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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

Developing Your Personal Brand – by Liz Watt

When you think of a brand you will probably automatically think of the big corporate brands out there – Apple, Amazon, Uber, Netflix …. Companies and products that are part of the fabric of our lives, who each have a strong and clear image and identity, and who invoke an instant recognition and response in us (good or bad). The images these companies project do not happen by accident – there will be an army of specialists behind the scenes carefully constructing their corporate brand.

However, it is probably less likely that you will think of yourself in the same way – as a product that projects an image at every touchpoint in your life. And yet you are in effect your own personal brand and the way you communicate, project yourself both in person, in your social media presence and ‘In Real Life’ will say something about you, will contribute to the personal brand you project to the world.

I’m sure most people will be aware of the statistic that says you only have 30 seconds or less to impress someone when you first meet them. And it is even less on line. So spending some time thinking about the image you project – your brand – will be time well spent.

Understand your personal values 

To come across as authentic and for others to believe in you, it’s important that you understand your values, what makes you tick, and what is important to you. It is worth taking some time to understand these values, as this will then inform the work you take on, the businesses and individuals you want to work with and help you define the goals and ambitions that resonate with you.

Visual impact.

Ok so it might seem superficial, but how you look and the image you present will influence how people view you. Consider the world you inhabit or that you aspire to work within and take your cues as to the dress, behaviour and image that will fit in. I would stress though that this doesn’t mean becoming a clone, or making yourself uncomfortable. It is equally important to develop your own style, one that reflects your personality. Some people find this hard and there are many people out there who can help without intimidating you. One of my favourites is Sally Smy – Queen Bee Styling

Communication skills

Like it or not, every single way in which you communicate with the world will have an impact on your brand. Your social media footprint is as important as the impression you make in a meeting. Tone of voice, verbal and written, the visual images you use, the way you hold yourself in a meeting, the language you use – all of these elements are parts of the jigsaw that make up your brand. Again, there is help out there if you want to hone your communication skills and I would highly recommend Jayne Constantinis who is an expert at helping individuals finesse their communication skills.

Your social media profile has a massive impact on your personal brand. So if, for example, you are in the habit of getting into spats with others on Twitter, but you wouldn’t dream of being confrontational in a face to face meeting, you might want to think about the potentially confusing message you are projecting and how you might align the two. There are individuals out there whose on line comments continually court controversy (Donald Trump, Piers Morgan, Lily Allen spring to mind) – would you want to be identified in this way? Similarly, pictures of you partying in Ibiza, or sunning yourself on holiday may not align with your professional image, so audit your photos! The content you put out on all social media – Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter – will inform your brand so make sure it is consistent and says what you want it to say.

Outward facing not naval gazing

Sharing your skills and experience is a great way to let the world know what you are all about, it showcases your expertise and marks you out as a ‘go to’ person in your sector.

Thought leadership, mentoring , developing a social media presence, writing articles for industry related publications, speaking at events – will all raise awareness of you and your expertise. And in all of these endeavours, make sure it’s your voice that rings out, that you come across as knowledgeable, authentic, and with something new and interesting to say. Try not to be generic or regurgitate others opinions.

Why does your personal brand matter? In an increasingly competitive business environment, it really helps to distinguish you and what you stand for, personally and professionally, if your brand is strong and consistent. Proactively managing your personal brand gives you control of how you are perceived, and informs the communities in which you operate what you stand for and what to expect from you. If this opens doors for you and raises your profile then surely personal branding is worth some serious consideration.

If you would like help in determining or refining your personal brand, please contact me for a confidential discussion :

Personal Brand

Imperfection the key to Perfection – by Tariq Siraj

Imperfection the key to Perfection

I read all the time about the gap between the skills that businesses need and the availability of those skills coming through from the outside world. More importantly, as a headhunter, I also see it playing out day after day.

This morning on my train I read a really interesting opinion piece on this by Nick Russell – a Director at engineering firm Thomasons:

We constantly discuss with our clients about the need to be open minded as to where their required skillset might come from, and I firmly believe in the ability (and willingness) to search beyond the bullet points on a job description as being a core skill for any good recruiter.

We know full well that companies rarely (or ever?) hire people who perfectly fit a job description – there is a more intangible element to people than what is on a piece of paper. While the merits of the old-fashioned CV is a conversation for another day, this article addresses the broader picture very nicely;

There are too many pre-existing and outdated ideas about the background you must have to enter certain industries or degree courses. Engineering degrees ‘need’ Maths and Physics A-levels, International Development hiring ‘needs’ Politics or Economics degrees, Banks ‘need’ Economics or Business degrees…you get the idea.

As an example, by looking at Maths and Physics students almost exclusively for Engineering courses, Universities are considering a talent pool around 95% smaller than they could be and certainly missing out on some great future engineers.

It’s far better than it used to be, but these are deep-rooted mental and cultural barriers which take a long time to overcome.

In the article he asks: “Where does the blame for this lie? Within the education system, with businesses, or with the students themselves? The answer is, sadly, all of the above”

“Perceptions need to change” and perhaps the collaboration between the commercial world and the education system needs to run deeper and work far better.

As our society becomes ever more automated and digitised, society needs to reskill, and businesses need to hire and develop people outside the boundaries they’ve set themselves. Rather than narrow, it’s crucial that the scope needs to expand.

Women In Indirect Tax Networking Group – 1st Anniversary! by Liz Watt

This week we’re celebrating the first anniversary of the Women in Indirect Tax networking group. Celebrating success isn’t something that sits comfortably with many of us, but this does feel like something positive to share, given that nothing similar existed before and the past year has seen the network grow in numbers, energy and momentum.

I started the WIT networking group because, as a long-standing recruiter in the Indirect Tax space, I could see that there were many women who felt isolated as they climbed the career ladder; as they became more senior, so their peer group diminished. There was a sense that that the sector was losing talented women because many felt that they had no forum to discuss the issues and challenges they were facing and did not have wider network to tap into.

As I had shifted my focus to running an Executive Coaching business for BLT, I was in a position to be able to establish this networking group. From 2 small focus groups, a year on we have progressed to having two thriving groups, a waiting list of people wanting to join and lots of plans and ideas as to how the network might evolve.

Members are drawn form the accountancy profession – big 4, mid-tier and smaller firms, from industry and commerce and the legal profession. The members of the current groups are mainly at senior manager level and above, but we have also involved some at a more junior level too and this has worked well, so there are plans to widen the networks demographic.

For those of you not familiar with the WIT network, what’s the format? We meet for an afternoon once a quarter and at each session we have a guest speaker who delivers a workshop or seminar, we have round table discussion where attendees can raise issues that are important to them and tap into the combined experiences of the group, and of course there’s plenty of opportunity to network. The content is most definitely not technical! Our excellent speakers have covered a diverse range of topics, from developing communication skills, resilience, personal presentation, dealing with ‘perfectionism’ and styling your working wardrobe. Coming up we will be exploring how to navigate organizational politics, enhancing emotional intelligence and developing confidence.

 The sessions are very interactive and the aim is to offer a learning and development opportunity and to have fun doing it!

I also think the sessions provide our members with the opportunity to take some time out for themselves, to act as a ‘pause’ in their busy working lives and provide some space for personal development and reflection.

Looking to the future, a key initiative is to establish a group for more junior indirect tax specialists, as I believe the issues they face are different and deserve dedicated focus.  This will also be a chance for them to look beyond their own firm or business and start making those vital connections within the wider indirect tax population. Plans are afoot to establish a regional group too.  And also a mentoring scheme that will draw together women at all stages of their indirect tax career.

It’s an exciting time! If you would like to find out more about the Women’s Indirect Tax Networking group, either for yourself or one of your team members, please contact me: e mail : or phone : 020 7405 3404

And if you would like help in establishing a networking group for your own niche sector, I would love to speak to you.

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