Article: Organisations need to master strategic thinking on capability building: Peter Cheese

Training & Development

Organisations need to master strategic thinking on capability building: Peter Cheese

We should train managers across levels in how to manage more diverse teams and ways of working, to maintain connections and to demonstrate empathy, as well as fairness in how people are treated, says Peter Cheese, Chief Executive of CIPD.
Organisations need to master strategic thinking on capability building: Peter Cheese

READ the September 2021 issue of our magazine: The Great War For Talent

Peter Cheese is the Chief Executive of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD). He writes and speaks widely on the development of HR, the future of work, and the key issues of leadership, culture, and organisation, people, and skills.

Peter is a Fellow of the CIPD, a Fellow of AHRI (the Australian HR Institute), and the Academy of Social Sciences. He’s also a Companion of the Institute of Leadership and Management, the Chartered Management Institute, and the British Academy of Management. He is a visiting Professor at the University of Lancaster and sits on the Advisory Board for the University of Bath Management School.  

Here are the excerpts of the interview.

Workers globally are making it clear that they want more from their employers. In fact, millions of employees are hunting for better opportunities leading to an intensifying war for talent. How do you see this phenomenon?

There has been much talk of significant movement of people across jobs, and what some have termed the ‘great resignation’. 

Several things are happening. The economic impact of lockdowns has affected different sectors in very different ways, some booming and others struggling. That creates differing demands for people and as job protection schemes unwind in those sectors with reduced demand, more are likely to find themselves without a job and seeking new opportunities. There could be some significant shifts of people across sectors, and employers should be looking beyond their own sectors in terms of experience as they seek to recruit.

The time of the pandemic has also been a time of a lot of reflection for people, including about their jobs and circumstances. Expectations have been raised about how employers should be treating their staff, in areas like well-being, fairness, and opportunities for more flexible working. So, whether through re-evaluation of career choices, or where employees don’t see what they expect from their employers, there will likely be more people on the move.

However, there are also significant skills shortages. Not only areas like tech skills, but also in many jobs such as drivers, construction workers, social care, and hospitality. Some shortages have been exacerbated by people moving away from jobs, but also by the accelerating need for organisations to adapt and invest, particularly around technology.

Finally, reduced migration through Brexit and as a result of the pandemic, but also other wider geopolitical shifts, has made accessing migrant talent harder. 

All these issues are concerning many organisations in the ability to attract and retain talent. Forward planning, accessing more diverse skills and talent, and ensuring that the workforce is well supported and looked after will be essential. 


Creating a work culture built on trust, transparency, and empathy is what makes employees feel safe is a lesson we have learnt from this crisis. In the hybrid world, how can corporations create a ‘culture’ with distributed workforce?

Culture has many dimensions. Trust, transparency, and empathy all come from individual and collective behaviours wherever people work. Many organisations have had workforces working in many different ways and locations in the past, so culture does not just come from physical proximity, even though that may allow us to observe more behaviours directly. 

With all the changes that have happened over the last 18 months, organisations must reassess their cultures, their stated values and the way people feel about working with colleagues, and how well they feel supported. From this, we can be clearer on what really makes the difference in cultural connections, and even where people are working remotely, to better understand the actions and interventions that reinforce positive cultures. 

More hybrid working and flexible ways in which people can work can be a positive change for so many, but it is more challenging than managing people who we see every day. We will need to better train all our managers at every level in how to manage more diverse teams and ways of working, to maintain connections and to demonstrate empathy, as well as fairness in how people are treated. These are critical to positive working cultures, and the tone will need to be set from the top.

How can organisations rethink perks and benefits in the COVID-19 era and figure their flexibility mantra to keep and attract top talent? According to a study, In the fight to keep and attract top talent, 96% of HR agrees reward & recognition is vital.

Pay and reward is clearly vital, but it is far from the only factor that attracts and retains people at work. Purpose and all the factors that make up job quality are equally important, and it is good to see more debate and focus on these issues as we think about the future of jobs and work. 

For most people what matters about the reward is that it is fair, understandable, and equitable. However, most also see benefits and perks as part of the ‘job deal’ and these are now under much more scrutiny as organisations have seen the different demands that employees are placing on benefits or support that best suit their needs. 

This can be seen as a general trend towards personalisation or individualisation of the world of work, much as has happened more and more in the consumer world. The pandemic will accelerate that and creates new expectations in giving people more choice about how they work. That says there is an opportunity for organisations to rethink their benefits systems, to open up more choices and allow people to tailor more to their particular needs. These can become very meaningful in being seen as an open and flexible employer and important parts of the employee value proposition. 

However, the administration and management is more complex as more variations and combinations of benefits are supported, so good processes and support systems will be needed. Openness and transparency with employees will also be vital to help reassure on issues of fairness.

How would define the post-Covid workforce? Top talent along with Gen X and the millennial workforce are increasingly unwilling to adapt to the traditional workplace.

Many surveys over the years have shown how particularly the millennial generation and now Gen Z have different views and expectations of the workplace and their working lives. They will experience more a life of jobs instead of jobs for life and even several careers as the nature of jobs, organisations and opportunities change, particularly from the impact of technology. The younger generations tend to be driven more by wider work-life balance, by strong sense of purpose, but also flexibility and adaptability in what they do. They also clearly want to have a voice and degrees of autonomy in how they work – working hours, places of work, or times when they can do something different for a period of time.

The pandemic has reinforced some of these trends. For many, there is less certainty in the future, so adaptability and being able to try different things can become a necessity as well as a valuable experience. Flexible ways of working, and the expectation of having a voice, being supported and shown compassion and empathy from bosses and colleagues are all part of positive adaptations we have seen. These should be some of the key lessons learned from these times.

Becoming an agile leader has never been more important. Can you share some insights on how top global leaders are winning the war for talent?

An agile leader is essentially a leader who can deal with uncertainty and paradox, lead for change, and demonstrate qualities such as the ability to listen, to keep on learning, and show compassion and humility. Leaders also need to be able to make the calls and the tougher decisions, and they need to demonstrate confidence even when times are hard.

For any successful business, it always comes down to the people. Attracting and retaining the right talent and capabilities within their organisation has for some time been in the top 3 or 4 issues for most business leaders. But too often, there is a lack of strategic thinking or insight on what capabilities are needed, what options to source those capabilities are, and how to develop the leadership and the supportive culture needed at all levels. These are all elements of people strategy which in any business is as important as any other part of the strategy, perhaps never more so than now.

Understanding and assessing options for capabilities include not just the ability to attract and retain diverse talent but also seeing learning and development as a strategic need and differentiator. Thinking through operating models, where capabilities might better be brought in through partnering, or by contracting, or where and how automation and technology can really drive greater agility and reshape how existing skills can be used. These are all part of approaching the people issues from a strategic perspective – sometimes simplified to build, buy, borrow or bot.

How can employers grab this opportunity to plan for the long term? Is HR ready to handle war for talent given that they have now additional responsibilities?

It has never been more important that HR plays its role at the front and centre of organisational strategy and thinking. We need to have the insights built from good data and analysis, the ability to work with the business to understand strategic priorities and need, but also to influence around all elements of people strategy. HR’s role extends beyond the core activities of talent management into organisation design and development, and learning and development, and these disciplines need to come together to shape future direction. Some capabilities need to be built out further – areas like OD and analytics – but HR has been stepping up as a function, particularly through the pandemic, and business leaders are seeing and understanding much better the wider role of HR in business.

It is important therefore that as HR practitioners we invest more in ourselves, our own learning and development which has too often in the past has not seemed to be a priority. Building skills, professional competence, networking and learning from others are all part of what makes a professional and helps to give us the confidence to operate in challenging and changing circumstances, and at the highest levels of business. We are seeing great changes happening and HR has such a fundamental role to play in shaping those changes, helping to make work good for everyone, and supporting the delivery of responsible business strategy and outcomes.

The pandemic has demonstrated to be one of the most trying times in history for corporations. As we evolve to this unstable situation, can companies take this moment as an opportunity to regain operational efficiencies, drive business growth, and strengthen the brand value and all stakeholder experience?

As with any time of significant change or crisis, there are many challenges and dangers, but also real opportunities. Crises act as great stimuli or catalysts for change, and we have been going through the most significant crisis of our generations. On top of that, the need to address the climate crisis, to build more responsible business with greater transparency and trust, are vital to all our futures. 

The businesses that come through a crisis stronger are those that have the agility and adaptability to see opportunity and to adjust. They are also the businesses that keep their focus on all their stakeholders – not just financial stakeholders, but their people, their customers, their suppliers, and the communities of which they are part. By recognizing how all their stakeholders need to be supported even in the toughest times, is what builds trust. Trust is the most important element of brand value and of employee value, and it has been greatly tested. Those organisations that came into the crisis with high levels of trust, because they focused on all their stakeholders, are also the most likely to come out of the crisis positively. And those organisations that were able to make hay as their particular products or services had huge demand during the pandemic, must make sure they act responsibly going forwards. Products and services can be displaced or replaced. Trust is a more enduring commodity, but as the saying goes in Dutch, trust arrives on foot but leaves on horseback.


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Topics: Training & Development, Talent Management, #TheGreatTalentWar

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