Watch the full recording here.

The War for Talent continues to be an ever-pressing issue for Tech business across the UK. In a competitive Data job market where the demand outstrips the supply for top talent, it’s more important than ever to attract, engage and retain the best candidates if you want to continue to build and lead the best Data teams. But with such a refined landscape, combated with a ruthless hiring environment across the industry, how do businesses ensure that they are out manoeuvring their competitors?

In our latest Data panel event, we brought together four of the most coveted Data leaders in the industry to discuss what it takes to build great Data teams & win in the war for talent. We’ve shared a round-up of their key insight and advice below.

A huge thank you to our brilliant panel: 

Mike Seville, Chief Data Officer, Paymentsense
Kat Holmes, Director of Data Governance, ITV
Sara Sheridan, Director of Insight and Research, Clearscore
Andy Done, Co-Founder & Chief Technology Officer, Sprout
& a big thanks to Nick Wright, Associate Director & Head of Data at Burns Sheehan, for moderating!

The War for Talent

Where do you begin when battling in the war for talent? One of the most important elements in both attracting and retaining the top talent is ensuring that you’re securing strong buy-in from candidates by effectively selling the high-level vision of the role that Data will play within your business.

As Mike discussed, ensuring that your candidates understand and are bought into their purpose within the business, as well as having a real passion for the impact that they can make can be key in both attracting the right people into the business, and, motivating them to stay & grow with you too.

But to compete for candidates interest with well-known Tech-giants on the market, businesses need to have a strong and appealing company mission that candidates can get behind. As Sara, explained, ‘it’s not just about what you’re doing as a person within Data, it’s about what you’re doing it for and who you’re doing it for. You need to be transparent about what your users’ needs are and how you, as a technology function, are making a real difference to those users lives. This helps us to differentiate ourselves against our competition at ClearScore’.

It also comes as no surprise that our panellists consistently see people as a key motivator amongst candidates. ‘The Networking Effect’ as Mike termed it is an ongoing process of joining and retention due to the attraction of working with specific people within an organization. ‘People join for other people, and this has been one of the single biggest lessons that I’ve learnt over my years of doing this job’.

Relying on a solid network also came into play for Andy during his initial hiring phases for Sproutl during the challenging task of gaining traction and excitement for a start-up in stealth mode. When it comes to attracting top talent to a company that no one knows exists, your network is the first thing you can go to when approaching great talent or finding referrals. ‘And of course, having a great recruitment agency really helps so that people can tease out those potentially passive candidates who might be up for a start-up ride’, Andy added.

A final point of consideration, as a small business you have to use what you have to your advantage, by keeping your interview processes speedy and light you can outmanoeuvre larger organizations who inevitably will have much lengthier processes in place.

Empowering Your Data Teams

Once you have your data team established, it’s important to motivate and empower your team to bring out their best work by ultimately bringing out the best in them to create a healthy and productive company culture. If your team feels empowered, engaged and challenged, this can have a snowball effect of attracting and retaining the top Data talent.

As Andy explained, if there’s one thing that lockdown and remote working has taught us, it’s that with lack of supervision, everything builds off trust, and trust is the cornerstone of empowerment. As leaders when you place trust and accountability in your team, they become fully empowered. When your team is empowered, they step up and produce their best work.

With that in mind, holding people accountable for their mistakes is still a part of being a compassionate leader, added Kat. Without setting clear expectations for your team, you run the risk of not being able to critique work when it is not meeting your expectations, and therefore not being able anyone accountable either. This also allows your team to ‘own it’ when things go wrong and learn from it, feeding into a growth culture.

Vulnerability in Leadership

As data leaders, Mike, Kat, Sara & Andy are at the forefront of creativity and innovation within their industries. High pressure positions make for high pressure decisions and, naturally, mistakes will be made along the way. Therefore, setting and communicating clear expectations that you can hold your team accountable for is key to ensuring that there is always accountability when things go wrong.

As in life outside of work, failure is perfectly normal and simply unavoidable inside of work. All four speakers agreed that it is in failure that we grow and eradicating a fear of failure, rather than promoting a culture of pure perfectionism, will result in a more creative, engaged, and effective workforce.

This culture all starts from the very top. People need to see their leaders open-up and own their failures, deal with them, and bounce back stronger for it. Leaders who display such emotion, vulnerability and honesty with their workforce will build greater trust, and with greater trust comes greater commitment and ultimately performance.

However, it is important to understand that whilst enhanced business performance is of course important, is not the primary focus of creating a culture where people feel it is okay to display vulnerability. Rather, it is a biproduct. This subject matter runs deeper and has a higher purpose of improving the mental wellbeing of actual people, ensuring they are performing their best as all round individuals. ‘Rewarding perfectionism and emotional stoicism kills courage, which kills innovation’ Kat concluded.

At ClearScore, they talk about failure very openly and one of their principles is ‘fail and fix fast’. Sara explained, it’s about how you respond to failure, how you use it, learn from it and come back even stronger that matters. By normalising the idea of failure, you are getting comfortable with the fact that failure is going to happen, and it’s a part of learning and growing. This is particularly key when making junior hires. We can’t and won’t be perfect all the time. And you can only create this kind of environment as a leader if you are willing to talk about your own failures.

The Importance of 'Culture Fit'

The final point of discussion came in the form of exploring what the term ‘culture fit’ meant to all four as leaders of people, and the potential questions and problems it poses during the hiring process. In today’s world, and especially amongst the current ‘war for talent’, the cultural side of the business is every bit, if not more important, than the job itself as a buy point to many candidates and leaders must be mindful not to alienate the best talent with their interpretation of culture.

How culture is defined is up for open, endless debate, but what is clear is the importance to take it extremely seriously and actively engage your team in the building of a set of unique, relevant principles, which in turn become behaviours.

It is in these behaviours where an identity is created, and with a workforce both fully aware and bought into the business identity, an inclusive environment and a sense of belonging will follow, leading to greater happiness at work and the end goal of optimum performance.

As an organisation, you need to be concrete about what culture means and what the behaviours and values are of cultural fit. When it comes to the hiring process, ensure that you have a panel of people that are part of the interviewing and onboarding process that are diverse enough to ensure that you are measuring a candidates cultural fit from all angles and different perspectives.


A massive thank you to our brilliant panel for their time and valuable insights. To be kept in the loop about all of our upcoming tech events, subscribe to our monthly tech newsletter here.