Workday Podcast: Rethinking Skills, Recruiting and Retaining Talent with Accenture

From ditching the old focus on compliant employees to uncovering fresh talent by focusing on skills over pedigree, Accenture’s Tim Good talks about HR trends reshaping the future of work.


Tim Good, senior managing director for European talent and organisation, and the human potential leader at Accenture, offers an excellent case study for how to unlock valuable skills in people with unconventional career pathways: himself.

“I have an interesting background,” Good shares on this episode of the Workday podcast. “I studied music, which is not the most natural route into professional services. I had an organ scholarship at Oxford, and I was responsible for running the music in the chapel choir and playing the organ and various other things.”

But ultimately, he decided to switch gears. Attracted to the idea of a career in the “people business,” as he calls it, Good took an HR role at Accenture, and 22 years later, he has not only risen in the ranks, but become an advocate for giving second looks to job candidates who may not be obvious choices, or what he calls “hidden workers.” 

“Someone made a decision at some point to filter in someone with a music degree and consider them for a position in a professional services firm,” he shares. “Now, if you extend that concept and you start to actually challenge yourself on this, there are so many people who we could bring into the workforce.”

In addition to his enlightened approach to talent acquisition, in this episode, Good shares six workplace fundamentals that humans need, which stem from research conducted by Accenture alongside its clients. Here are a few highlights of the conversation, edited for clarity. If you enjoyed this episode, you can find our entire podcast catalog here

  • “We did a lot of research at Accenture, along with Harvard, on hidden workers, and what you see throughout all of that research is that this is a group of people who have tremendous talents. They want to work, but they just can’t find the way into it. And that's why it's important to start to look at skills. By doing that, you're able to change the conversation and look far more broadly, not only in the organisation, but also externally.”
  • “The emphasis on skills is moving the dialogue, both in terms of external talent acquisition and internal talent mobility, away from something that was designed to filter out, to something that's designed to filter in. That means not having a rigid set of criteria, such as: You need to have a university degree in economics.”
  • “To unlock human creativity, think far more in terms of outputs than inputs. So, you say, I'm going to trust you to do the right thing here. I'm going to enable you as much as I possibly can with the right tools and the right environment to succeed. But how you actually get to that goal, ultimately, I'm pretty relaxed about that — providing you don't do anything stupid along the way. That's how you move from something that's very process-driven and formulaic into something that's more like jazz.”
  • “Accenture published some research working alongside our clients that boiled down the six fundamental things that humans need in the workplace. The last, but by no means least, is employability. Is my employer giving me the space to grow as an individual so that I will be able to learn new skills, try new things, and develop within the organisation and potentially, if it's the right thing, develop beyond the organisation, and then maybe come back?”

Greg Thomas: As businesses continue to navigate uncertainty, unlocking the potential of people remains a major priority for business leaders. Understanding the future of work, how to support employees in this new hybrid world, and unlocking the right skills to support future growth are just three of the many things on the priority lists of HR leaders. Welcome to the Workday Podcast. I'm Greg Thomas, and today I'm joined by Tim Good, senior managing director for European talent and organisation and the human potential lead at Accenture, to get his thoughts on how HR leaders are tackling some of the most pressing people-related challenges today. Tim, thank you so much for being on the podcast.

Tim Good: My pleasure. Good to meet you, Greg.

Greg Thomas: So just as we start, maybe share with our listeners a little bit about yourself, your background, and what you do today at Accenture.

Tim Good: I'd love to. So Tim Good, my name. I am originally from the UK. I was born there and grew up there and studied there. And actually, I have an interesting background. So I studied music, which is not necessarily the most natural route into professional services.

Greg Thomas: Performing or theory, or?

Tim Good: All of the above, actually. So I had an organ scholarship at Oxford, and in my day, I was responsible for running the music in the chapel choir--

Greg Thomas: Oh, that's wonderful.

Tim Good: --and playing the organ, the piano, and various other things in between.

Greg Thomas: Oh, we should have you redo our intro music for us. [laughter]

Tim Good: Yeah. I was going to say maybe we do another podcast just on that. But no, I decided sort of towards the back end of my studies that I would do something different. I didn't feel I wanted to be a sort of performer at that particular juncture and as an act of, sort of, I guess rebellion as well. I come from a family of teachers. And so teaching was the other sort of natural opportunity, and despite the fact that they were all super successful and great teachers, I just wanted to do something different. And I happened upon this conversation with Accenture. And the rest is history. So I've been with Accenture for 22 years. And for the last few years, I have been responsible for leading our talented organisation business in Europe. It's our people business, so it's the part of our business that's focused on everything from change to engaging with chief HR officers, chief people officers, and their teams, to really drive change in the organisation for people. And I always often say I think I have the best job in Europe because it is just truly centred around people. My own team, but also my clients' teams and their people as well.

Greg Thomas: That's fine. And as you said, at Accenture, you're working with organisations on their people challenges and their HR transformations to harness the power of the people that they have. It's a very hackneyed phrase at this point, but the last several years have been, we will use the word unprecedented. How do you think about the main challenges that HR leaders and HR teams are facing today, and what do you hear from your clients?

Tim Good: No question we've been living through and continue to live through times of unprecedented change, and for me, that is the reality that all of us will face going forwards. That's the world that we live in. When you reflect what this means for HR, I think there's been two specific things that I would call out. On the one side, it's been incredibly moving actually to see the way that chief HR officers, chief people officers rallied around their people during the pandemic and then post-pandemic, especially here in Europe with some of the incredible challenges that we've faced owing to the war in the Ukraine. And to see the way in which sort of compassion has come to the surface in organisations, to see the way in which organisations that really got this right - and I think the majority did - put their people first and thought about what they had to do to care for their people has been a huge tenant of what we've seen over the last few years. And I think it's fundamentally changed the relationship that HR or the people function has within the organisation and also with the executive team and the organisation with the C suite and with the board. The other thing that's going on is-- in all of the surveys that you look at and in all of the dialogue that's out there, there is an acute talent shortage. And if you listen to what CEOs are saying, they're actually saying, "The biggest risk point to my business right now isn't so much what's going on in terms of the macroeconomic environment, but it's actually around having the right people with the right skills in order to be able to execute on the opportunities that I have in front of me." And that's the other side of the equation in terms of what HR leaders are dealing with and working with every day.

Greg Thomas: Yeah, I think the level of empathy that was largely shown by the business community really has been spectacular. And I know, personally, it took what could have been a very, very challenging challenge on top of the health side of the pandemic and just sort of made it a non-issue, which I'm really grateful for. And we'll come on to skills in a bit because it is a fascinating topic unto itself. But when you think about that talent shortage, and you think about the fact that we're now more into this hybrid world, the future of work is actively being shaped. And it looks very different for different organisations, I imagine. How does everything that you talked about-- that empathy and compassion while facing this talent shortage and having the right skills, how do organisations carry forward to sort of address those kind of cross-currents?

Tim Good: One of the things that organisations need to do is-- especially when it comes to the so-called notion of future of work, is I think sort of take a step back and-- you saw this at the start of the pandemic that it all became about how do I enable remote working? And then the sort of discussion moved on to a very formulaic, "Okay. If we can now be back and have some physical presence, what's the balance of that physical presence? Is it X number of days in an office? Is it Y number of days outside of an office?" What we've tried to do in Accenture and certainly what I consider to be leading practice around this is to be far more fluid around it and actually put the employee at the centre of it and recognise that no one person is the same. And actually, what you need to get to is you need to get to an infrastructure if you like, or a sort of enabling set of behaviours or values that allow people to perform to the absolute best of their ability and bring them whole selves into the workplace wherever that may be. And that will change and that will flex over time. And what works at a particular moment in time for someone may not work 6 months, 12 months down the road. Equally, you still have to be and recognise the business need, and so it is wonderful this week to be back with human beings to enjoy all of the things that are great about human nature, being able to interact with each other, watch people smile, share a private joke, pick up a theme spontaneously off the back of a discussion that you've had with someone, and all of that is much harder in a fully remote setting. So we are, no question about it, in a hybrid world, in a world where we have an omni-connection point through so many different angles and lenses, but I think that's a tremendously exciting time if you're open to it.

Greg Thomas: Yeah. And just reflecting on the first part of your answer, this idea of really putting that employee at the centre-- if you think about a large organisation, that's potentially hundreds of thousands of people with individual needs and individual approaches to work. That feels like a very different way of thinking about the workforce. As you said in the back half of your answer, there's still a business to run. We still have business needs and objectives that need to be met by the company, the team, the individual. But it almost feels like a different kind of contract, if you will, in sort of a social sense between the employer and the employee to allow for that individualism.

Tim Good: I think there's a lot of truth in that, and it comes down to a couple of fundamental things. I think on the one side, you really have to work with your line managers, your line leaders so that they are confident in navigating this environment. And this doesn't necessarily come naturally to all of them, but you want to get to a point where you have a trust-based dialogue between the employer and whoever they are-- sorry, the employee and whoever they report to so that you, together, can figure out what the right path is in order to excel in what your business objectives are, but also find a way of doing that that actually balances your own individual need. The other thing that I think has changed is that HR's role in all of this, the people's function role in all of this, has been really to move away from compliance, very much more towards enablement. And again, that comes back to trust, but it is sort of truly unlocking then the potential that lies within the organisation and its people.

Greg Thomas: Yeah, and there's a lot that needs to be in place for that enablement to be successful, I imagine. There needs to be a more clearly articulated perhaps company strategy and purpose and what my team is responsible for, what my contribution is in all of that. And all of that is to the good, but it feels like a very different mindset than, as you said, a compliance kind of mindset. It isn't, "Tick the box and do these things." It's, "Here's what we're trying to achieve. How do I enable you and empower you as an individual employee to go excel in those things?"

Tim Good: I think that's right. And I mean, one of the things that-- the way I tend to think about this both with my own teams but also when I'm having these conversations with clients is to think of this far more in terms of outputs rather than inputs. So you actually say, "I'm going to trust you to do the right thing here. I'm going to enable you as much as I possibly can with having the right skills, with having the right tools, with building the right environment to succeed." But actually, how you get to that goal ultimately, I'm pretty relaxed about providing you don't do anything stupid along the way or you don't do anything that's non-compliant. Really, that's [crosstalk].

Greg Thomas: Focus on the what instead of the how.

Tim Good: That's right. Yeah. And I think by doing that, to come back to what I said a couple of minutes ago, I think that's how you unlock human creativity. That's how you move from something that's sort of very process driven, formulaic into something that's far more-- I go back to my music analogy. It's far more jazz than it is something scripted [laughter].

Greg Thomas: That's right, that's right. Yeah, and I think the term empowerment is a little trite in modern usage, but that's what you're sort of talking about is give me the tools and the trust to do my job, and I will in turn deliver and be more satisfied as a result of that. So let's shift the conversation a little bit towards skills. You've talked in the past about these notions of untapped talent and hidden workers. There's clearly a big shift happening across probably the entire working landscape in a different pace towards the notion of skills as a way of thinking about the talent, thinking about the jobs that need to be done, and the like. Talk about skills and how you see that evolution happening.

Tim Good: Certainly, I mean, this is obviously a huge topic, but it is one of the key topics of today. I think the first thing to say is that the reason why I like the emphasis on skills is that it's moving the dialogue both in terms of external talent acquisition, but also internal talent mobility away from something that was designed to really filter out to something that's designed to filter in. And instead of having a broad-based set of competencies or instead of having a specific sort of rigid set of criteria-- I mean, a good example of this is you need to have a university degree in economics in--

Greg Thomas: And perhaps from a specific set of universities.

Tim Good: That's right. Even worse, from a specific set of universities in order to even get into the entry for a discussion around this. When you take a step back, that's incredibly narrowing. And I mean, again, I reflect it back to my own situation, and I feel incredibly fortunate both in terms of where I grew up in life and in terms of what I do now. Someone made a decision at some point to filter in someone with a music degree and consider them for a position in a professional services firm. Now, if you extend that concept and you start to actually challenge yourself on this, there are so many people that we could bring into the workforce that actually want to work, and we did a lot of research on this in Accenture about 18 months ago with Harvard on hidden workers, both in North America, but also in Europe, and what you see throughout all of that research is that all of this population, this group of people have tremendous talents. They want to work, but they just can't find the way into it. And so that's why it's important to start to look at skills, and by doing that, what you're able to do is you're able to change the conversation and look far more broadly in the organisation, but also external to it.

Greg Thomas: Yeah, it does feel like a very fundamental shift and one that-- just reflecting on what you were saying, Tim, it changes the conversation in sort of not just a meaningful way, but in what feels like a progressive and forward-leaning way because skills is such a broad thing, if you will. That's not exactly the best word for it, but I have young adult children, and one of them who's just entered the workforce, one who's on the cusp of graduating from university, and they don't quite have that sense of, "I have skills," but you do. You're honest. You know how to show up on time. You want to put in an honest day's work. And of course, you've learned some things at university and through some of the work experiences that you've had, and that would not show up in the same way in a traditional resume sort of format. But when you shift the conversation towards what am I able to do, and then based on what I know and what my skills are, what might those adjacencies be? It's a very different way of thinking about human potential.

Tim Good: I think that's right. And what it does is it allows you to then start to have a conversation with the individual as well around their own development and their own aspirations. And as human beings, if we continue to do the same thing for a long period of time, we get bored. We are naturally inquisitive people, and if you look at that within the context of an organisation, what happens when an employee starts to become bored? Well, they disengage, and they start to look for areas of engagement externally, elsewhere, and before you know it, they've left your organisation and you've missed out on an incredible opportunity to let that person grow in your organisation alongside of you. So this is about also at its heart, I think fulfilling a basic human need, which is that sort of inquisitive nature and that desire to continue to move forward.

Greg Thomas: That's right. It's almost filling almost like a basic psychological need as opposed to just a need to put food on the table and provide for one's family.

Tim Good: That's it.

Greg Thomas: Let's shift a bit to culture. Some of what we've been talking about is very much probably rooted in how a company thinks about culture, that shift towards trust or being more trustworthy towards employees, a shift towards skills. How should HR leaders be approaching culture given everything that's happened over the past few years in the world and continues to happen, and what do you view as the key components of building and sustaining a healthy organisational culture?

Tim Good: We did a lot of work around this in Accenture. We published some research which we called Care to Do Better or Net Better Off working alongside of one of our clients. We were working with them on this. And we boiled this down to six fundamental things that humans need in the workplace, and I think this is a really good set of things to guide on and reflect on and think about. The first one of those is basic financial needs, so ensuring that an employee is taken care of financially. That is actually important. And it's not about trying to ensure that everyone earns the absolute top-dollar best salary that's out there with the greatest compensation package. It's ensuring that someone has the basic need taken care of so that they're not waking up in the middle of the night thinking, "Oh my goodness. I can't pay for the critical things I need in my life: heating, security, bringing up my children, etc." And the second of those is around emotional and mental care, so actually caring for the individual's emotional needs, and linked to that is relational needs. So we often ask, do people have a best friend at work? Can I bring my whole self to work? Can I actually talk openly at work around what's going on in the workplace, but also outside of work?

Tim Good: There's a physical need that we need to think about as employers. So that's ensuring that people are taken care of physically, that their health and well-being is put to the fore. And you touched upon this, Greg, earlier around purpose. Is this purposeful? Are my values as a human being aligned to the values of this organisation? And this is a very, very hot topic right now, especially as we look at some of the transitions going on across the business world and beyond, especially when you look to things like sort of the sustainability agenda. What's my company's position on its carbon footprint? What is my company's position on the ESG agenda? And so on. And then last but by no means least, and this is where it sort of ties back to skills, is employability. So is my employer today giving me the space to actually grow as an individual so that I will be able to learn new skills, try new things and develop within the organisation and potentially, if it's the right thing, develop beyond the organisation and then maybe come back? Because we know that a job is not necessarily for life anymore in the way that we used to talk about it. So I think those six things are a really good set of reference points on all of this. And then, you can figure out what that means within the context of your own organisation.

Greg Thomas: Yeah, we could do 30 minutes on each of those 6. That's a wonderful list. How do you talk to your clients about where to focus in? As they assess their own cultures, they probably are doing better on some and less well on others. Is there a prioritised list that you think about? Focus here first, or is it truly individualised to each organisation?

Tim Good: It's truly individualised. I mean, what we found in the research is that the organisations that are placing an emphasis on these six things are the ones that are excelling from a business performance perspective. And there's a clear-- without going into all the detail of it here. There's a clear correlation between that. Now, there will always be a degree of variability from organisation to organisation on this and the emphasis that you place on it. But I think what the pandemic has taught us is that we really do need to double down, I think, on that. I would say that relational one because I think that relational one is the key to actually having an open dialogue to unlock the others. It's a key to understanding the person with you. I mean, it's at the very heart of human beings', life.

Greg Thomas: Well, we're social creatures.

Tim Good: It's communication. We're social creatures. And sometimes I think we just forgot how to do the social bit in the workplace. We got into this very strange world of, I'm going to give you a list of tasks. They need to be done by this time. If they're not done--

Greg Thomas: We became more transactional.

Tim Good: Yeah, that's right. And there's going to be a penalty that you have to pay if you don't get them done. And we know that that carrot and stick thing doesn't work. I mean, I have four kids, and you can forget the carrot and stick thing. Trust me. I tried it. It just doesn't work. But when you actually take more time, when you actually engage on a human-to-human level, that's, I think, where the magic starts. So if I had to pick one of the six where I often start with clients, it would be there.

Greg Thomas: Well, and I think it's fascinating that that's the one you chose because, as you said, they're all important. But there's also been a fair amount of research coming out of the pandemic that for those workforces and those workplaces where remote working was possible, the strong ties within your team and your direct working group, by and large, seem to have come through the pandemic reasonably well. But those looser ties, that sort of circle beyond the people that you would run into in the kitchen or the hallway, those proverbial sort of conversations, turns out that they did actually happen, and they did actually matter. And those are the relationships that seem to have suffered the most over the last three years.

Tim Good: I think that's right. And honestly, I think from a personal perspective, those were some of the conversations that I really missed myself. I mean, I do consider that I was in a very fortunate position through the pandemic. Through, well, for two simple reasons, actually. So first and foremost, I always sort of felt a comfort because I was living in a country with a phenomenal healthcare system. And I'm not in a risk group and no one in my family, thank goodness, was in a risk group. The second thing was I live in a house that we had a degree of space. We had a garden, and we live on the edge of an enormous forest, so we had all of this sort of open space that we could go out into and still enjoy nature, and I think if I'd been cooped up in a very small apartment in the cent of the city, it would have been a different experience. And then the third was I had my family around me. My wife was there, my four kids were there, and no matter the level of sort of stress that they're brought, there was never this sort of feeling of loneliness or isolation because there was always some action going on. Even after a long day there was a LEGO model to be built or even an argument to be sort of arbitrated and--

Greg Thomas: A discussion over who's loading the dishes tonight. Yeah.

Tim Good: Yeah, that's right. And I think that was-- I feel frankly very privileged to have been in that position and being able to navigate through that way.

Greg Thomas: Yeah, I agree with that wholeheartedly. It was not a fun period of time, but in the grand scheme of things, I have nothing to complain about. I feel very blessed for myself, for my family that we came through it okay and that we had one another and had the support of an employer to do what was necessary at the time. So as we round the turn towards home, you touched on ESG, which is clearly an area that's getting a lot of focus across the world of business, different talk of different regulations coming into place in different parts of the world. What role do you see HR playing in the ESG conversation as it advances over the next period of time?

Tim Good: HR within this has a leadership role to play. There's no question. Whether it needs to lead on the entirety of the agenda, I think is probably open to discussion because if it's [crosstalk]--

Greg Thomas: It is a quite broad set of topics.

Tim Good: It's a broad set of topics, and organisations will make different choices on this. So for example, you've seen the rise in many organisations of functions specifically dedicated to, if you like, the sustainability part of the equation, and I think that's absolutely right. And for many organisations, the kind of challenges that they're facing around sustainability are fundamental to what they do. I think when you look more on the people dimension of this, where HR has a role to play is it has a role to play in terms of building that open culture coming back to what we were talking about before and ensuring that the workforce is ready in terms of the way that it is actually built, but also in terms of the values that it has to be able to support all of the agenda in its entirety. I mean, for me, the whole ESG debate discussion, I mean, it's just so welcome because I've always believed that as an organisation, when you are more inclusive, when you are more diverse, when you're more equitable, you just increase the possibilities of what you want to do. I mean, if you were so arrogant to sit there and think that if you're selling widgets, you can do that as a group of white men, then you can forget it, because you've just already, by nature of being a group of white men, alienated a whole section of people that could be there, and then the discussion--

Greg Thomas: And you just have a more limited perspective.

Tim Good: You have a more limited perspective, yeah.

Greg Thomas: It's not an inherently bad thing necessarily. It's just that you only have the perspective that you have as an individual human, and if everyone around you is plus or minus the same as you, then that's the perspective you bring, and it's not broad enough.

Tim Good: That's right. That's right. And I think that's the part of this that HR has to plan, and I think for the most part, we are. I'm seeing some wonderful, wonderful examples of this, and they are inspiring. And it's diversity with a capital D. Clearly, in terms of ensuring that you are, as an organisation, truly diverse in terms of the cultures that you embrace in terms of reflecting the societies that you're in. But it's also, I think, sometimes diversity with a small D coupled with that, which is ensuring that you've got thought diversity in there as well so that you don't have all of the people coming from the same backgrounds. I mean, again, going back to what we were talking about before, from the same schools from the same universities. You want to have thought diversity in the mix as well because that's what's going to take the organisation forward ultimately.

Greg Thomas: Yeah. Well, and again, to tie back to what you were saying earlier, in order to have that, you also need to have that trust. You need to have that environment in which people feel like they can voice an opinion that perhaps is cutting against the grain or doesn't agree with the other people at the table, and so it all sort of fits together quite nicely.

Tim Good: That's right. Now, I think fostering an environment that is psychologically safe so that you can have that conversation is very, very important. And I'm a real fan-- and again, maybe this comes back from my musical roots, but ensuring that even the most quiet voice in the room gets heard. Again, we could do another podcast on probably on music, but I spent a good degree here for my time working with orchestras and with choirs, and it's sometimes not necessarily listening to the loudest thing in the room, which depending on your viewpoint, is probably a brass instrument. Sometimes you really want to actually listen and find out what's going on with flutes and so on and so forth because if that's going awry, then sooner or later it's--

Greg Thomas: Yeah. Yeah, we should reconnect. Yeah. I'm a big fan of dynamic range in music. It's nice to hear everything, not just like you said, the brassiest and loudest things. So I did not see you carry a crystal ball in the room. You might have one in your case in the other room. But as you look ahead over the next pick a time frame - year, 18 months, two years - we've covered a lot of ground, but what are the trends you think HR leaders really need to be keeping their eye on?

Tim Good: Again, I'll almost finish where I started on this. The skills agenda is huge, and the reason why that is huge is I believe it is the route to unlocking the talent challenges that CEOs are facing. So the only way that we're going to-- you're not going to be able to hire your way out of the problem anymore. The talent simply isn't there, so we're going to have to place a huge amount of emphasis on internal mobility, on lifelong learning, and that's how we're going to build the skills that we need to tackle. What I think are actually-- when you step back from all of the challenges, the world's got some really inspirational stuff. So if you think about energy transition, if you think about where we're going with healthcare, and you think about building the skills that we're going to need to serve that, that is really, really exciting. And then the other thing that organisations, leaders, HR, people leaders are going to need to do is to ensure that they build that inclusive culture to get there so that that quietest voice in the room is heard, because oftentimes that's the voice that's going to provide the most value in the discussion.

Greg Thomas: That's a wonderful place to leave it. We've been talking with Tim Good from Accenture about HR trends and the future of work. I'm Greg Thomas. Thank you for listening and if you'd like to hear more, you can find all of our podcasts at or wherever you listen to your podcast. Thanks for listening and have a good work day.

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