Alison Ettridge is founder and CEO of Stratigens, a company based in Cardiff, known for its software application that provides strategic decision intelligence. Stratigens mission is ‘to help companies join the dots between the labour market and workplace so that they make decisions that are data-led, fast and cost effective’. Ettridge says that you can’t make good decisions without good data, and yet business leaders are forced to make decisions with little, or no, data at all.
Ettridge loves helping HR Directors take data and insight to the Board so they can make smarter decisions about where to grow, where to invest and the diversity of their business. She has spent twenty plus years in the world of people and talent – from her first job in executive recruitment, to sales at monster.com and then into the world of talent research and intelligence. Stratigens provides Talent Intelligence data and insights and she helps clients apply it. Together with Toby Culshaw (and others) she has a podcast: The Talent Intelligence Collective Podcast. During the Talent Intelligence Conference she will tell about her experiences in and views on Talent Intelligence.
Q: You describe your position at Stratigens as Chief Believer, and your CTO is called ‘head of making magic happen through tech’. Sounds like neohippies in tech. What do you mean by Chief Believer?
A: (Laughs) ‘I like that question! My job title is about getting people to believe in the art of the possible when it comes to all things talent and intelligence. That belief comes from me being an “evangelist”, an advocate on all of those things. So that makes me kind of chief believer. And the stuff we get done, is about “making magic happen”. The reason that kind of job descriptions spread through the business is because it highlights one of the big challenges in talent intelligence: data.’
‘Me being the Chief Believer started as a bit of a gimmick but in fact holds a message in how much we have to do to clean, categorise and make sense of the data before it is useful to our clients.’
‘Because the data we need is in thousands of places, it’s really messy, it’s really unstructured. And job titles provide a great example of how different people in different businesses call themselves different things. So how do you make sense of all those different job descriptions from a data perspective? Me being the Chief Believer started as a bit of a gimmick but in fact holds a message in how much we have to do to clean, categorise and make sense of the data before it is useful to our clients.’
Q: So how did you get involved with Talent Intelligence?
A: ‘I’ve spent 26 years in the world of talent in some way, shape or form, always on the supplier side and always in businesses that were challenging thinking. I worked for monster.com when they were the first recruitment job site, for example. Nobody had ever put adverts online. 15 years ago, I got into this consultancy world of talent intelligence and joined a business that was called Talent Intelligence. The team was made up of a guy whose background was talent and a guy whose background was military intelligence. And this combination of gathering and aggregating information from the external world and using it for either strategic or tactical purposes, is very interesting. Then I went on to be on the leadership team of three talent intelligence consultancies, doing qualitative research.’
‘I began to realise the absolute power of talent intelligence, but I was paying qualitative researchers to search online for data, right? And, and their power is qualitative research. So I just thought, well, there’s got to be a better way of getting the data. Another thing that really occurred to me was that all of the work that we were delivering to HR directors and Chief People Officers was always after a questionable decision had been made by their company. They were always getting a report in order to present to the board why they needed more money or how they were going to sort out problems caused, in part, to the decision being made without insight into the labour market.’
‘At Stratigens we are passionate about preventing companies making business decisions without thinking about access to the skills they need to deliver on them.’
‘Then I said, I’m going to build a piece of software that can help organisations make faster, smarter, better workforce planning decisions. At Stratigens we are passionate about preventing companies making business decisions without thinking about access to the skills they need to deliver on them.’
‘Organisations are scared to refer to people as assets because people are individuals, but actually as a collective, they absolutely are an asset. Until companies start to treat their collective skills base as human capital, (whilst still treating individuals as individuals) then actually things won’t change. Companies do research on their clients, they do research on their markets, they do research on their competitors all the time, but don’t do research on the one thing that impacts most on their ability to deliver their business strategy. And that’s access to the skills that they need. We need to start thinking more commercially about all things people.’
Q: One of your hashtags on LinkedIn is “using labour markets and analytics to drive radically smarter workforce planning”. So what does that look like in real life?
A: ‘It’s about using data to make smart decisions, typically about your workforce. Our clients use Stratigens in three, possibly four fundamental ways. First: making sure that they are optimising their location footprint. To make sure that they have access to the people that they need. And that might be physical, or it might be virtual: how do we optimise to make sure that we have access to the right people? And the only way you can do that is by understanding hotspots for talent. Supply is shrinking in Western Europe and the US generally and population demographics show this is not going to change so we must look for skills populations elsewhere.
Second: what are the related skills to the roles a business needs and how can companies use that to inform their learning strategy. Which of the skills do we need to keep as an organisation, and which skills do we need to train as an organization? Then you get down to the individual and and their skills and decide how important is it that we train, develop, and retain them.
The third one – this one I’m really passionate about: our clients use our insight to benchmark the perceived diversity of the external labour market. But most organisations, if you ask them where their diversity targets have come from, it’s a finger in the air. You wouldn’t make any other business decision in that way. You’d use data to inform it. If you are hiring subsea engineers in the North Sea, there is no point in saying to a hiring manager, your team must be made up of 40% females, if the external labour market has only 10% of that labour market made up of females. These three cases are all fundamental to good workforce planning.
‘You can use talent intelligence to look through the lens of your competitors to see what their next move is.’
The last use is the real power of talent intelligence. You can use talent intelligence to look through the lens of your competitors to see what their next move is. If your competitors suddenly start to hire a whole bunch of new skills, or they suddenly start to hire skills in a new location, then that is a leading indicator of what their next activity will be. For example: Apple hired a lot of individuals from Intel from their chip function six months before they terminated the contract with Intel, because they decided to build chips in-house. As you can see, data answers and informs so many different decisions.’
Q: In your keynote at the Talent Intelligence Conference you are going to combine what’s happening in the world right around us now, and look at how does that relate to TI. How do you combine TI with for example Brexit, or the war in Ukraine?
A: ‘Let’s first look at straight macro demographics and the impact these will have on the availability of skills. We don’t have enough people in the US and Western Europe to do the jobs that we need them to do. Even allowing for the fact that AI will take some of those jobs. Secondly, globalisation and digitalization mean everybody is after the same skills. The third thing that will impact is climate change. We are going to see movements of populations around the world as a result of climate change, and therefore understanding where those skills groups are, where those movements are going to be, is critical to an organisation.’
‘And then the fourth is the political challenge, whether that’s Brexit, which 100% impacted on people’s ability to hire and attract talent in the UK. Or whether it’s a change in government, like the possibility of a Sin Fein government in Ireland or a second Trump government in the US. Regardless of what your views are politically, you need to be able to plan what that means for your business.’
‘Data Intelligence is at its most powerful when it looks at big movements, every 30, 60 or 90 days.’
‘Sometimes this can happen very fast. Like for instance the Ukraine War. Millions of refugees in Western Europe, including a lot of highly skilled people. Is Talent Intelligence able to react, almost live to that kind of very dramatic changes? Yes – qualitative and primary research can see this very quickly. Data Intelligence is at its most powerful when it looks at big movements, every 30, 60 or 90 days.’
Do you want to learn more about Talent Intelligence?
On September 27-28, Intelligence Group will organise the Talent Intelligence Conference in collaboration with ToTalent, Stratigens, Werf& and the Talent Intelligence Collective. The speakers of the event will include Toby Culshaw (founder of Talent Intelligence Collective and head of talent intelligence at Amazon), Alison Ettridge (CEO at Stratigens), and many others. The Talent Intelligence Conference spans two days and will be held at Headfirst Group in Hoofddorp, Amsterdam. Buy your ticket here.