at :

Mental Health

Retaining Talent – Do you measure up? 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? According to a recent survey conducted by Glassdoor – , they found that employees increasingly value company culture over cash. Providing gimmicky perks is no longer enough – the survey demonstrates that that the three biggest drivers of employee satisfaction are a clear mission, high-quality senior leadership and career opportunities. These factors are set to drive talent retention in 2020.

Adding another layer of complexity to the talent retention agenda is balancing the requirements of a multi-generational workforce – Generation Z 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 career returners, employees taking parental leave and you have a truly diverse workplace population. This is great on so 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 employee 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 has 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 schemes through effective digital programmes is crucial.
  • A diversity and inclusion programme that supports all employees 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.
  • 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 :

Retaining Recruit

Executive Coaching at BLT….by Liz Watt

As BLT Executive Coaching begins its 4th year of operations, it seems like a good time to remind existing and prospective clients of BLT – whether in the Indirect Tax or the Management Consultancy space – what this service adds to BLT’s core recruitment business.

BLT has always believed in delivering ‘inch wide, mile deep’ recruitment expertise, working closely with clients and candidates to deliver a bespoke, tailored service.   Whilst fully subscribing to all the benefits that technology and social media bring to the recruitment process, our business is still people-centric and we firmly believe that developing close business relationships with our clients and candidates enables us to deliver a top class recruitment service that is relevant to 2020 and beyond.

The People agenda is a key business driver for all organizations large and small, and to win the war for talent, the best businesses are building an environment that values diversity and attracts the right people to grow their business. Hiring and retaining people who fit the company’s culture and share its purpose and vision will be crucial to success in this new decade.

And likewise, individuals expect the business they work for to support their personal and professional development and provide the tools they need to help them at all stages of their career journey.

BLT want to provide a range of relevant services that assist clients and individuals achieve their goals and this is where Coaching comes in. It is now recognized that Coaching can be a powerful tool at all stages of the career journey – it is no longer the preserve of Senior or Board level executives, so the addition of an Executive Coaching Division was an obvious step.

Examples of situations in which Coaching can have a real impact include:

  • Help rising talent reach their full potential at earlier stage
  • Target specific areas for career and personal development
  • Develop the talent and potential of those in leadership roles
  • Improve the performance and effectiveness of Managers and Senior Leaders
  • Facilitate change in attitude and behaviour to ensure people deliver on desired results
  • Build effective teams that ultimately contribute to bottom line improvements
  • Manage the transition arising from promotion or new employment (First 90 Day Coaching)
  • Provide a sounding board for senior management
  • Tackle deep rooted patterns of behaviour which may inhibit growth

BLT Coaching is a discrete service line, but it links in with BLT’s brand values and mission to enable individuals to achieve their career goals, and businesses to acquire and retain the best talent.

BLT Executive Coaching is led by me, Liz Watt. Before retraining as an Executive Coach I enjoyed a long career as a recruitment consultant with BLT. So I understand the demands of the businesses and individuals who work within professional service firms, corporates and consultancies. This informs my work as a Coach, and really makes a difference to what I can bring to my clients and the businesses that sponsor their coaching programmes. Given my background, I have a particular expertise in managing transitions at all stages of the career cycle, Career coaching and helping individuals negotiate their transition into retirement.

If you would like to find out more about BLT Executive Coaching and the coaching programmes i run, please contact Liz Watt :



Is Indirect Tax becoming a personality free zone? by Guy Barrand

As I’m well into my third decade of working in the wondrous world of Indirect Tax, I occasionally find myself contemplating nostalgically ‘the good old days’. And a good number of my clients also regularly comment about it being a different world from when they first embarked on their Indirect Tax careers (often suggesting wistfully that things are not what they used to be). Is that fair? Is it better or worse? Should we just stop hankering after the days of our youth, and accept the status quo? Read on….

One of the biggest reasons I got into Indirect Tax recruitment to start with, and indeed what’s kept me working in it for the last 20 odd years is that the industry has always been packed to the brim with ‘characters’ – where individuality was key to success. The people I particularly enjoyed working with (whether as clients or candidates) were ‘different’. The discipline was not the domain of stuffy accountants or consultants peddling empty corporate speak. The Indirect Tax specialist of yesteryear knew and loved their subject matter. They were able to explain, advise and provide solutions to those less knowledgeable in the technical intricacies of this seemingly dry subject matter. They were supremely personable, going about their business with intelligence, humour, and a focus on client service, whether that’s external (if they were in professional services) or internal (if working in-house). So far, so good – it’s just the same these days as it was back then.

So what’s missing? One word….


Quirkiness is what engendered that sense of Indirect Tax community – we all knew our chosen career was peculiar. Personalities matched the subject matter – Indirect Tax specialists were peculiar! Quirky! And great fun. By sharing and rejoicing in the peculiarity of the discipline we were part of, the Indirect Tax world came together with a real sense of community, in the knowledge of how different we were. We saw the numbers of those operating in Indirect Tax grow in direct correlation to the discipline becoming ever more complex and gaining a higher profile on the global stage – it was all down to the collective energy of the Indirect Tax peculiar community. Our community was different to those operating in other more humdrum fields – and the buyers of Indirect Tax services bought them because of the quirkiness of the Indirect Tax offering and those operating in it.

I’m suggesting that somehow that quirkiness has been diluted, and therefore that sense of community isn’t so strong these days as once it was. I believe it’s started to have an impact on retention levels – more people contemplate leaving the discipline than they ever did before. More Indirect Tax specialists struggle with passing technical exams than they ever did back in the day – maybe part of that is down to not ‘loving’ the discipline and the field they work in as much? Just a thought.

It’s not all bad news of course – far from it. We’ve all got slicker, more knowledgeable, more professional, more global in outlook. There’s been bigger fish to fry, and consequently greater financial and professional rewards. And greater and more varied career opportunity. Dare I mention too, that some of the more questionable behaviours that occasionally came hand in hand with quirkiness back in the day were gradually eradicated? By and large. My liver is thankful too (if not my heart) that not quite so much business is done down the pub these days.

But I do think that something has been lost for sure.


Going back more than twenty years ago, the vast majority of Indirect Tax specialists operating in the private sector in the UK were ex HM Customs & Excise (as was). They all had the same experiences in their youth, encountering the same professional challenges inherent in a career in the department. They shared these experiences and then chose to do something more profitable and commercial with the knowledge they had gained.

These days of course, a UK Indirect Tax specialist may have started out in HMRC, but more often they have started their Indirect Tax careers as a graduate entrant. Or a school leaver entrant. Or from a direct tax background. Or an accounting background. Or increasingly from a technology background in the current environment. BLT’s recently published Indirect Tax Market Report & Salary Survey 2020 (shameless plug here – email to get your free copy) shows 60% of the current UK Indirect Tax private sector population did not originally join from HMRC. That shared background which engendered the building blocks of a community right from day one is no longer there.

In my view, one of the strongest sense of an Indirect Tax community that remains these days is in the Netherlands – by and large most Dutch Indirect Tax advisors have studied tax at the same handful of universities, and that has helped the Dutch community retain that sense of ‘belonging’ that the Indirect Tax world elsewhere is starting to lose.

Of course there’s loads of positives that come with appointing from a greater variety of backgrounds, that’s not in question. A variety of experience brings with it a more diverse set of opinions and approaches, and therefore creates a more rounded Indirect Tax offering. Of course diversity of race, gender, sexuality, politics, religion and educational background all bring huge benefits to the operations of any business, both as employers and providers of services to clients. But has the Indirect Tax world forgotten that a good proportion of its success has been based on diversity of style of personality?

When BLT first helped the UK Big 4 (Big 6 back then) establish their own Indirect Tax graduate training programmes in the mid to late 90’s, the successful graduates that joined at the time (the bulk now Indirect Tax Partners or Heads of Indirect Tax in industry), were inspired by the quirkiness of the Indirect Tax community of the era and quickly became part of it. Very few left the discipline. They were fully briefed about the pro’s and cons of life in Indirect Tax, and where such a career could take them. Having bought into the philosophy of working in the field, they were then hired on the basis of their genuine interest in Indirect Tax as a career in itself as well as their intellectual and professional potential.

My sense is now that entry level hiring into Indirect Tax has become a blander proposition. Intellect – yes. Professional potential – yes. Hunger to achieve – yes. Adherence to a set of personal/professional competencies – yes. But quirkiness? Difference? Genuine interest in a career in Indirect Tax as opposed to other areas of professional services? I’d say by and large – no. I’d go so far as to say that an increasing number of Indirect Tax specialists that operate in our discipline are comparatively similar in style, personality and attitude – great people of course, both personally and professionally. They have a huge amount to offer our Indirect Tax world – it’s what the business world of today expects after all. But you don’t see as much ‘quirkiness’ around, and by ignoring this, we are running the risk of losing the differences that helped bring the Indirect Tax community together in the first place. That helped it be successful. And what has made working in Indirect Tax such a rewarding and enjoyable experience over the years.

Some suggestions for the Indirect Tax world:

  • Employers – look for the difference. Hire quirks. Take a risk. Don’t use a cookie cutter model to recruit entrants – you’ll end up with identical cookies.
  • Individuals – find your quirk and show it. Dare to be different. It’s your differences that will get you spotted and enable you to make the most of your potential.

What do you think? Are we losing that sense of Indirect Tax personality? And therefore community? I’d love to hear your thoughts.


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