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#9: Perry Timms - Season 1, Episode 9 - Talent is Everywhere!

About the Episode:

In this episode, Sylvie Milverton interviews Perry Timms, CEO and founder of PTHR. Perry shares insights on democratizing talent development through his innovative “Talent in a Box” program, which empowers employees to self-select career development resources.

They discuss the importance of shifting from traditional top-down talent management to a more inclusive, employee-driven approach, and the benefits this brings to both individuals and organizations. Perry also highlights the role of structure and support in fostering a thriving learning culture.


I said. But also, what about this concept of having people self-select and drive their own career paths? And I really liked it because of having to start from a quite low base. And this is a way that they could connect it to digital resources, build some shadowing and have lots of mentors and so on. So the box of tricks is going to be quite full from the get go. And they see that. So I am accelerating themselves from 0 to 100mph.

Hi, I’m Sylvie Milverton, CEO of Lynx Educate. This is “Talent is Everywhere”. We’re here to talk about how to keep talent and how to develop talent in order to build a strong business. We’ll interview leaders to hear their best experiences of how they invested in people.

All right. Today our guest is Perry Timms, who I met recently at a large HR conference. He is the CEO and founder of PTHR, which he formed in 2012 and is a certified B Corp. So maybe Perry, welcome. You can tell us a little bit about what you do at your company.

Thank you Sylvie. Thank you. Yes. So, yeah, 12 years in the making. And, we stand in the sort of organizational design and development space, I suppose, as a sort of primary focus of what we do. But we believe in very purpose led organizations and how they help people find their sense of meaning in the work they do. So that’s a lot of our work. And yeah, the B Corp thing is an important aspect for us because it kind of ratifies us as being good corporate citizens wanting to do the right thing in all respects of work.

Yeah. That’s wonderful. And I love, yeah, meeting people who are truly dedicated to the real work of HR, which is, developing people. And actually, the reason I approached you, why I wanted to invite you on the podcast, was that you did such a lovely introduction, to the guest speakers, I could see that you had sort of a, you know, a broad and wide view of HR topics and so today we’re going to talk about something that’s interesting that I’m just learning about, which is your program that you call talent in a box, that you developed some years ago and are now using again with clients.

So maybe you can tell us, you know, the origin of it and what it is.

Yeah. Like, like most organizations that I get involved with their sort of learning and development into much more sort of talent and capability development. The organization I, was part of, back in sort of 2010, recognized how much it needed to strengthen its own kind of management leadership pipeline. So commissioned me to do a report and then, a kind of a program. So I did some investigation, looked at the casts and looked at the opportunities, built a talent program.

People had a nomination process, went through a series of exercises, programed interventions. Lots of people got promoted. Everybody loved it, wanted to repeat it, did it again the year after. But then after that, I said to the rest of the organization, I said, you do realize there’s more than 30 people who are deserving of this kind of attention that were we were a thousand people, and only 30 people get to play it nice.

But yeah, as I said, why don’t we open it up? Why don’t we democratize talent development? And I said, well, how do you do that? And I said, well, you put it all in a box and you give people the guidance and they can pick the things that they believe are going to strengthen their career prospects and their performance and their options, and they kind of self-serve.

And then we can aggregate requests, we can build coaching interventions and a network for them. And they really like the idea of it. So I got to play with it and I got to put it together. And there was at one point an actual box that was big and yellow, and I took out to organizations and said, metaphorically, you are rifling through the box and you are picking the things that you believe are going to help you.

And if you’re not sure what’s going to help you, there are a number of ways we can give you some tools and techniques to identify what’s good for you. So, not long after I did that, though, I left that organization and set up PTHR. But a company has come to me recently. It’s a lovely company, the charity space.

And they really, really want to strengthen what they offer people. And I said, well, sounds like what you want is a big learning culture kind of reboot, I said, but also, what about this concept of having people self-select and drive their own career paths? And they really liked it because they’re having to start from a quite low base, and this is a way that they can connect it to digital resources, build some shadowing and have lots of mentors and so on.

So the box of tricks is going to be quite full from the get-go. And they see that. So I am accelerating themselves from 0 to 100mph.

Oh that’s so interesting. And you bring up a few a few topics to dig into. So one is the idea that people are choosing like their career path and what’s going to benefit them. How do you think about the difference between like a responsibility of a boss and a company? You know, to guide people because a lot of people, as you say, don’t know what they want to do versus kind of the individual self-directed, you know, motivation to get themselves going.

I think you’re right. There’s the kind of gatekeeper and the kind of career guide the manager often has. Sadly, our experience back in the previous organization was that managers would just look through a number of courses and nominate a couple of people for a few of them, thinking that’s how they did talent development. So it was a bit crude. They didn’t really have the sophistication behind it. And so despite efforts to try and help them become more talent coaches and so on, they felt almost like a little bit too busy and they were a little bit kind of hoarding their talent as well, actually.

They didn’t really want to let it go. So we said, well, we’ll take it away from you and we’ll give it to individuals who can then sort of drive those conversations. And the important thing we wanted to make sure people were aware of was that this is not about exit routes, purely it’s about what can I do more for the team, more for me, and I can grow and I can look out for some of the work that you do.

And when we said, that’s the kind of output we want, managers were like, oh, wow, I didn’t realize that. It’s like, well, no, that’s what you should have been doing. But we drove it from a sort of demand-led perspective from their, team members, rather than them being the gatekeeper and restricting access because they got a lot of work to do, and they don’t really get what good talent and sort of learning identification should be.

So we took it away from them. and that’s where it worked really well.

Yeah. And so maybe like to summarize, I just something I super agree with. I mean the difference between shoulder tapping and hand raising. So it’s like allow the hand raising because that’s where you going to get the motivation. But put the structure in so the you’re not just saying, well you know we’re leaving it all up to the individuals. And if they haven’t managed their career well, you know, there’s nothing else I could do. So it’s giving them resources but give them the space.

Exactly. That some of the guidance we put together was very comprehensive for people who were going to want to step into this space by saying, look, this is not an excuse for you to absolve yourself of the day job, to suddenly go on like a learning safari for the next three months.

This was about you being able to manage in balance and understand the time you need to put in and what that needs to do for recompense around your colleagues who are covering for you whilst you’re doing a shadowing assignment for a couple of days. So it’s strengthened the fact that people took responsibility for anything that involved the learning side of things, that took them away from their core accountability.

And then teams developed a little bit more of, well, if I do that for you, I might need it in the future. So therefore we can trade favors. And it brought a little bit more kinship into the equation rather than, oh, they’re off feathering their own nest. They don’t care about us. We made it very much more socialized and very much more participative, but with accountability and responsibility for everything around them.

And that seemed to mature people a little bit more about what learning is about, rather than just this kind of, oh, I’m playing hooky for the day. It’s like, no, no, no, no, this is about what are you going to go and what are you going to give back? And some people took a responsibility to learn something not just for them, but to bring back and share with the team.

And that never used to happen. So we saw a really nice socialized impact to this because people were making conscious choices and having to trade with their colleagues. So that was a good thing.

Interesting. And so something about like a creating a learning culture means more than just providing resources. It’s like the people have the motivation to do something that they think of it, that they know the organization is supporting it and that there’s almost like, yeah, I guess it’s like in the flow of work, like the way we work here is that we have a we have a group that gets together and hears takeaways from somebody else’s experience.

Massively. So we we create a little bit of tech infrastructure in the previous organization because things like social networks like Yammer and stuff were really, really early in their inception. So we didn’t have them. So we created a bit of social space where people could come and create little communities of interest and practice groups and so on. So, you know, what we found is people who were geographically dispersed but were all into, I guess you’d say, kind of stakeholder management or market research came together and more regularly online to share information and share insight, learn together.

And it was almost like, well, we didn’t expect that, but it was great that we provided it because it grew by its own nature. So people took responsibility. Back in the day, we might have called them action learning sets, but they were always very difficult to engineer and administer and drive forward. But in this example, people took responsibility and built their own learning communities, and it was a joy because we didn’t really drive it.

We just let them play in that space.

And then so I want to well, before I get to that, when you talk about the the problem started, the 30 people that were involved versus the thousand in the organization. This is an issue that I think about all the time, like when you, you know, people all the time talk on LinkedIn about retaining talent and top talent. But I also kind of feel like, you know, what companies need are people like, not everybody is the top, but every job needs to be done by somebody who should come to work ideally motivated, happy.

You know, maybe it’s not their entire passion, but, you know, we need your people. And there’s something that happened, I don’t know, in the companies are in our way of speaking, is that it’s only important to invest in the highest people how did you solve that?

Right. Yeah. I mean, I think we did, obviously set a bit of a precedent with two rounds of a high potential type program, and then people expected it to reappear and they’re like, oh, I missed my chance. But then we said, look, no, you haven’t at all. This is now your chance to assemble your own version of it. And, you know, drive an agenda. There isn’t just one we can see for you.

So there was a bit of a trade off of that. But the people who were special, who came on those first two cohorts, we found actually they were, quite modest about the fact that they got selected to it and they did share a lot of their learning. And so we could hold them up as really good examples of this is what we want to create more of these kind of nodes in the network, rather than just high performing superstars who were untouchable. So we were quite fortunate in the nature of our culture. Now, can’t say that’s going to happen everywhere else, but we had to somewhat offset the feeling of special and then loss like that.

Then, resulted in with the whole sense those people are still out there. You can become one of them because you can facilitate sessions and hold space. So actually you can create your own version of special, which is a little bit more conducive rather than superstardom, you know, to the team spirit. And so yeah, we listen to people’s, I guess you’d say sort of concerns and feeling of loss.

So we sort of turn them into a positive and we supported them. So there were people who were saying, well, I would have been on this program, but what I’d like to do then is I’d like to convene a group of new, new starters, and I’ll look after them and it’s like, great, will support you. That hasn’t really set it up.

So we in H.R. Were responsive to people rather than just putting programmatic interventions out. And I think that was a nicer way for H.R to operate rather than having to deliver courses all the time.

Yeah. And also we know, you know, so many studies have shown, you know, that the more that you believe in someone’s potential and the more you think that they’re great, then in fact, you’re going to, you know, best case, they’re going to thrive. And something’s going to happen that you didn’t know. And worst case is they’re just going to be who they already were. And so, you know, nothing’s gone. And so in fact there’s nothing by offering by, you know, you don’t want to give everybody like the first prize. But of course, by believing in people’s financial, you’re going to pull out, yeah.

Pull out, pull out the best. And then I guess the other point is that people that are, you know, have further to grow. You’re going to get such a different kind of return on that, investment so that, you know, companies can really benefit from investing in everybody.

Exactly. That I tell you what, was a little bit of a sort of convenient, but also turned out to be a masterstroke, because at the same time as we were democratizing talent, we created a coaching network. And what we wanted people to do is if you had some skill in coaching or wanted to learn how to be a coach, we would facilitate that for you and we would make you available so you could coach anybody in the organization so people could say, I need some coaching. So I got a job interview coming up internally or I got a really challenging stakeholder.

I want some coaching on how to deal with that stakeholder. Got a big complex project. So we created a coaching network was about there was about 18 staffers and it got to about 45 by the time I left. And that was where those people who would have gone on the program said, well, I’ll do that. Instead. I’ll learn coaching. I’ll be a coach. So it was almost like they were gaining, but they were given. And that that was a really key thing for us that whatever we gave people, they would also then give that, pass it forward type thing.

And, that proved to have great real social capital, because I know there were a couple of people who actually then went on to become very much better leaders because they got good coaching skill.

And then so then back to 12 or 15 years ago when you started your talent in the box like physically like what was in the box like would you have like manuals or books or what was it.

It was obviously sort of pre so it was about people having to understand what am I after. So we did a lot of mapping. So if people said I want to get better I have an awkward conversation. So they would come in with that and they would be able to use like an internet search and we would say, here’s some videos, Ted talks and so here’s some materials. And if you wanted to here are a couple of courses that we can do.

And we would deal with it on demand other than book. And people had to wait for months. So we did that. And then what we found was people would let us know if what they found wasn’t suitable. So then we would go and research something else, put it in the box. So the box was constantly growing by feedback, but we kind of stocked it up as much as we possibly could with things that we wanted people to consume.

Now, these days, we might call that like a Netflix of learning because it’s just loads of content. But back in that day, it was that content was available by web search. But probably not to the extent that it is now. And so we just curated it really strongly to the organization’s values and the competency kind of profiles that we had.

And to start with, it was a pretty big demand. And surge. And then it kind of tailed off a little bit, and then we realized that we just had to keep putting new things in that were useful, and taking old stuff out that wasn’t useful. So we used a bit of metrics on the data usage and just kept refreshing it.

But that was good fun for us because we’d often go research something. It’s like we don’t have enough for our service to sign. And people keep saying that wasn’t that. So we built something for service side. So those kind of things were really good because we felt like we were then responding to demand. That wasn’t just like a manager’s filter on inefficiencies in the team.

It was individual, was kind. This it really helped me because and then we’d go research it and provide it. So it was a bit of manna from heaven. When it comes from learning professionals getting to the heart of what do people actually want? This gave us all the insight we possibly could. So the box was full of mapped material support and options.

Yeah. And and then how do you think about, you know, today, obviously the internet is vast. AI is vast it’s about like content is like the least of our problems. In fact, probably you’d say the problem is there’s too much content. And how do you create it? Like what are your thoughts on tools that are out there, like the LinkedIn learnings and the Courseras and the, you know, work and learning, what have you?

Yeah, I was that brilliant. So brilliant because they’re so ubiquitous and available. And I don’t think there’s a topic not covered by something and beginner level or advanced or whatever it might be. So I think if you’re providing that sort of thing, you’ve got to be augmenting or contextualizing some of that, because you can just consume vast amounts of generic content.

So you’re right content is not the issue anymore. I think if I were to do this while I’m doing this program for a client now, and I’m looking at it very differently because I’m not stacking the box full of content, I’m stacking the box full of guidance for how they can help themselves and socialize that money and do things differently.

So, for example, we won’t be put in a training course request in there. We’ll be saying, here’s how you can create your own simulator. If you want to have a difficult conversation and work with somebody. So there’s something in the nature of the sort of specifics of what people can do. They can find the content anywhere. So this is much more kind of gilt-edged, almost white glove, but, but friction-free service.

And in this box we’re going to create and it’ll have to reflect the organization’s uniqueness because all that generic content doesn’t reflect that. So this will all be massively contextualized. So we’re currently absorbing every sort of cultural facet of this organization as much as possible. So if you’re a new starter, you can look at this box of tricks and go, I can start with this now because it’s all relevant to me.

So we can revolutionize onboarding and everything. So it’s very much now not about content and very much about context, and about real gilt edged kind of interventions and support for people. So that’s where it will be different. This time around. In ten years. It’s shifted that quickly that much right now.

That totally makes sense because I talk to companies, you know, like we have a learning solution. And so of course they all have many different learning platforms. And a theme I feel that comes up a lot is just like intentionality and strategy. It’s like, okay, we want to develop career pathways. We want to promote internally. We want to help people get from this job to the next job. But then it’s like, okay, what’s the strategy behind that?

And often you find and I’ll say like, we have LinkedIn learning. We have skill stuff, we have this. And there’s still like a gap. And maybe the way to articulate that gap is what you just said. It’s the context around, you know, like we don’t need any learning tools. We could just probably use YouTube for anything.

Yeah, exactly, exactly. And I think there is something about learning-generated content that we’ve all been sort of hopeful that will shape more. And in some cases it has and in some it hasn’t. So I know engineering companies that have field representatives are used to video and stuff on their mobile device and, and send it back and it gets indexed and searchable.

So people looking for that fix can find it. So I know that stuff exists, but I think this is where we can probably get people to reflect on what I’ve come to know as idiosyncratic practices, little hacks they do to get a result that they want to share with people so that when they move away from that job, they can kind of inherit all that wisdom.

And I think that’s the nature of what something like this would provide, not just career paths, but almost like an organizational wisdom repository. Something like that would be so valuable. But it’s also so much like opening up the organization’s knowledge base to anybody who needs it and can find it. So, yeah, I think it’s got a bigger, more replicable sense than it even was when I did it like ten, 12 years ago.

Right? And that even underlines like, if we think of, like the shifts, like in the, in the profession of HR, I mean, we’ve always talked about this in every profession, like stopped spending so much time on administrative things and do more things that are value add. But to me, HR more than any other profession like right now, you know, defining culture, having that like, you know, repository is you say really help people, you know, career guidance and stuff.

Like it’s not just about like content libraries on learning. It’s how do you like lead the functioning of an organization to develop people to their fullest?

I mean, it’s like a Venn diagram, isn’t it, of talent, performance and intelligence. I mean, literally, that’s what sits at the heart of something like this, which is a way to index and utilize intelligence about the company, about their clients, about their practices, about technology, whatever it is.

And that link into performance and being driven by talent and kind of framed by talent. So I think, you know, that’s probably a sweet spot that we know a lot of nerdy development professionals are really, really trying to get to. And then perhaps pulling the levers on performance and, and missing out in the intelligence and then perhaps overindex in on talent, missing out on intelligence.

So this is a way to kind of go just get all the three wheel spinning in the same direction and jobs.

Good. All right. And I guess that’s what clients are asking you to do for them, is to sort of connect the dots and not think that, like, there’s one magic platform that’s going to solve, solve all these problems.

And so we can’t and without thinking like, so the trend in the world is AI and that’s all anybody talks about. And some people are scared and some people are excited. We need to deal with a lot of different clients, like, what are you hearing and what are you seeing in terms of how HR professionals are thinking about AI?

I think rightly so. They are starting to understand two key things. One is just how much it could unlock some of the information and usability of guidance and data and so on. So I guess in a sort of large language model, accessible at any time, contextualized to natural language substitute for an advisor. I think they’re definitely thinking that can free up some capacity.

And, one of the clients that I’ve been working with who’ve been using this probably for about 18 months now, is seen a kind of an 80% shift in where people query at first point to the tech and get the result they want first time. So and no dip in satisfaction. It’s all what people want. Yeah, I just want the answer. I don’t need to talk to somebody. And when I do, I want it to be more sophisticated. So I want you to have the time to do that when you cannot. So that’s a nice balance.

But the second realization is not just efficiencies and deployment. It’s the ethics and the kind of wrap around of almost like the the belief that people need to have about how it will work positively and not create more vulnerabilities, risk, error, that kind of thing. And I think H.R. realizes that it’s got a part to play in that as part of the sort of the learning cycle of how we deploy this stuff and make sure is, kind of regulated and it’s, it’s, managed well and it doesn’t leak, you know, all those kind of things. So I think it’s it’s looking at the guardianship of it.

And clearly it’s not doing that on its own. It’s doing that with the techies and it’s doing that with the governance arena. But because of people using it and people relying on it and learning and hacking, bringing in their own things, H.R. got to get involved in it because it’s got a set policy, it’s got a set learning.It’s got to set outcomes based on this. So it’s deploy and also, assure, I suppose.

Are are you sort of optimistic about, you know, how the profession of HR is evolving in the face of these changes.

I am optimistic in a couple of ways that finally, we might be able to crack this whole sense that people analytics can demonstrate value and we can use them more influential. And so on. So I’m optimistic about that, but I’m less optimistic about the fact that HR’s reputation as a tech vanguard has not been there and is unlikely to suddenly surface here. So I think we need something comes with the digital engineering and deployment side. So yeah, where I see it work really well, it’s with analysts, HR people and technologists all working very well together.

So I think it needs combined intelligence. So yeah, watch that one.

Amazing. And so and I guess we can assume that you’re new talent in a box is a nice like, online tool full of AI, advisors and assistants.

I think it will be. I think it will almost be like a sort of, you know, digital twin concierge version of you potentially say, won’t necessarily be in a box. It will be a kind of a shadow version of you that goes hunting for data and connects people and can answer queries and then prompt you by going, hey, I think now’s time to have a conversation. That person so I can see it helping us when the sort of almost like the bot is programmed to our advantage. I can see that happening because we can also then say to the bot, don’t just give me stuff that I normally look at, give me some random stuff so that I make sure my field of vision is pretty broad.

So I think we’ll be able to work in a kind of harmony with, with a kind of concierge learning bot of some sort, whether it’s a real thing or we just deploy it through a tool, I don’t know, but that’s where I think I don’t know, maybe 2040, 2045. That’s what we’re all doing.

Well exciting times. well, thanks for this. So if people want to hear more from you, I guess they can follow you on LinkedIn. And I know you have a few, but, maybe you’d like to mention some other places people can find you.

Yeah, exactly. So the books, are available at Transformational H.R. And the energize workplace. I’ve got a couple of Ted talks you can find on that site there and, yeah.
LinkedIn and And you’ll find out all about us.

Thank you. So lovely. Well, thank you very much, Perry. This has been a great pleasure.

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