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Vana's Blog: Halfway Through.. So how is 2016 - 2017 Looking?


We’re halfway through the business year so, as like last September, we thought now would be a good moment to reflect on 2016-17 to date. Vana Resourcing Directors, Debbie Flowers and Jo White, assess the last six months – both for the business and the HR industry in general.

1. How would you summarise 2016-17 so far?

Debbie: It feels good. It’s been busy and we’ve been working with clients across a diverse range of sectors; Financial Services, Retail, Betting, Digital, Utilities, FMCG, Logistics, Construction, Pharmaceutical and Engineering. The strongest demand has been from the corporate market, with continuing large-scale transformation as a result of acquisition/integration or driving greater organisational effectiveness.

Jo: It’s definitely been an incredibly busy and exciting few months, with the opportunity to work on multiple vacancies with a number of great brands. The demand for strong talent remains high, with a consistent call out for strategic business partners to lead and execute the change that Debbie has highlighted. I don’t think we expected it to be so busy so quickly into the new calendar year – but long may that trend continue!

2. With 2017 fully under way, how would you describe market trends – from the perspective of both clients and candidates?

Debbie: We’re still seeing a mix of talent required across the HR organisations. The demand for HR Director’s, Heads of HR and Senior Business Partners remain consistent, but it’s increasing for Organisational Design/Talent Director’s with a broad toolkit  as we’re seeing a focus on building a broader ‘holistic development’ centre of expertise. We’ve also seen an increase for Employee Experience specialists, and Reward/Compensation & Benefits expertise – particularly interim – and as there remains a small pool of experienced specialists available at short notice, it inevitably increases the rates they can command.

We currently represent a strong talent pool, with both continued partnerships from last year and significant interest from new candidates looking to make a move in 2017. This isn’t unusual for January but does suggest that confidence is high. We continue to reach out directly to engage passive talent identified within the market for a number of discreet projects, and this focus has delivered a number of excellent hires and a solid pipeline.

Jo: More than ever, and as noted last September, we’re seeing candidates driven by an organisational culture and values. They’re increasingly keen to ‘test’ culture, observe leadership behaviours, and understand the employee experience, and helping our clients to shape the right assessment and selection process to enable a sense of this is critical.

3. Do you anticipate one particular issue or trend that might define the industry in 2017?

Debbie: Employee Experience – it’s a topic that features in most client conversations.

  • Employee experience. Most companies have introduced some form of flexible working, typically working from home or remotely for a day or so, with some industries still trying to make the cultural shift from presenteeism to some degree of mobile working. However, it’s about so much more than this. The Chief People Officers and HRDs that truly ‘get’ this are driving a culture of true agile working – the ‘consumerisation of HR’ as described by one commentator in a really great article I saw recently. They’ve done their research, recognising that people do their best work at different times of the day in different environments. They’re offering a truly flexible proposition based on trust and empowerment – getting the best out of their people and demonstrating that results and outcomes can be achieved in different ways. We hear a lot about employee engagement, but rather than using surveys to seek the engagement holy grail (an approach increasingly questioned, such as in this feature by Lucy Adams), we should be focusing on employee experience – in this case where work is designed to play to an individual’s strengths.
  • Job Sharing. There was recent media coverage of the successful HRD job share case study of Alix Ainsley and Charlotte Cherry at Lloyds Banking Group. I’ve known Alix for many years, and I often approached her during the latter years of her tenure at GE about a potential move, but the opportunities that I presented her with never offered enough flexibility to make this move. She secured the role at LBG herself together with her GE colleague, selling themselves as a pair, and both are real trailblazers for job-sharing – something I hope to see embraced by more organisations.  It’s also good to see Vodafone UK launch #Reconnectors; a programme proactively sourcing professionals looking to return to work having taken time out to raise a family.

There are three further articles that we enjoyed:

  • The challenge of business agility, and how the world is changing faster than many organisations can deal with. An opportunity for HR to lead and redefine itself? Absolutely, according to Sharon Olivier, Director of Open Programmes for Ashridge Executive Education.
  • a report of the People Analytics & Future of Work conference cited business impact, employee experience and expanding HR’s analytic capabilities as recurring themes.
  • meanwhile the ‘digital workplace’, wellness and transformation of the annual performance review all feature in Priscilla Kuehnel’s six predictions for the workplace in 2017.

Jo: Diversity/Unconscious bias.

We shortlist the best talent to do the job through our selection process, designed to provide objectivity and rigour in any shortlisting process. It’s obviously about finding the right skills, experience and potential, but for us the critical ingredient is identifying candidates with the right values – getting the cultural fit right. Our clients have become focused on increasing diversity across their colleague groups but, as suggested in our recent blog, this isn’t just about gender, race, or even educational background. It’s also consciously challenging the preference to hire on ‘type’. Unconscious bias – for example, personality and likability – makes hiring a diverse workforce much more challenging (Suneil Kamath suggests ways of overcoming this such as submitting interview feedback beforehand to help mitigate any bias in a hiring meeting, and basing a hiring decision purely through culture fit).

4. With plans starting to emerge, from your experience do you think Brexit will have an increasing impact on the industry?

Debbie: To be honest, no idea! We were concerned when it was announced, and an early temperature check showed that candidates were hesitant to open a conversation regarding a move – or were second-thinking their acceptance of an offer. However, this was very short lived. As we’ve mentioned, confidence remains high, people are on the move and eager to talk and explore possibilities. I think we’re all still waiting to understand what it will mean to us and how exactly it will impact the business landscape.

5. Vana has been involved with international hires/direct search in recent months. Is this a growing source of business activity?

Jo: Yes indeed, January and February have seen Vana involved in two international assignments, one not too far away in Jersey another in Canada, and one about to commence in Spain. Working on relationships, we’re not restricted by geography. From a team perspective we’ve become a 24-hour operation, taking advantage of technology and time differences!

Debbie:  We’ve been asked a number of times over the years to work on search assignments outside the UK and have generally (politely!) declined. I guess it’s because we pride ourselves on our deep knowledge of the UK market, and like to understand the landscape, be confident that we can navigate quickly, and deliver the best shortlist. However, the data and technology now available to us, combined with the support of a very strong research team, means that geography doesn’t really matter anymore. Therefore, Vana is more open to international work providing our due diligence stacks up and we’re confident that we can deliver.

I’ve recently returned from Canada where I carried out a direct search for an HR & Development Director in Calgary on behalf of a London-based client (my visit coincided with their coldest snap in a while at -25C so, as I’m a sunshine girl, it was a true experience!). However the Canadian welcome was extremely warm. It was an interesting search, with a shortlist since presented and client final interviews now underway.

6. One of Vana’s ‘brand’ highlights of the year to date was as a category sponsor at the Personnel Today awards. What plans are there to be out and about in the industry over the coming months?

Jo: We recently assembled a list of high profile industry events, seminars and awards for consideration, and have already committed to some of these.  The next on the calendar is the HR Grapevine Annual Conference which we are attending on March 16th, and we have already committed to sponsor the HR Impact category again at the Personnel Today Awards 2017.  More to follow.

7. And outside work…

Jo: I’m now in my third year as a bee-keeper and last year saw the very first honey harvest of BeeGoo. I’m not quite at volumes where I can plan my retirement but being around this brings with it a real sense of calm (careful – slow movements are a necessity) and provides a welcome counterbalance to the day job! 2016 was also the year that I challenged myself to learn a musical instrument and 2017 will see me performing in my first ever ‘gig’. This is quite alarming news to those who know me well as, well, let’s just say I’m not naturally musical. The instrument? A ukulele.

Debbie:  I’m trying my best at yoga twice a week under the talented eye of Simona at YogaBodhi – it’s hard, but I’m getting better and realising the benefits it has for both mind and body.  I’ve met some lovely new people too.  My friend Anya has signed us for the Cotswold 100k in aid of Action for AT.  The training plan is a little frightening, so I’m trying to fit in a swim and run whenever possible!  For more info;    I’m always chasing warmer climates at this time of year so just booked a couple of trips – a family adventure with Daisy & Alfie, and a return to mystical North Africa with a very good friend.

8. And finally… the power of thank you.

Debbie: With the world of business continually frenetic and fast-paced, it’s easy to lose sight of the values and gestures that arguably have the greatest impact. For me these are honesty, authenticity, warmth – and saying thank you. All are really important to me, and core to Vana’s approach, so it was heartening to see such attributes being picked up by Forbes and LinkedIn – proof that, in business, being likeable and successful are not mutually exclusive!

On that note, thank you for reading!