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Transformation and Agile Talent Acquisition

Kate Allen, Executive Chair and Marketing Director, Allen Associates

Business transformation is a huge and exciting topic. The guest speaker at our HR Hub in August was Claire Holness, VP and Global Head of Talent Acquisition at one of the world's leading communications firms. Although we can't talk about the specifics of their journey or the strategies they are adopting, I am delighted to be able to discuss some of the key learnings. If you are responsible for hiring or are part of the people function within your organisation, don't miss these insights.

As our HR Hub partner, Malcolm Gregory, of UK top 100 law firm RWK Goodman pointed out – most organisational transformation starts with a burning platform. There is almost always a catalyst for change.

This was certainly true of the global communications firm that took centre stage at our HR Hub in August. With the arrival of a new CEO and leadership team came a real appetite for change – and transformation moved to the top of the organisation's agenda.

A decision was made to put people at the heart of the business and several measures were put in place to help build trust and transparency. These included:

  • An annual engagement survey
  • A robust people management strategy
  • A 'deal' clearly setting out what they (as the employer) would do for each and every person within the organisation  - and what they expected in return. This deal is clearly communicated across the business at all levels, and is included in the hiring process.

This people-first approach encompassed seven key philosophies:

  1. Talent
  2. Skills development
  3. Performance
  4. Diversity and inclusion
  5. Engagement
  6. Leadership
  7. Pay

There are two takeaways that are particularly worth mentioning:

1. Talent:

Every individual should be regarded as a talent within the business

2. Pay and Recognition:

People should be paid in a meaningful way – for example, in recognition for their contribution to the business and the impact they make, rather than the role that they hold. There is also a strong argument to be made for pay transparency – a concept which is often difficult for organisations to embrace but once embedded, has proved to be very successful.

Design thinking

Design thinking is all about designing solutions around people's needs and problems. Employers have to be ready to think in a different way and 'walk the talk'.

Businesses often need to bring in external expertise to help them with design thinking. An individual's experience is at the heart of the exercise so when it comes to recruitment for example, it is all about identifying the moments in the process that matter most to hiring managers and candidates. What is interesting for international companies is the extent to which the local context matters i.e. culture has a huge bearing on what they perceive to be important.

Ultimately it's about looking at all candidate and employee experience journeys and mapping how they link together so the organisation has a solid understanding of how best to attract the talent and develop the critical skills it needs to achieve its ambitions.

Strategic leadership transformation

A united leadership team is essential for successful business transformation. Any company going through significant change is strongly advised to put their people at the heart of their transformation strategy.

This will mean different things to different businesses and every organisation will need to decide what works for them. However, the strategy is unlikely to succeed without the buy-in and support of the leadership team who are inevitably the driving force, the ones that will build momentum, inspire others and ensure wellbeing. This often means modelling desired behaviours and taking a top-down approach to communication.

“The task of leadership is to create an alignment of strengths in ways that make weaknesses irrelevant.”  Peter Drucker

Getting buy-in to a transformation strategy is one thing, commitment and sustainability is another.

Five areas of focus were identified to help achieve this:

  1. Co-operation and collaboration: Get rid of silos and promote a joined up approach across teams, countries, products and services
  2. Be empathetic and show humanness in everything that you do
  3. Act faster
  4. Be courageous and make fact-based decisions
  5. Develop a 'Speak Up – Listen Up' environment

Embrace failure

This is not an easy concept for businesses and their leadership teams to embrace, but according to Claire Holness, it really is okay to fail. Learnings arise from failings. One of the most powerful things that leaders and managers can do is to reveal their own failings to their teams and discuss the positives that grew out of them. This gives people a psychological safety net. People will be far more inclined to experiment, innovate, learn and improve in a culture which allows people to fail.

Talent Acquisition Transformation

In the world that Claire Holness works in, hiring continues to be essential as the firm strives to capture market growth. She needs to ensure the business is able to hire better and faster to achieve their global ambitions – and this means continual, often radical, changes and improvements.

There were three main ways that Claire and her team have been able to sustain this:

  1. Introducing a smarter, digitally enabled hiring process. They have adopted software which  radically reduces the time it takes to sort through CVs and arrange interviews.
  2. Segmentation of job vacancies to ensure processes are appropriate and scaled according to the level of impact that hire will have on the business. Clear and simple communication is key as every hiring manager still needs to feel that their role is special and is being given the attention it deserves.
  3. Creating a truly cross-functional team to drive agility. This is not just about speed – but about ensuring selection for learning agility and processes that are collaborative, equal and transparent. Every business will have its own pain points. For example, where are the skills gaps? How can you use technology to map skills rather than roles to maximise performance and encourage internal mobility?

The bigger the organisation, the more enormous the task. Don't be daunted. Think small. Start with ripples. They will become bigger ripples and gradually have an impact.

You can follow Claire Holness on LinkedIn to find out more about her work on Cultural Transformation and Agile Talent Acquisition.

To find out what other HR professionals and people managers are doing with cultural transformation, design thinking and agile recruitment practices, take a look at the results of our multiple choice poll.

About the Author

Kate Allen is the founder and Managing Director of Oxfordshire and London-based recruitment agency Allen Associates and can be contacted at

Read Kate's bio and meet the rest of the team, here.