Shaun Mccran

My digital playground


Examining Leadership: Retaining your talent

I've noticed more and more than leaders spend a lot of time talking about talent, but appear to make the same mistakes over and over again in growing and managing it? Over the last year I've moved through the steps of an internal, formal leadership training process, all with the end goal of examining what the wider perception of what leadership is, what it means, and leaders are displaying those leadership qualities that set them apart. Its also a good way to demonstrate to parties that need that sort of thing confirmed, that you know what you're doing.

With all the emphasis on building and displaying leadership development, I've noticed that there seems to be a huge struggle with being able to retain the top talent. Having an existing leadership team in place that can identify the potential for others to grow is great, but they have to know what to do with those people once they get there. If there's an internal career superhighway for ambitious employees to pick up new skills and demonstrate themselves, there has to be an agreed, recognized end of the road, otherwise that career progression journey will take them straight out of the door into the market.

I've learnt that when you want to examining the talent growing process at any organization look at the culture, not the rhetoric – look at the results, not the commentary about potential. A disjoin in perception vs reality was accurately summarized from a recent industry survey, when employees were interviewed, here's what they said*:

  1. 1. More than 40% don't respect the person they report to.
  2. 2. More than 50% say they have different values than their employer.
  3. 3. More than 60% don't feel their career goals are aligned with the plans their employers have for them.
  4. 4. More than 70% don't feel appreciated or valued by their employer.

So, for all those leaders who have 'everything under control', you better start re-evaluating. The old saying that goes; "Employees don't quit working for companies, they quit working for their managers." Regardless of tenure, position, title, etc., employees who voluntarily leave, often do so out of some type of perceived disconnect with leadership.

In my experience I've found that employees who are challenged, engaged, valued, and rewarded (emotionally, intellectually & financially) rarely leave, and more importantly, they perform at very high levels. However if you miss one, or some of these critical areas, it's only a matter of time until they head for the open market.

Below are some key reasons that I've seen talent leave a company. As a leader, keep an eye out for these things and make sure you aren't doing them!

  • 1. You Failed To Unleash Their Passions: Smart leaders align employee passions with corporate pursuits. Human nature makes it very difficult to walk away from areas of passion. If you fail understand this and you'll unknowingly be encouraging employees to seek their passions elsewhere.

  • 2. You Failed To Challenge Their Intellect: Smart people don't like to live in a dimly lit world of boredom. If you don't challenge people's minds, they'll leave you for someone / somewhere that will.

  • 3. You Failed To Engage Their Creativity: Great talent is wired to improve, enhance, and add value. They are built to change and innovate. They need to contribute by putting their fingerprints on design. Smart leaders don't place people in boxes – they free them from boxes. What's the use in having a racehorse if you don't let them run?

  • 4. You Failed To Develop Their Skills: Leadership isn't a destination – it's a continuum. No matter how smart or talented a person is, there's always room for growth, development, and continued maturation. If you place restrictions on a person's ability to grow, they'll leave you for someone who won't.

  • 5. You Failed To Give Them A Voice: Talented people have good thoughts, ideas, insights, and observations. If you don't listen to them, I can guarantee you someone else will.

  • 6. You Failed To Care: Sure, people come to work for a paycheck, but that's not the only reason. In fact many studies show it's not even the most important reason. If you fail to care about people at a human level, at an emotional level, they'll eventually leave you regardless of how much you pay them.

  • 7. You Failed to Lead: Businesses don't fail, products don't fail, projects don't fail, and teams don't fail – leaders fail. The best testament to the value of leadership is what happens in its absence – very little. If you fail to lead, your talent will seek leadership elsewhere.

  • 8. You Failed To Recognize Their Contributions: The best leaders don't take credit – they give it. Failing to recognize the contributions of others is not only arrogant and disingenuous, but it's as also just as good as asking them to leave.

  • 9. You Failed To Increase Their Responsibility: You cannot confine talent – try to do so and you'll either devolve into mediocrity, or force your talent seek more fertile ground. People will gladly accept a huge workload as long as an increase in responsibility comes along with the performance and execution of said workload.

  • 10. You Failed To Keep Your Commitments: Promises made are worthless, but promises kept are invaluable. If you break trust with those you lead you will pay a very steep price. Leaders not accountable to their people will eventually be held accountable by their people.

To summarise, as a leader, you need to spend less time trying to retain people, and more time trying to understand them, care for them, invest in them, and lead them well, then retention will take care of itself.

*Statistics rounded out to show trending rather than specific figures.


How good is your recruitment and joining process?

I'm involved with recruiting new colleagues, typically architects of different flavours, into the architecture practice that I'm part of, this process, like most other company's recruitment and joining processes is a multi stage, multi format process involving many different people and many different touch points with candidates. It has the potential to become complicated and unwieldy, extending itself out over undesired periods of time.

Working as an architect you tend to spend a fair bit of time looking at business processes, mostly outward facing processes, or processes that drive the overall business objectives, but every now and then we turn our eye to our own internal processes. This article examines how having a poor recruitment and joining process can have an adverse affect on both the new team member, and the existing team that are involved in the process.

The recruitment and joining experience, more important that you think

Having a new person joining your practice is a key impression shaping experience for them, it will form their initial view of people involved, and the overall team, and the maturity of the team. Think of this as the first handshake of a meeting, you remember that don't you? You know how when you first meet someone, you shake their hand, and that action is forever associated with them. 'John' forever has a handshake like a wet fish, limp and uninterested, whereas 'Susan' has a firm, but not too firm, authorative, confirming handshake. Everyone's is different, but they all leave a lasting impression about that person. Your recruitment and joining process is no different, just significantly more complex.

The danger here is that the people performing this process, whether that is existing team management or Human resources may see the activity as just that, a series of activities, the physical actions of the process. Often this is not the existing managers core responsibility, they have a 'normal' job to do, and this sort of thing isn't typically as important as that job. Its highly unlikely that any of them have objectives around how many candidates they recruit, or even more significantly retain, so its treated with less priority than it should otherwise have.

Typical activities might be:

  1. 1. Review CV's
  2. 2. Conduct telephone interview
  3. 3. Conduct face to face interviews
  4. 4. Make recommendations to cost centre management about candidate suitability
  5. 5. Communicate offer
  6. 6. Order a phone and laptop
  7. 7. Request the right access privileges (AD accounts etc.)
  8. 8. Order a security pass
  9. 9. Send out a 'first day instructions' email

Now, there are obviously physical tasks to perform here, but most of these can, and often do have an outward facing impact on the candidate. That's the factor that is often overlooked. When times are busy, and everyone has project work, or partner relationships to manage, investing time and energy into ensuring a smooth recruitment and joining process can often be the first thing to suffer.

It's a maturity barometer

Aside from creating that initial impression with new employees it is also a good mark of how mature a team is, and potentially an organisation. I like to think of it this way, if a company has mature, well thought out recruitment and joining processes, there is a strong chance that the rest of their internal and external processes are also well thought out. The opposite is also true in my experience. If they cannot recognise the importance of these processes, including the impact they have on morale and the future engagement of employees, then there is a strong chance you may find they do not have the rest of their house in order.


Recruiters, treat your role advertisements as if they were first dates

My most recent interactions with recruiters, both from agencies and in-company, have left me slightly bemused by how they perceive the balance of the employee - recruiter relationship. I've had several experiences where this newly burgeoning relationship has felt very one sided from the very first contact and has been difficult to progress very far due to significant reluctance on the recruiters part to share any information at all.

Recognizing that their objective is to locate a candidate of sufficient quality to get into the face to face interview stage I can normally give them a little leeway in their single mindedness, but there seems to be a growing trend of only providing information pertinent to the employer, not the candidate.

So with the issue above in mind I've put this article together to explain the key elements that I think recruiters MUST include in their role advertisements to ensure that both candidates and recruiters have access to the information they need to make a reasoned, informed decision on the role. I've equated this to a dating analogy, as whilst thinking this through I found that I could draw some simple parallels between the two scenarios.

Think of the 'first date' scenario. Two different individuals meeting for the first time, each giving away small items of detail about themselves, revealing information that might make them appear more attractive to the other, but not quite revealing the entire picture. Each person is judging exactly what the best pieces of information are to reveal, what information they think will portray them in the best light, what will create additional interest, causing the other person to want to dig deeper, to create a more meaningful engagement. Each person has specific expectations from the other, there are typical subject that are normally covered and it all normally happens within certain civilized constraints, i.e. everyone wants certain snippets of common information, but is also aware of staying away from controversial topics. This is all jockeying for position to assess compatibility.

Now lets apply that thinking to the initial conversation between a recruiter and a candidate. Recruiters are trying to ensure compatibility between their role and the candidate, yet often they only come to the table armed with the specifics of the activities of the role and little else. Its fine for them to have demands of candidates, but in my view they also need to cover the following things to ensure that they are giving confidence and assurance to candidates that they actually care about compatibility with them.

  1. 1. Business model and moral compass: What the company actually does, how it makes its money, i.e. its business model and how it sees its self in society, i.e. its moral compass. How do you judge whether it is agreeable to your own, if this is omitted from the description?

  2. 2. Company sector and product set: What types of company are they? Financial? telecoms? Marketing? What do they sell or manufacture? It's not uncommon now to find advertisements that don't actually list what type of company they are, or whether the role is specific to a certain product set.

  3. 3. Salary and benefits: Always a controversial one this, but so many advertised roles do not feature a salary figure, or even a salary range to give an indication of where it sits within the market. This is a key factor for candidates, but also a key bargaining chip for recruiters so is often the last thing they give away. The other important factor with the salary figure is that it is an extremely good marker for the role's expectations. A high figure, or something that stands out from the market is likely to include other factors that in the role that warrant that figure. No salary is too good to be true, there will always be something in the role definition that has impacted that figure. An accurate figure also shows that the company advertising actually understands the role well themselves, and its position within the market. You have to balance this figure with the next point, the location.

  4. 4. The role location, and travelling demands: Pair this with the point above about salary and you have two key counterpoints to each other. Location obviously dictates where you base location is, but also consider travelling requirements as these can, and should have an impact on the salary. Regional locations, cities, secure sites and remote offices all play a factor in influencing both salary expectations and the level of comfort around commuting and the lifestyle impact taking the role may have on you.

To summarise, I think we need to redress the balance between recruiters and their market. If the four points above aren't covered in an advertised role then for me, it shows a lack of attention to candidates requirements, and a misunderstanding of how to create a quality engagement situation, that communicates what each party is actually looking for. If this was a first date, you wouldn't be getting a second.

As an example of this, take a look at the following role advertisements:

Architect roles in Nationwide


Is there a fast track to becoming an Architect?

The last few articles in this series have documented what I consider the standard approach to becoming an architect to be, the TOGAF role structure and the key concerns around performing the role of an architect day to day.

I've built the foundation of understanding the role, specifically to ensure a level of understanding of the attributes and activities of an architect. This is key, as in this article I'm specifically looking at the idea of whether or not it is possible to fast track the journey to become an architect. Posing the question, could you take an individual with the capability to perform the role and move them in quick succession through a series of tasks to establish possession of the skills required to operate as an autonomous architect in their own right.

Let me start by saying that there are several assumptions associated with this scenario. The individual, the 'candidate architect' would have to be aware that they are on a journey to display their skills as an architect. The capacity or capability to perform the role would have already been pre-judged as being present, and the candidate would have a knowledgeable support network around them.

What should they be tested against?

As stated above, I've already put together my view on the activities an architect performs. There is a key factor here in differentiating between architects and subject matter experts (SME's). This is import in that these two categories of role are very different, but can often become confused with each other. To understand exactly 'what' we should test candidates against we need to understand the difference between these two type of role.

Subject matter experts

Subject matter experts are people with deep knowledge in a business area or capability. They have deep understanding of their area of functionality, but its a very narrow view. Typically their skillset is specific to a field of business services or technology, such as payments, networks or services. They do not have a breadth of insight across multiple fields or processes. This makes them ideal team members if you want detailed information, at a very granular level, but if you want someone who can be reapplied over many content areas, SME's will struggle as they will be outside of their comfort zone.


In comparison to the SME description above, Architects have a much wider breadth of knowledge across many fields of technology and business capabilities. They may have more detailed knowledge in one or two fields, specifically where they came from, but as a rule they have limited visibility over other process and technologies. This means that as a member of a team, they are deployable across the whole spectrum of a solution as their skills are not specifically tied to one area of knowledge.

Flexibility and not detailed knowledge

From the descriptions above we can determine that the skills an Architect should have are not based in a specific technology or business process. They should sit above this, as they should understand how to examine and interpret technology solutions and business processes, but they should not have detailed knowledge of them, as that's why you retain your SME's.

When you consider this, it effectively dictates what you would ask a candidate architect to prove. You would NOT ask them to understand each of your business areas, or processes, but instead ask them to show the skills to discover those areas, integrate with the SME's and extract the right information that is pertinent to the solution.

What's missing from this process?

The above describes the technology and business process discovery but it intrinsically hints at needing stakeholder skills and interpersonal skills to be able to operate successfully. They are a little harder to measure as they are less tangibly proven.

The second big factor missing here is the experience and ability to handle the pressures of going through this process. Knowing a task is one thing, but presenting that task back, thinking around it, defending your position when appropriate, or moving on it when its not, are all skills gained from actually going through the architectural process. Experience of previous roles gives people a depth of character that gives them confidence within a business operating model. At its simplest description, discovering and documenting options is a key skill that can be learned. Presenting that options paper back to senior stakeholders with confidence, explaining the process, facing down challenges and holding your nerve is an entirely different skill that is not learned, but more like 'forged' through going through the process repeatedly.

So in summary, I'd say that yes, there is a fast track to 'learning the skills required to operate as an architect'. But I'm separating out that just having the skills does not mean that the candidate can operate as an architect, they need that forging experience to have the confidence and prescience in a room to carry through their architecture directives.