HR Leaders Roundtable, Berlin: Retaining talent in a highly competitive market

The Up Group hosted a roundtable for HR Leaders in Berlin which brought together senior People leaders from across the growth curve in one of the hottest European talent markets. Startup Genome valued the start-up economy of Berlin at $20bn - a new tech role in Berlin is created every 15 seconds.

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The breakfast began with a discussion on culture and retention. In a highly competitive market, everyone agreed that differentiating through compensation is a challenge, there will always be another organisation willing to pay more for talent. At all levels, companies need to create an environment in which people want to stay and develop. Attendees discussed the extent to which development is the responsibility of the HR team vs. that of the individual. The group shared some real examples of how this has worked in their organisations, including creating development paths that are part-owned by both the individual and the HR teams. This approach highlights the employees who want to invest in their career, rather than having to partake in development initiatives forced by the organisation. The role of the HR function is to bring structure to these progression plans, creating pathways for emerging leaders who are a mixture of measurable competencies, experiences and personal learning.

The conversation then moved on to the specific challenges of the Berlin talent market. The most in-demand talent is no longer for pure technology skills, but technology leadership, a reflection of the maturing market. This profile is hard to find, as traditional technology leaders often don’t have the soft skills and pattern matching that is needed for genuine people leadership. Crucial leadership skills discussed include hiring, being able to retain talent, and being able to coach and mentor team members.

The second part of the discussion focused on hiring for cultural contribution. There were several examples that were shared; for smaller businesses, bringing junior team members into the hiring process and giving them an equal say is a great way to ensure cultural fit and also tests for necessary leadership skills. There was also support for more experiential interviews and getting people outside of the ‘showcase’ of an interview and into a more natural environment in which their cultural contribution can be better understood.

In preparation for the roundtable, all participants completed the personality assessment to better understand their own values and personality types. This really illuminated the HR leaders’ strengths, but also where their values differed.


The analysis of the teamscope profiles showed the participants were naturally strong at initiating new projects, finding pragmatic solutions and handling public pressure. Collectively the group termed the profile above ‘The Rock’, showing they are motivated by creative freedom and building a collaborative work environment, skills they all agreed were crucial in their teams.

Interestingly, the HR leaders placed different levels of importance on security and tradition. This sparked a healthy debate about the core role of HR in a leadership team, specifically their role in mitigating people issues and the different approaches to doing so. Two schools of thought emerged. Some participants advocated the HR leader as a barrier preventing the organisation making mistakes, albeit low risk ones. But ultimately, the group concluded that allowing the organisation to make mistakes and focussing on associated learnings may be the solution to achieving a better outcome and building a more resilient leadership team.


The Up Group would like to thank all participants for a truly open and collaborative discussion. This roundtable was part of our Digital Masters series which includes functional roundtables and Board Dinners in Berlin, Paris, Amsterdam, Stockholm, New York and London.

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Events, InsightCatherine Adams