9 Likely Failures in the People Space – Part One

Identifying the common mistakes in the people space, what impact these mistakes can have, and how to avoid them – Part One of Two.

We have been inspired by Skull Mountain’s article ‘Eight Ways Your Product Function can Fail’ to write our own version of events in the People Consulting space. We work with leadership teams across many different businesses and we witness the same consistent failures in the people space. Do not despair, however, there are resolutions to these!

 1 – Lack of Talent Vision / Talent Strategy 

What’s the issue?: Vision is critical for any business or service. This is no different for your people strategy. Not knowing what you are ‘aiming for’ makes logical decision-making highly challenging.


  • Workforce planning is more ‘guess than science.’
  • Inability to create in-demand ‘talent pools’ and consistently lose out to the competition on the ‘next thing’.
  • Painful disconnect between transformation objectives and workforce capability.

What’s the impact?: 
Inability to shape the workforce in terms of strategic hires and strategic training & development programmes, and therefore unable to meet corporate goals.


9 Likely Failures in the People Space – Part One

How to avoid this?: 
Build your Talent Vision around a ‘Talent Operating Model’ – this helps you define what your future state workforce looks like. It will include skills, talent pools, org design, leadership, geography, working patterns, types of worker. It should take into consideration the evolution of BAU, ‘the next thing’ and transformation.

2 – Homophily (the tendency of people to seek out or be attracted to those who are similar to themselves) 

What’s the issue?: Lack of diversity in the workforce. A concentration of similar thinkers, a lack of challengers and the tendency to reinforce false validation.


  • Inability to attract talented individuals from under-represented groups.
  • Our teams struggle with innovation and new ways of thinking.
  • Our teams are not representative of our customer base and find it hard to empathise with target audiences. (This problem becomes exacerbated when working with global customers).

What’s the impact?: High performing teams invariably encompass different thinking styles. Seek a healthy balance of thinking styles and you will invariably attract a healthy mix of culture, age, gender, and ethnicity. Diverse teams attract a wider pool of diverse candidates.


How to avoid this: Implement and ‘live and breathe’ a strong D&I standard. Not just a policy or a box ticking exercise, but a clear mandate to ensure healthy decisions are made at all stages of the people piece; role advertising, hiring, coaching & training, giving ‘voice’, promotions & progression etc. Measure. Proactively encourage applications from under-represented groups.

3 – No single talent Lens 

What’s the issue?:The inability to look at talent horizontally across the organisation’s workforce. People decisions are predominantly made at a silo level, either by team / division or by function (HR, Finance, L&D, Operations etc.).


The lack of talent ‘portfolio view’ means that leaders are unable to make strategic decisions on what talent market they should be investing in (or indeed what talent pools should be sunsetting). Equally difficult to recognise where skills are unnecessarily duplicated or where transferable skills reside. In crude Financial Services terminology ‘where to buy, where to sell, what to hold, what to short and what to go long on’.



  • Talented individuals leaving due to lack of pace of progression.
  • Average individuals promoted into leadership roles.
  • Poor retention in talent scarce areas and / or insufficient churn of talent in other areas.


What’s the impact?: It makes designing a Talent Vision and Talent Operating Model very difficult. The ‘on the ground’ impact is often considerable. Intercompany mobility of the strongest talent is stifled. Strong, adaptable, and intelligent individuals, with company DNA, that share your vision, can end up on the wrong end of workforce cuts simply because of the division or band they find themselves within at that point in time. In parallel average ‘talent’ is fast tracked simply because their silo has a greater need.


How to avoid this: Give organisational talent board level representation. Attracting and retaining the best talent is often listed as the board’s number one priority; yet a dedicated People and Talent Director (Chief People Officer) is still far too rare.


Create a talent lens across the organisation. Separate Talent Strategy from silos and functions where necessary. Use techniques like ‘minimum viable skills base modelling’ to identify ‘core’ groups of individuals. (For example, if I have a core of Intelligent and Adaptable individuals who are aligned to our journey this might be the starting point for my minimum viable skills base criteria).


Consider Organisational Designs and people strategy that reflect a modern matrix organisation.

4 – Inability to attract and retain the best talent  

What’s the issue?: Lack of applications for core and high demand vacancies. Lack of retention in core areas.


Symptoms: A significant number of talented individuals are poached by our competition. There is a high percentage of late withdrawals from interview processes and job offers turned down. Falling employee satisfaction and less favourable reviews on employee review forums.


What’s the impact?: People are the lifeblood of modern professional services and product-based businesses. It is difficult working with sub-optimal colleagues. We become less competitive, less innovative, less efficient and our ability to grow, and create healthy outcomes (often measured as revenue and profits) diminish. Our customers usually feel the impact before it hits the balance sheet. Not being able to inject or retain talent is the ‘death knell’ for most organisations.


How to avoid this: This is often the symptom of a multitude of sins. It is particularly evident in organisations that fail on points 1, 2 & 3. High demand skill sets (or the ‘next thing’) are often predictable. The trends are flagged. Talent pooling and re-skilling are part of the strategy that lead you to the Talent Operating Model of the future. A horizontal organisational lens is vital in optimising re-deployment and retaining the most talented individuals with opportunities to develop in exciting new areas. Where practical focus on skills over location.


Talent attraction planning is key. For example: build a ‘world-class’ referral programme or simply recognising the difference between a wish list and Minimum Viable Skills (MVS) required for a role. (Focus on recognising and articulating the MVS. Seek to attract the right individuals with MVS rather than a ‘maybe’ that fits the wish list.  Recognise the difference between a Job Specification and a Job Advert. Job Adverts require a candidate empathy led approach).


Beware of processes that exacerbate interview fatigue (see point 6).


Sites like Glassdoor can easily expose poor leadership and poor workplace culture. Get on the front foot on this. If it is not a great place to work then this should be priority number one. If it is a great place to work then there is a need to focus on employer branding and making the organisation an ‘employer of choice’.


Ask Rokker to deliver a Senior Management Team session on ‘Practical Ways to attract the Best Talent to your Organisation’.

5 – Over reliance on non-permanent employees 

What’s the issue?: A disproportionate percentage of the workforce are contractors, freelancers or from 3rd party-supply organisations.



  • Permanent leavers replaced by temporary appointments.
  • Long- or medium-term strategic vacancies filled by contractors or freelancers.

What’s the impact?: It’s expensive. We lose the ability to ‘self-serve’ in core operational areas. High potential ‘flight risk’ of key individuals with detailed customer or product knowledge. Risks around service continuity that impacts customer experience. Harder to retain IP. Disenfranchises less well-paid permanent employees (often doing the same or very similar role).


How to avoid this: Again (and just to be boring about the importance of this) it relates heavily to the talent vision and the Talent Operating Model and having a clear understanding of the core operations and the associated talent pools we are investing in; ‘the buy’. Ensure board level understanding of the costly OPEX versus CAPEX debate for skills and talent. Critical talent decisions too often governed by Finance Accounting decisions.


Be able to break hiring freezes for strategic hires.


To be clear, I am a big fan of engaging the professional gig economy and the flexible workforce, but where possible it should be ‘by design’. For example, tactical backfilling of a role which is becoming redundant, whilst the permanent member of staff is moved into a ‘new world’ area; discreet highly skilled but ultimately transient skilled pieces of work that can be delivered through a fixed-price statement of work, or for non-core operations where the ROI is healthy.

Here we have the first 5 likely failures of the People Space. If any of these failures resonate with your business, or you want to learn more, contact our Head of People Practice: jim.marshall@rokker.co.uk. Look out for Part Two of this blog, coming next week.

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