When people are happy, they deliver more and it is a win-win relationship.
Among many occupations, Kevin Green worked for the Royal Mail as HR Director, from 2003 to 2008 where he was part of the leadership team which transformed the business from losing £1.5 million a day in 2003 to making over £600 million profit in 2007. Kevin has a Post-Graduate Diploma in Personnel and is a Fellow of the CIPD and IRP and has written many articles on HR Strategy and Organisational Change. You can connect with Kevin via his Linkedin profile, or visit his website, What's Next Consultancy?
Agnes Uhereczky: Could you please tell us more about yourself, about your passion and what drives you?
Kevin Green: I was an HR professional who then ended up running a consultancy organisation in the middle of my career. I got frustrated with the inability of management teams to implement some of the recommendations that we were often recommended. I was an HR director for 5 years. The business was losing a million pounds a day and within a 4 year period, we turned that around so it made 500 million pounds profit. It was a 2 billion pound turnaround within 4 years. We had to restructure our business, close factories, change terms and conditions and this was all about this period where this public sector was going to be competing against private sector organisations.
Then I was approached by the Chief Executive of the Recruitment and Employment Confederation which was the professional body for the recruitment industry in the UK. I did that for 10 years up until March of this year.
Since then I decided that I'll create my own job towards the end of my career so I could do exactly what I liked, therefore I am doing 3 or 4 non-executive roles. I am a strategic advisor to a couple of other organisations. They are all human capital businesses. They consult to organisations or professional services or recruitment companies. My passion throughout the whole of my work in life has been about helping organisations to inspire and motivate their people and get the best from their people and so compete effectively as an organisation.
I am also in the process of writing my first book which will be called “Competitive People Strategy” which I have just started and had the complete body. That has been quite exciting and interesting in the last few months. About other passions, I love my family and football. I am a great fan of the “Mighty Arsenal”. My son and I often go to see them play.
Agnes Uhereczky: We are not in a job for life vision. What do you think about it?
Kevin Green: We are looking for people to have confidence in themselves, in their skills and their abilities and who can sell ideas and concepts. People who have been in consultancy and ran their own business are becoming more valuable to organisations. Some of the skills and the attitudes are very important for organisations nowadays. I see it as a positive tendency, rather than something only to be done at the end of your career. Being a freelance for a few years developing a whole set of skills that are difficult to gather within an organisation is certainly a very valuable career trajectory.
Agnes: Do you think that there is going to become a time when organisations will become more elastic? Will employers be able to stretch and embrace the current skills economy?
Kevin Green: If you look at most large organisations and how they get work done and deliver things, they will often talk about interim directors, contractors, sub-contracted, fixed-term contracts, part-time workers, or temporary staff. Organisations are becoming much more agile, dynamic, and responsive to customers and to the market, and there is certainly a huge importance to the used language. To do that, they need to move at pace and embrace individuals and micro-businesses. You do not want to buy them for a period of time when they add a lot of value and then move out to something else. When you talk about jobs and the labour market, it sounds quite static. But when you talk about supply chains or agility, you think differently. Organisations are beginning to change their language because, as they are getting into this period of labour skills and talent shortages, they have to find the people they need in a different way. It cannot all just be about employing people permanently.
Agnes Uhereczky: What do you think about the skills or talent shortages? Do you see some of these pressing trends that are impacting organisations and the human capital? Are there some trends that are underestimated or something that really frustrates you?
Kevin Green: There is job polarity. For example, the OECD did a fantastic study about 2 years ago where they showed the labour market in every single economy around the world; they showed the growth of both high paid high school jobs and the low paid low skilled jobs, and the jobs that are being destroyed in every single labour market were the jobs in the middle of the labour market.
These jobs have been held on or eliminated.
One of my frustrations is that it is not recognized by organisations. If you think about how people develop, quite often within organisations people are taking on a basic or office job and they progress from there. We are now eliminating lots of these office jobs like for example in insurance companies or bank offices. Call centers will be a thing of the past quite quickly. We have already got this job polarity happening for the last 20 years and with the growth of AI, machine learning, the Internet, reading, and printing, this is going to be accelerated hugely in the next 5, 10, or 15 years. That shows a huge challenge for society because it means it will be more difficult for businesses that have already got labour and skill and talent shortages to find the high-skilled people that they need. It will be also challenging for them to develop because the jobs that traditionally existed within an organization have been eliminated or destroyed.
Agnes Uhereczky: Does it mean that we will be dealing with economic consequences?
Kevin Green: We have grown in inequality and are ending up with the trend of job polarity. If we think that 90% of our children will be living until 100 and if you think about the people who are gig workers (i.e Uber drivers, Deliveroo employees etc.) you cannot be doing that kind of job for 50 or 60 years. The level of dissatisfaction in our societies will grow and people will look for answers and they are likely to look for populists from both the left and the right to come up with answers. Some people who are dissatisfied had to work very hard for long periods of time while others are ripped in the benefits of the shortages in the talent of skills market. The politicians are recognizing this and are starting to deal with it.
Agnes Uhereczky: Two years ago, at an OECD Forum, there was a panel discussion between a prominent trade union leader and the Vice President of Uber. Neither of them took an inch towards the other to try to find some common ground, and this year it seems it is going in the same direction. Do you think it is because we cannot find more hybrid solutions?
Kevin Green: Governments have to be innovative and proactive and think of different solutions to the problems of today and tomorrow. We tend to perceive the world through what it used to be rather than what it is and what it will be. Our education systems need to be designed for the work we are going to live in, preparing our young people for a very dynamic labour market and we need people to access education and training throughout their life because the labour market will move and we need to stay employable. That is the responsibility of governments but businesses need to take some responsibility for the creation of tomorrow's labour market. There is a need for different language, different conversations where we are trying to come up with new solutions. I think trade unions should concentrate on creating new solutions.
Lately in the UK, there was a huge debate about Uber and Deliveroo and many of the workers said that they love working this way because it gives them choice and allows them to fit their timetable for studying, PHDs, and other things we want to do with our lives, and we just fit work around them. They were very passionate about choice and flexibility you can give.
We need to give to give people the ability to access training while they are doing that. We also need to create benefits which include leaves, holiday pay, support pensions. We want to keep the flexibility and come up with the dynamic. We need technical innovation in our labour market. As a consumer, I like Uber and the ability to book a taxi within 1 minute and know who the driver is. I also like getting food delivered in front of my house but I also want the individuals who are working in that way to have the ability to progress if they want to. I want them to have a paid holiday and also prepare for the period they retire. It is about trying to come up with different solutions for tomorrow's problems rather than just talking about the positions people had for the last decades.
Agnes Uhereczky: We know that SMEs are the main employer in Europe and it seems they are more ready to embrace flexibility, technology then corporates. What do you think about the polarized debate between large corporate companies and small and medium-sized businesses?
Kevin Green: There are 2 interesting things about SMEs. One is that we tend to patronize small businesses but if you think about the dynamism within our economy, certainly, in the UK but also across much of Europe, it comes from agile, responsive small businesses being set up, finding a niche and an opportunity where they can service and provide value to customers. They are very good at finding the people and they do not do it in such a formal way but have a culture where people want to join. People like working in small companies and knowing everybody who is part of the organisation by their first name. It is more collaborative, responsive and creative and individuals like working in that environment.
It is big organisations that are struggling because often their cultures and the ways of working, rules for doing business, policies, procedures, and the compliance switch frustrate talent. When you look at young people and what they want to do in their career, a recent Accenture study in the UK shows up that over 70 % wanted to be entrepreneurs, run their own businesses and control their own destiny. That wouldn't have been the way 15 or 20 years ago. There is a lot of skepticism about big businesses. When I look at my son's generation, they instinctively feel much more comfortable with socially aware small businesses. It will be the big companies that will struggle to find and retain talents. They will have to work incredibly hard to change their cultures, the way they hire and develop people and perhaps to think of themselves as a creative unit that is much smaller and can create dynamism. You hear big businesses talking a lot about skill and talent shortages and perhaps some of that is because they are available and want to work in a different way and in different types of organisations.
Agnes Uhereczky: What are some of these mission-critical steps that organisations will have to take?
Kevin Green: In term of attracting talent, we have to think really sensibly about the hiring process. The idea that you judge someone through looking at their CVs, their qualifications, experience and what they did before as a way of thinking of people you are attending to hire. We' ve known for 30 or 40 years that interviewing is not a good predictor of future performance. But if you talk to most organisations, how do they hire, you go back to the CV and the interview. For me, that's a fundamental starting point. If you want to attract talents, organisations need to do many things. For instance, think about people's potential rather at what they have done, and what can this person contribute. You have to create tests where people can show you by doing real activities rather than an interview. Saying to an assessment center you get people to do real projects similar to what they are doing at the workplace. You get multiple people within an organisation and I am a great believer in collaborative environments. One, because it tackles our cultural bias but secondly because looking at someone in a more holistic 360 degrees way is important.
So in the first place, it has to deal with hiring.
Secondly, it is about culture and how to create an environment where people can come up with ideas, where there is space for creativity, where people are judged on their output and not their input. All of this is about leadership and management. We have a deficit of great leadership which is about painting a picture of what an organisation should be doing, the value it creates and then letting people go off creating an environment where they can give their best. From a management perspective, we turn people who are running teams within organisations into coaches. They are fostering collaboration, getting people working in different ways, getting them to grow and develop, giving feedbacks and targets but not controlling the work, not telling people what they should do or not do and give rules to live by but trying to give them a picture of what the organisation is about. If you do that, you will get benefit: you will attract talent and more importantly, you will retain it because it will be a great place to work and it is hard to leave an organisation that treats you as an individual, understands your potential, develops you, grows you, creates a great environment to work with others. Organisations need to work much harder around the human dynamics within their organisation and think much longer about them. My piece of advice is that you can spend a long time talking to customers and engaging with them about the value your business is creating and spend a third of the time with your people. But the people and customers are the staff that created value for your organisation. If you look at the way leaders spend their time within their organisation, they don't spend in any way near two-thirds of their time with their people or their customers.
Agnes Uhereczky: In all the things you have just listed, I notice there is not one copy-paste solution. Organisations have to develop organically. What do you think about this?
Kevin Green: That is true. And the longer an organisation exists and the bigger it is, the more complex it becomes. I was talking to an HR Director a few weeks ago about diversity and inclusion. We were talking about why organisations are grappling with women on board, why we are not representative in term of races, and why we are not inclusive and have people with disabilities working in our companies. When one recognizes the problem, they tend to find superficial solutions: have a mentoring programme, or they hire a non-executive female. The issue we had is we had to look at it more deeply and at the systemic approach of the organisation and why people progress. It means understanding why women don't want to take long-term career positions within the organisation if that's the problem. You cannot come up with an easy super bullet but thinking about the matter very seriously and looking at how the organisation hires, how people are promoted and if you want to change the system, you need to work at that level. Superficial solutions are not enough, you have to look at the fundamentals and really tackle it from a systemic and organic perspective. Transforming big organisations is tough and I experience this for many years.
Agnes Uhereczky: It also takes time. If it happens eventually, it is not a quarter to a quarter thing, isn’t it?
Kevin Green: Completely right. If you look at the 10 most important European Chief Executives, they are judged on their quarter by quarter performance. And even if they are serious about Diversity and Inclusion, for example, they do not have the time to really unpick the ways in which organisations behave. The fundamental issue is that it does take time and it takes great patience and you have to be brave and invest. In large publicly listed companies, it is difficult to invest in things that will take 6 to 12 years to return on. Even in small organisations, people will get frustrated with the organisation in which they work in.
Agnes Uhereczky: What would be your advice to leaders and also to employees?
Kevin Green: For leaders, they shall think about customers in an engaging way and really listen to them. In terms of employees, there are many things. If you don't like the organisation that you work in, then find another job or create your own job. Think about your career as taking responsibility for it. Think about what you love doing and find the environment where you can flourish and be you best. We spend 60% of our adult life at work and it is a shame that so many many people are moaning about it and not enjoying their job.
Be responsible for your career. Rethink of what you are good at, about what you' d like doing more often and go out and find it whether it is as a freelance, working in an SME or in a big organisation. When people are happy, they deliver more and it is a win-win relationship.