O2 rewrites their talent culture

Serena Palmer
Head of Specialised Development
O2

Like many large organisations O2 have traditionally interchanged “potential” for “leadership” in talking about those who are HiPo and investing in their HiPo population to become leaders of the future. This year they turned this on its head. They are now asking “Potential for what”?

To uncover more of areas that O2 plan to develop we interview the Head of Specialised Development, Serena Palmer.

Can you tell us more about the work you do at O2?

For the last two years I have been Head of Talent at O2, and a few weeks ago accepted a new role as Head of Specialised Development. My role is all about evolving our talent and development strategy to meet the chaning needs of the organisation. We know that our business will be changing consistently and we will only be successful if our people can lead us there.

What impact will the changing world of work have on your talent and workforce planning activities?

In almost every way possible. We are in an interesting time where our traditional HR model is not serving the new model of our business. Workforce planning has to sit at the start of our people cycles, and we have to use a model that is quick to execute, repeatable, and consistent, so a traditional SWP approach is not going to work for us.

We have had to think again about our definition of “potential” so that we do not lose sight of talented employees across the full spectrum of the workforce.

In November at HR Vision London, you’ll be talking about how you made wholesale changes to your talent approach at O2. What were the main reasons for this about-turn?

There were many reasons for the change, but primarily they were connected to our Global operating model, we were previously measuring talent in different ways globally, and secondly we were restricting ourselves by defining high potential as leadership. We were unable to view talent outside of leadership which meant we were running out of high potentials who had not been invested in.

I am excited to be able to share this case study with you.

Whether it is talent acquisition, retention or development, talent issues seem to be a difficult nut to crack. Why do you think this is?

Talent by definition is all about identifying brilliant people, high potentials. High potential individuals will be your most high risk employees as their drive and skill are sought after. Talent is still a “new” COE in HR if you compare this to “performance” there has been, and continues to be a steep learning curve for organisations to manage the message, and the reputation of talent has become patchy and less clear than other people processes. Having an open, clear and transparent talent strategy is key to making the function operate well.

Talent is seen by some as an exclusive category, with the negative connotations that come with it. What has been the approach that O2 have taken in rewriting the rulebook so to speak.

Like many large organisations we were quick to launch a talent function about 6 years ago, however we went about this in a “cloak and dagger” way, keeping talent conversations conducted in secret with no discussions with the employee. I’m pleased to say we have come a long way since then, but we have had to take bold steps to undo this culture.

We have an open and transparent talent strategy which is visible to all employees, and for the first time we will open the assessment process to the whole business.

What is next for you and your team at O2?

We are moving our talent development offer to a fully personalised approach, whilst at the same time engaging the whole business in talent assessment. This is quite the challenge, we hope to be able to build professionalisation of skills through the apprenticeship levy into this offer to help serve our new talent category called “experts in role” again new and unchartered water, but very exciting.


To find out more on what has led O2 to rewriting their talent culture and assessments, join Serena Palmer in the Future Talent Acquisition Strategies stream at HR Vision London for her live presentation and Q&As. See more information on the full 5 stream conference, including 50+ speakers, 40 sessions and over 200 of our colleagues and peers!

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