Deloitte CEO Adam Powick on how to attract and retain the best talent

Adam Powick, CEO of Deloitte Australia, says the firm has taken a number of significant steps to remain competitive in the new world of work

Talent-related issues are consistently the number one challenge currently facing employers, according to Adam Powick, CEO of Deloitte Australia.

“If I talk to clients, the first topic that really comes up right now is talent,” said Mr Powick, who observed organisations are still struggling to find solutions to talent-related challenges – many of which are a result of fallout from the pandemic of the past two-plus years.

One of the more pressing challenges for employers has been access to workers from overseas, after international border closures threw global labour markets into chaos. “How we attract, retain, engage, motivate talent in this sort of world is a critical consideration and one that is impacting all leaders,” he said.

“Sourcing talent is very challenging and, in my view, this will continue as Australia is facing a five- to seven-year talent shortage because we cannot mathematically make up that gap in migration we saw through COVID.”

Culture, flexible working and client delivery

Many organisations adopted remote working to comply with public health orders designed to stem the impact of the pandemic. A lasting effect of this change has been greater work flexibility, according to Mr Powick, who was recently interviewed by Dr Juliet Bourke, a Professor of Practice in the School of Management and Governance at UNSW Business School.

While this lasting change has made employees happier, many organisations have struggled to adapt. “We’re all grappling with issues such as how do we get the right balance between in-person and virtual work? And how do we retain our culture?” he said. “We all understand the quality of mentoring and coaching that comes through personal interactions, and this is a topic every one of us is working through in our own settings.”

Everyone’s requirements and needs are different when it comes to support, development and flexibility, he added: “you can’t say, ‘everyone, come in three days a week.’ You’ve got to approach this in a much more sophisticated and nuanced way,” he said.

In response, there has been a “huge amount of innovation around talent”, according to Mr Powick, who explained how Deloitte has changed traditional working models around client service and project delivery. “We were absolutely convinced that there was no way of effectively delivering an end-to-end technology project without being onsite. Well, actually, it turns out that you can – because we had to through COVID as we couldn’t physically get people together. We had to think differently. As a result of learnings like these, we’re redesigning a lot of our traditional services to cater for times that you can work virtually and try to maximise the impact of when you need to come in to see your clients. We’re actually redesigning how we work,” he said.

Flexible leave and scrapping 9-5 working hours

After the border closures and lockdowns of the past two-plus years, Mr Powick said many employees who had families located interstate or even overseas have been keen to see their relatives again. “A lot of our people wanted to go back and see their families. I had two children overseas, so I understood this acutely,” he said.

The firm surveyed employees and found there were up to 12 countries that employees’ families and extended families commonly resided in, and in response, Deloitte designed a tax regime for these employees so they could visit families’ home countries and also work there for two to three months before returning back to Australia. “That has been really popular and well received,” said Mr Powick.

Another major change has been the introduction of unlimited leave for all partners at Deloitte, as the firm seeks to think flexibly about established HR processes while attracting and retaining the best leaders in the industry.

Deloitte has also abolished the traditional 9am to 5pm working day and encourages employees to design their day to meet both their work and personal needs. “We wanted to do away with nine to five, and we said, ‘design your work week starting with the needs of your clients, then focusing on your teams and understanding your individual needs. And to do this in a way that makes sense for you,” he explained.

This change is still being rolled out with a current focus on culture change throughout the firm – which has been “easier said than done”, he explained. “This is a fundamental shift in the way we think about work. It’s hard but a shift that we’re deliberately and strongly tackling.”

Thinking outside the talent box

Labour shortages have caused many employers to think more broadly about talent sourcing, and Mr Powick said Deloitte is actively looking outside major cities into regional areas for talent. One focus for the firm is to attract young talent from different socio-economic backgrounds in regional areas straight out of school with an offer to put them through university and then into cadetships or internships, for example.

“We’re looking at places like Townsville, Toowoomba, Newcastle and Bendigo,” said Mr Powick, who observed many organisations are now starting to look at talent pools outside more established, traditional sources of potential candidates.

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The firm is also thinking more laterally about sourcing talent and how different skillsets and experience can be applied across different disciplines. “Why aren’t we looking at music and engineering and a whole range of different disciplines beyond business?” he asked. “It’s forcing us to think very differently about talent models.” Elite athletes, returning veterans and employees from Indigenous backgrounds as well as those are looking to return to work after raising families are just some of the potential talent pools Deloitte is looking to tap, with a view to upskilling them with digital training before being deployed into the workforce, explained Mr Powick.

“The good thing is that clients and organisations like ourselves are looking at the challenge of talent sourcing quite holistically. We’re having to rethink the way we view talent and where we get talent from. And, as a country, this is a very important discussion and agenda.”


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