Battle for talent

Paul Benson explains how to prepare for upcoming talent challenges

Paul Benson, partner with Heidrick & Struggles.
Paul Benson, partner with Heidrick & Struggles.

Paul Benson explains how to prepare for the coming talent challenges as nuclear power becomes a reality in the Middle East

Globally the nuclear industry is experiencing a growth spurt. The need to reduce carbon emissions has made clean nuclear energy an attractive option and as a result, has created a global thirst for nuclear talent, such as it has never experienced before.

While the rest of the world grapples with identifying what is becoming a rapidly aging nuclear talent pool to lead their existing power fleets, the Middle East in particular is faced with three unique challenges as it enters the global market for nuclear talent.

Challenge one: local competition for talent

As several GCC countries are looking at the option of nuclear power at the same time, the war for nuclear talent in the Middle East will heat up. The first to market in the GCC will have its advantages, so executing a well thought out recruiting strategy will be critical. Moreover, as the US looks to expand its fleet of 104 nuclear reactors, locally and globally, nuclear talent is and will continue to be in great demand. 

Challenge two: entrepreneurial culture

Because the idea of nuclear power is a relatively new one in the GCC, experienced nuclear power leadership will most certainly need to come from outside the region.
Further, these newly hired executives will be entering ‘start up companies’.  Nowhere else in the global nuclear community is this the case, so the entrepreneurial nature of a GCC nuclear role would be a new experience for the hired executives given the opportunity.

This creates challenges within the organisation. Those companies who understand and are prepared for the threats and advantages associated with new leadership, will be able to absorb the inevitable culture shockwave, execute their plan for growth and make the most of their new leaders’ abilities.

In any organisation, a new leadership model has profound implications for the company culture. This leadership model should incorporate the ideal candidate blend of functional/technical acumen, culture fit, and leadership skills. Therefore a company will need to develop a comprehensive leadership talent strategy, which leverages these key elements across all of the positions being sought.

Challenge three: integrating talent into an organisation

To mitigate the risk of making a bad hire, it’s helpful to think of the process of acquiring a new leader as occurring in three stages: the preparatory stage of determining the position specification for each role sought; the exploratory stage of assessing candidates against that position specification; and the implementation stage, in which new leaders join the company.

At each of these stages, proven principles can be applied and concrete steps taken to address the risks posed by new  talent sources.

Preparatory stage: Determining company-specific requirements for the position will help define the skills, talents and experiences needed. Alignment of these skills with the strategy, organisation, and current leadership is critical. Capturing one company’s uniqueness within the position specification requires insight and creativity.

The specifications should include the competencies expected of any leader and, more important, the specific competencies, relevant experiences, and personal characteristics required in the role in order to fulfill the company’s strategic vision. Also, the specification should take into account the existing culture, degree of cultural change required, barriers to success, and specific competencies needed to overcome them.

Exploratory assessment stage: In the assessment stage, interviewing candidates with real-world challenges can distinguish the top talent from the rest of the field. All candidates should be thoroughly referenced, vetted through interviews with associates, and evaluated for the competencies established in the job specifications. But because the company is seeking talent from unusual sources, it’s imperative to engage candidates in intensive conversations about specific challenges.

For example, company’s in the GCC facing specific market objectives may want to consider the following questions for candidates. How would a candidate apply their established experiences against our entrepreneurial challenges and strategic objectives? Do they bring a valuable perspective that the company might want to have in their own culture? How do they see the company’s entrepreneurial culture affecting their approach to these challenges? Do they genuinely engage issues and suggest creative, practical answers? Or do they retreat into business platitudes, to avoid giving what might be perceived as the wrong answer?

Implementation stage: The new leader’s credibility is established. This on-boarding and taking-charge period can be critical in determining whether the leader and the culture collide or cooperate. From the beginning, the new leader should have a mentor. The mentor should be a widely respected executive with a track record of achievement, a strong commitment to the mentoring role, and the ability to establish a candid, trusting relationship to help the leader navigate the intricacies of the organisation.

With top nuclear executives scarce and their cultural fit far from assured when they are drawn from unfamiliar sources, it’s more important than ever to clearly define the required competencies, assess candidates for their ability to address company-specific challenges, and do everything possible to help a new leader succeed. The result will be a company that can move to fulfill its strategic vision with maximum speed and minimum risk.

Paul Benson is a partner with Heidrick & Struggles and leads the firm’s Power & Utility practice.  His contact is

Who is looking at the nuclear option?


In December 2008 Egypt chose Bechtel Power Corp as contractor to design and consult on the country’s first nuclear power plant.


Jordan has signed agreements with France, China and Canada to co-operate on the development of civilian nuclear power and the transfer of technology.


Kuwait is considering developing nuclear power to meet demand for electricity and water desalination, the country’s ruler said in February 2009.


In January 2009 the UAE and US signed an agreement for the exchange of civilian nuclear power capability.

Source: Thomson Reuters “Nuclear power plans across the Middle East”


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