Battle for Growth: Human Capital Development Strategies


Elon Musk is a master problem solver, a tremendous innovator and a master of human capital development evident in the breakthrough companies he has built and ideas he has brought to market. I admire Elon Musk’s commitment to tackling a myriad of society’s challenges and his pro. He continues to break through boundaries as an entrepreneur in his drive and unwavering dedication to free us from our dependence on fossil fuels, and driving space exploration technologies.

In a Business Insider interview, Elon Musk remarked (to paraphrase): you solve a problem by struggling with it. He’s observed while interviewing people, if they really are the person who solved a problem facing a company, the individual will understand it on multiple levels. In other words, they discover the solution by understanding the problem at the level context. His observation profoundly resonated with me. After struggling with many company’s inability to utilize human potential, I recognized a need for a major overhaul in the talent management process. Over the course of my professional experience, I had three epiphanies that defined how I wanted to evolve the talent management industry for digital.

Struggle #1: High pressure killing passion and ability to do the job

The first realization occurred during the Dot Com crash of 2001 and ‘9/11’, which marked the first reset of the digital age. I was an Executive Producer at an online content syndication company aspiring to beat the Time Out model. The company was stuck. Unable to collaborate and move toward a unified vision, trust had eroded and management was caught in a vicious cycle of reactionary behavior. With the absence of leadership, meritocracy and an incredible amount of infighting, management failed to create a cohesive team. Sadly, the dotcom failed, despite its best intentions and financial fluidity.

Witnessing the collapse of this company, I realized if they had applied collaborative leadership development strategies and created a clearly defined unified vision along with a comprehensive human capital development strategy, they could have thrived. Instead, they had piecemeal ideas and too much resistance sabotaging any positive momentum. Morale was low and ‘best work’ was sub par as a result. This experience marked the beginning of my voyage into change management and human capital.

Struggle #2: Your new Unicorn won’t fix it without everyone else being coached to create a unified vision

My second major epiphany occurred ten years later. Now a business partner and headhunter of a European search company, I had sourced an incredibly talented ex-Amazon lead engineer, a unicorn, for a mobile native Groupon clone in Europe. After he accepted the position, I had an unsettling vision that only Obiwan would understand. I brooded for an unusually long time, searching for what felt wrong. My experience working with multiple cultures and companies had taught me the first 90-days on the job determined the success of a new employee. These first three months set the stage for how a new hire would be perceived by everyone in the company, the quality of his interpersonal interactions, and as a result his ability to deliver. In this situation, I saw flashing red lights ahead.

In hindsight, I recognized both the client and the new hire needed transition and leadership coaching. At this time, leadership development was still fairly new and internally driven by HR directors of large 1000+ companies, not start-ups. Unfortunately, this company folded 9 months later. Recognizing the internal, market and cultural challenges the new recruit faced in the organisation, I felt frustrated I had not been able to support him in navigating his way to success. It marked a pivotal moment for me. I knew something had to change in the way both new hires and organisations approached the on boarding and ramp up process for a new position in order to thrive.

Struggle #3: Client says: ‘They are broken and not presentable, tell them they aren’t a fit’

The final epiphany occurred over the course of several years after presenting candidates, padawans, who received ‘not a fit’ feedback, and little more or even worse did not hear back from the recruiter. Nothing. Zilch. Not a peep. I understood that the recruiter neither knew how to coach the potential candidate through constructive criticism nor where they even in a position to provide such critical and supportive feedback. As a result, the potential candidate did not receive valuable information that would have empowered him or her to improve the perceived weaknesses.

When someone hears a little too often, ‘you’re not a fit’, that’s a company’s way of not knowing how to provide constructive feedback. It’s left up to the prospective candidate to undertake some brutal coaching to step up their individual game. Career and transition coaching was born – to support talent in getting prepared and ready to hit their career campaign at all levels: digital branding, managing their exit, searching the hidden market, managing headhunters/recruiters, networking strategies – and so on.

Then what?

Between these events, and many in between, percolating deep in my subconscious was the concept for a career transition and post-placement coaching service to solve a problem that I recognized was sabotaging the achievements of many talented professionals. For multiple reasons, ranging from management to time to resources, organisations failed to provide talent, both padawans and unicorns, with opportunities and an environment to grow from day one. They failed to initiate an effective human capital development strategy.

Back to Elon Musk’s point on ‘struggling’, I wrestled with an organisations inability to effectively confront their own challenges and support an individual’s development to be more effective professionals, to solve human capital development issues as well as reach their goals, which in turn contributes to both parties ability to make a positive impact to society (a virtuous circle). I was deep in the middle of the problem, seeing it on multiple levels with a fundamentally deep-rooted desire to solve it, before I saw how to resolve it at the level of context. I thought through many different possible solutions and almost gave up before my “AHA” moment (which was like the longest labour in history). I evolved my FORWARD’s services with the objective of supporting these talented professionals and their respective organisational homes. In this turbulent ever-changing workforce environment, my team coach talent to achieve their career and organisational objectives from when they’re hired through transition and growth phases to exit- to keep moving forward.

Caroline Stokes is the founder of FORWARD Human Capital Solutions.  FORWARD does things differently for people in digital organisations that demand inspiring talent solutions for transformative results.

For additional information on FORWARD, international talent acquisition + first 90 days coaching, leadership coaching and team coaching go to Website | LinkedIn | Twitter | Blog | Facebook