People: The CEO’s biggest challenge?

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26 May 2017

Ford & Stanley Chairman, Peter Schofield challenges senior leaders to get to grips with the skills challenges in their organisations.

All great railway innovations and achievements are the by-product of what people do. They are the industry’s biggest asset, and due to the acute shortage of talent, its biggest challenge.

Pete3Business leaders need to get involved personally and recognise the organisational barriers that are inhibiting the attraction and retention of talent. Beyond acknowledging the issues, they need to put their full weight of influence to ensure the silos between finance, purchasing, operational management and HR are removed.


Rail employers consistently cite skills shortages as the biggest threat to them taking full advantage of the vast inward investment to the industry. Training new talent is the long-term solution, of course, but what happens to organisational performance between right now and the five to 10 years it will take to fully skill the sector? It comes down to one central issue. In a skills short environment people with skills are consumers and you have to treat them with the same level of consideration as consumers of your products and services.

As a rhetorical question, would a train manufacturer, for example, simply go to a ROSCO and say ‘Here’s a picture of a train we’re building, do you want to buy it? ’Assuming not, why then would a person currently in employment holding in-demand skills be remotely motivated to join that organisation when all they’re being presented with is a job title, job description and compensation information? Persuading people to join or remain with your company should be seen as an even bigger challenge than selling your products or services. Candidates are being asked to commit 67 per cent of their time to the business. Employment is the most important decision they’re going to make as a consumer. They don’t take that decision lightly.


People aren’t a commodity purchase, but they are often treated as one given the all-too-common organisational silos. One year into a recovering market, finance sees the cost of recruitment rising and challenges purchasing or HR to centralise recruitment functions and cut costs. Essential dialogue between internal or external recruitment functions and line management is eliminated, meaning 60 per cent of the information critical to effective candidate attraction and selection is missing. What companies should be considering with each piece of recruitment is:

  • Without this person, who’s working late, being overworked, what isn’t getting done and what are our customers not going to end up receiving?
  • What is the opportunity inherent in this role. Do we need a superstar earmarked for progression, a hero to resolve a short-term problem, or a performer to consistently deliver to a level without the pressure of promotion?

Top 10The CVs of these differing types of people probably look identical, but the motivations behind the paper are completely different, so employers need to attract them in the right way. These views are based upon empirical evidence resulting from the Ford & Stanley teams holding in excess of one million career-based conversations with individuals in job-change situations, hearing first hand exactly why they leave and join companies. If the current organisational approach to recruitment prevents critical information being investigated and communicated, then the approach needs to be changed.

This is a ‘lighthouse principle’, one that will not shift. Employers can recognise the situation and find a way to work around it, or break their organisational performance ambitions against it. For this reason, surely it makes sense for the most senior custodian of organisation performance to get fully involved?



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