An Interview with Morag Barrett, Noted Speaker and Author

Morag Barrett is an MA HRM, chartered FCIPD, and the author of The Future-Proof Workplace: Six Strategies to Accelerate Talent Development, Reshape Your Culture, and Succeed with Purpose. An accomplished speaker and executive development expert, she is the founder of SkyeTeam with 25+ years of experience in coaching senior executives and developing high-impact teams and with leadership development programs across Europe, America and Asia. She intimately understands the challenges of running a business and managing people. For fun, you can find Barrett playing in the Broomfield Symphony Orchestra, where she is the principal bassoonist. In case you were wondering: her name is Scottish, and means “great.”

I would like to point out that I wholeheartedly agree with the sections I have highlighted.  I feel that Morag emphasizes an overlooked part of the SHRM Annual Conference.

What key highlights would an HR practitioner gain from reading your book? Why do you think that?

Dr. Linda Sharkey and I wrote The Future-Proof Workplace in response to the challenges we were hearing and observing in organizations across the U.S. We realized that the “war for talent” is an often-heard mantra of today’s CEOs. This issue was identified as early at 1997, when McKinsey conducted War for Talent research and cited that there would be an “imminent shortage of executives.”

We’re in the thick of this battle for qualified team members and will continue to be for years to come.

As a result, the expectations of HR are changing. Companies are looking for HR professionals who are broad HR leaders—who focus on the talent and cultural aspects of an organization, as opposed to the more tactical aspects of traditional HR, compensation, benefits, and HRIS.

Expectations of and by Millennials and the next generation of employees is transforming the nature of work.

Statistically, Millennials will likely stay with your company for three years before moving on.  In this fast-paced talent environment, a hiring mistake costs money, precious time, and lost competitive advantage.

Unfortunately, too many HR leaders are still in the weeds of administration and are not focused on the future.

According to the research done by Kotter and Heskett, companies that focus on talent effectively have stronger profitability. Traditional talent management in legacy companies focused on succession plans (which are still important), career next-moves, and pipeline. Usually the conversation was about the top twenty percent, missing eighty percent of the rest of the workforce.  This focus will no longer fly in the 21st century. 

The more strategic conversations were missing:

  • Do we have the right talent for the strategy of the company?
  • Are we most effectively deploying talent based upon their strengths?
  • Do we understand the talent needs relative to the business strategy?
  • Can talent quickly be deployed to meet strategic needs?
  • Do we understand the aspirations of the talent?
  • Are we clear on the behaviors that support the culture?

To future-proof a company, HR professionals must know their portfolio well, know where the company is going and be able to build strategies to attract, develop and retain talent.

Yesterday, today and tomorrow.

Twentieth-century HR was largely reactive. But, 21st-century HR will become more intentional, scientific and proactive.

Understanding the workforce in a more detailed way enables organizations to be more personal in how they create workforce development initiatives. In the past, this was done in training programs; but now we can understand aspirations and skill preferences, and how they intersect with company values. This means we can truly align personal goals with company goals in a very clear way.

Today’s organizations require more from their human resource partners. Organizations now need individuals who apply as much rigor to the “people portfolio” as they do the rest of the other levers that drive organization performance.

Twenty-first-century companies need catalysts to ensure that talent is aligned to the strategy. Additionally, they need to be experts in how to create and maintain a culture that supports top performance.

Are there other key points from your session that you feel HR practitioners would learn from, that are outside your book?

In essence, every HR leader needs to be a Chief People Officer.

They are way more than business partners. Talent and culture metrics need to become part of business metrics. Measures need to be in place—going beyond attrition, headcount, performance measures, compensation alignment and diversity. One must understand the total cost of the workforce and how those costs impact revenue and gross margin.

Most organizations manage and track headcount, which is only a small factor in the way one needs to consider talent.

The 21st-century HR questions must be:

  • Is your talent aligned to your customer base and strategy?
  • Can you quickly realign talent as your business priorities shift?
  • Do you understand your whole workforce, or just the top twenty percent?
  • Do you have a performance excellence process, or are you still stuck in performance management and rating?
  • Do you have a culture that supports development, or is it just for your best performers?
  • Are you planning for generational shifts?

No matter the size of your workforce, you can apply these same 21st-century shifts to future-proof your company and compete in the battle for talent.

What is a book you’d recommend, other than your own, that HR folks would benefit from? It doesn’t have to be a straight HR book.

Triggers by Marshall Goldsmith. I loved this book and it’s insights regarding personal change. Both as HR professionals investing in our own development and in the work we do supporting leaders across the business, this has been an invaluable resource.

What speakers do you plan to see at SHRM17 and why?

I am really excited to hear and learn from the keynote speakers at SHRM17. There are so many great concurrent sessions; I want to attend them all!  However, I plan to attend breakout sessions—including Lida Citroen’s “How to Recruit, On Board and Retain Veteran Talent,” which is a topic that many of my clients are discussing as part of their Diversity and Inclusion strategies. I’m also interested to hear from Laura Stack on “Workflow Mastery: Organize Your Time, Tasks, and Inbox” for the personal learning and discipline for managing my own, endless, inbox and workflow!

However, it’s the learning and insights from the informal conversations with peers and other attendees that I am really looking forward to. The value of the relationships and learning that can be gained over lunch, in the coffee line and from the chance encounters that are often overlooked can be powerful.

What is your can’t-miss recommendation for New Orleans—other than the conference, of course?

It’s my first time in New Orleans, so I intend to get out and about to experience the history and atmosphere that I’ve heard all about. That would be my “can’t-miss” recommendation. It would be too easy to see nothing but the conference hall venue. Instead, make time to explore the city.  Walk back to your hotel the long way round.

If you are attending on your own, make sure to meet up with others outside of the conference sessions. Don’t make SHRM2017 all about the business of HR. Have fun, and take the time to make and nurture your new professional relationships!


Find Morag on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and at


Morag’s Session Information:

The Future of Work is Today. Are You Ready?

Monday, June 19th 2:00 PM – 03:15 p.m.

Book Signing

June 19th 3:30 p.m.



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