Rewarding Futures

12 things that defined Vana - and our industry - in 2015-16

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Picture: Vana Directors Jo White (l) and Debbie Flowers (r) at the Bath office.

With the end of another financial year in sight for Vana (30 September), we always aim to take ourselves off-site around this time and use the opportunity to reflect on the last 12 months. In particular, this is to analyse and interpret our commercial data, understand the market trends for both Vana and the industry we support, and revisit our strategy for the year ahead.

The good news is that Vana has enjoyed a superb year, and we continue to work with great brands and people. The business environment that we support has evolved further so we’re also seeing changing trends and new challenges. In the spirit of sharing Vana’s experiences, for this week’s blog we’ve summarised our reflections down to 12 headline observations.


1. Performance - and the demand for talent - remains strong
Vana has enjoyed a strong performance, closing the financial year ahead of budget and clearly up year-on-year. In fact we’ve just had our busiest summer of new searches commencing, with no real let up in the industry compared to a decade ago when things would slow down over Christmas and Summer. The demand for strong talent remains high and we continue to work across a broad spectrum of industry; FMCG, retail, insurance, financial/professional services, logistics, and manufacturing.  Besides the obvious benefits from having a diverse client portfolio, this also enables us to better understand the health – and confidence – of the UK economy during what is a critical phase post-Brexit.

2. Demand for HRD/Head of and HRBP roles driving significant activity
There’s been a healthily steady demand for HR Director (HRD) / Head of HR (HoHR) hires, and the HR Business Partner (HRBP) market that sits directly beneath, all of which have generated the highest activity for Vana this year. We’ve seen fantastic leaders continuing their commercial journeys by moving laterally to different sectors, and supported HoHR on an upward trajectory and taking their first step up to HRD level. We’ve also noticed a much better diversity in shortlists, with many more male HRBPs than there were some years ago. Overall, it’s a really encouraging picture.

3. Increasing need for commercially-aligned Senior HRBPs
There’s definitely an increasing demand for commercially-aligned Senior HR Business Partners in the c.£80-100k base salary bracket. Vana have used several routes to market to unearth new talent in this area. The calibre of people we’ve worked with has been superb, but these candidates are not always easy to find. It’s even more challenging to identify people available to immediately undertake key projects (there’s been a significant increase in clients requiring an interim to lead projects primarily focused on mergers and acquisitions, integration activities, or to undertake a strategic review to assess outsourcing opportunities). For Vana, it’s a major investment in time and resource to be continually identifying/assessing candidates but it has enabled us to build up a bank of talent that makes us better placed to respond to client demands however urgent.

4. Talent Development specialists in demand – but Talent Partners are elusive
Talent Development specialists continue to be in demand, particularly at ‘Head of’ level. This is a strength area for Vana, and over the last year we’ve placed key leaders across a diverse range of businesses (energy, insurance and logistics to name a few).  More difficult to attain has been the Talent Partner level sitting within this area of expertise, with most candidates looking to make the move from performing as a Learning & Development generalist rather than true Talent Partners with a track record in this space. Consequently we continue to be short of the right candidates, with related roles ready and waiting.  It’s an area of focus for us right now.

Elsewhere, we continue to see steady demand in the areas of Resourcing and Internal Communication.

5. Recruiting right first time more important than ever
The majority of our corporate clients continue to drive major change and transformation agendas. Therefore what they demand and expect of a candidate is greater than ever. An ability to demonstrate solid success in supporting leaders through ambiguity in a complex and matrix environment is a real asset in the marketplace, and something we don’t see changing any time soon. In this increasingly pressurised environment we support it’s now more important than ever to get the hiring process right first time and, to assist this process, Vana has started offering Assessment Services to clients. It’s always been a component that we’ve used through an Associate Partner but, with an increase in demand, we have taken the step to extend our services and will share more details later this month.

6. The lure of the daily rate
In Reward/Compensation & Benefits, demand still exceeds supply for us (particularly at ‘Head of’ level for the mid-tier businesses c.1000-5000 employees). This is because a lot of specialists are understandably maximising the opportunity to consult on a daily rate basis, and we’re not seeing new talent coming through in this space. It’s definitely a topic that we’ll be discussing with the industry over the coming months.

7. Busy clients and the ‘candidate experience’ challenge
Strong communication, engaging candidates throughout the search process and particularly at interview stage, is something Vana values highly and has earned a reputation for. Increasingly busy agendas for our clients, who can get pulled in different directions by competing priorities (maybe for the reasons described in point 5), is making this communication process more challenging. We’ve found ourselves having to extend timelines and, as the process gets protracted, we’re forever conscious of our vital check-in with candidates to ensure their continued engagement. This inevitably carries a risk for our clients of missing out on their preferred talent to a competing organisation, so we strive to constructively challenge our client’s timetable to ensure they land the right candidate for their organisation.

8. Candidates increasingly motivated by culture
We are now seeing many more candidates driven by an organisation’s culture, values, and approach to mobile working rather than total reward. Some clients often mistake this as a request for a reduced hours contract, but in most cases it’s about having a flexible attitude around being present in the workplace at varying times. They want to work for a business that values output and measures their performance by results - not simply time spent at their desk. It’s challenging to secure this approach from some of the owner-managed organisations as culturally they‘re still maturing. We have however seen a number of our corporate clients driving projects on how to think differently and extend their remote working offering as some of their properties reach maximum capacity.

9. Vana’s horizons expand across the UK - and internationally
Demand for our services has increased across the UK, and certainly for candidates with expertise across international markets. Our traditional Southern ‘heartland’ - the M4 corridor, South West, and London - continue to be busy, and we’ve relished the opportunity to work with a variety of clients in the City this year, from new high-tech start-ups to the established FTSE 100 portfolio.

From Vana’s perspective it’s less about geography, and more about relationships. We don’t restrict ourselves to any one region, and can manage a project anywhere in the country – as delivering successful hires in the Midlands and North this last year demonstrates. HR is a small market nationally, and emerging technology has aided our mapping and search capabilities. That said, we’re not great lovers of Skype or video interviews, much preferring in-person contact and being where the work is. Travelling - and new people and places - is what continues to make life interesting.

10. Long-term strategic partnerships continue
Vana has been building new teams for HR Directors that we’ve worked with for several years as they move into new organisations, some of which also happen to be new businesses or geographies for us. That they continue to treat us as strategic partners, with relationships built on trust and integrity, is fundamental to what Vana stands for. 12 years on from when we started up, it still reassuring that our standards, results and quality of service remain high.

11. And there’s still time to say thank you…
One of the highlights of the year was taking a great group of clients to Royal Ascot in June as a way of saying thank you. Even with the posh frocks it was still an informal fun day out – so much so that we’ve been asked to do it again in 2017! 

Overall we couldn’t achieve any of our 2015-16 success without a superb bunch of associate partners and suppliers that have helped to build and mature our infrastructure over the years. A huge thank you to the teams at Sprague Gibbons, Mayfair Associates, Personnel Today, People Management, Monahans, and Westgate, and the clever independent market mapping experts that continue to provide us with such valuable insight.

12. And finally, outside work what have you been up to? 

Debbie: I had my own ‘Grand Designs’ experience with a massive 6-month barn renovation project. It was a pretty hectic time, project-managing the build whilst working full time and being a Mum of two! I quickly understood why moving out of the barn when work commenced was a good idea – the demolition process is fast and unforgiving. For those who know me well, new learning and adventures are always welcome, and this was certainly an opportunity for both. I learnt a lot about supplier selection and management, teamwork, attention to detail, agility, decision making, juggling (albeit at a whole new level)... sound familiar? The bonus was working with people who are passionate about their trade and, thanks to all of the above, we made it on time (and almost on budget until I got carried away with the finishing touches). I’ve really enjoyed experiencing the open plan space and flooding light over the summer.

Jo: This has been my second year as a bee-keeper and, significantly, the first that I’ve harvested honey. The sense of achievement is not so much gathering and bottling the honey (which is still pretty amazing) but more learning about these amazing creatures and using that knowledge to help manage them. My apiary is a quiet place; working with the bees requires a stillness of mind that I’m really enjoying learning.

I’ve worked with the team at Vana on many occasions over the years, engaging them to hire senior talent in a number of businesses. Both Debbie and Jo offer great insight and expertise, but above all they deliver results. I would happily recommend their services.

Scott Fishburn, HR Director, DFS

“Debbie and Jo are high-integrity recruiters who take time to understand organisational needs; commercial and cultural. VANA have worked in partnership with us a number of times, enabling us to secure some excellent senior HR hires.”

John Burgess, Head of Talent & Leadership Development, AXA Group

“I have worked with Debbie both as a candidate having introduced me to ING Direct and Invensys, and as a client supporting me with key hires in both organisations and more recently at DAS.  Both Debbie and Jo are exceptionally well networked, I trust their judgement completely and would highly recommend Vana.”

Kate Banks, ‎Group Director of HR & Legal Services at DAS UK Group

'Debbie and Jo are first class headhunters of HR talent. They take the time to fully understand the brief and culture of the organisation before suggesting any candidates for opportunities. Thank you Vana for sourcing quality hires for my team.'

Helen Norris, Head of HR - Nationwide Building Society

I have worked with Debbie both in the search for talent and also as a candidate, in both situations Debbie has been faultlessly professional. Debbie builds strong relationships exploring briefs to ensure she has a deep understanding of what the business and candidate need, allowing her to deliver a real match.

Ian Marchant, Retail HRD, Greene King plc

Candidate experience is really important to me in recruitment, because that is someone's first experience of an organisation - your organisation. As I see it, the recruiter is part of YOUR brand and their actions impact on YOUR reputation when they act for you. The candidate remembers the experience of applying for a job and not always the recruiter involved.

My experience as a candidate of Jo's was exceptional. Jo kept me informed at every stage, questions were anticipated and I always knew where the process was. Also, Jo was present as a person and not as a remote handler. This shows me that any candidate that Jo places would be treated in exactly the way I'd want them to be. I recommend her without hesitation.

Geraldine Buckland, Director of People, Bristol Water

Debbie and Jo are great recruiters of HR talent; they have successfully worked on a number of key senior hires for us both in the UK and internationally.

Jonathan Wright, Group HRD, Murphy Group

Debbie has recently supported me in securing my first HRD role. Her observations and feedback were very insightful and assisted me greatly in navigating the recruitment process and learning about the company and environment I'll be stepping into. Totally dependable, unbiased and a good judge of character, I would highly recommend her to act on your behalf with prospective employers. I haven't worked with Debbie yet as the employer but wouldn't hesitate to do this if the need arises.

Anita Calverley, HR Director, Yeo Valley Farms

The thing about Vana Resourcing is that Debbie and Jo actually care – about you as a person, your career and your business. Yes they deliver great candidates and opportunities but they make sure that the fit / opportunity is right, challenging both sides in a positive way when needed. They’ve supported my career for the last 10 years, including introducing me to my current HRD role, and I have no hesitation that they will be my first point of call for future candidates and opportunities.

Suzie Noble, Chief People Officer, Brightside

“I have worked with Debbie and Jo several times, they stand out from the crowd as a sourcer of talent and when managing you as a candidate, I simply haven't worked with anyone better. Commercial, thorough, expert and with a sense of integrity that means you are only ever recommended to organisations that suit you - and as a hirer you only get talent that works for your organisation. As a hiring organisation, working with a partner like Vana is simply irreplaceable.”

Head of OD, Vodafone

Debbie brings accurate and current insight on HR Talent. Her ability to recognise top people in their field and actively nurture relationships over a long period of time sets her apart from her peers. Debbie is refreshingly honest , she keeps confidences and is not afraid to challenge both candidates and hiring Executives to ensure the right outcome for all parties. I would have no hesitation in recommending Debbie or Vana Resourcing for a critical HR hire.

Barbara Duffy, International HR Director leading on Talent, L&D, Resourcing,OD

“Debbie introduced me to OVO Energy, and she not only found me the right role, but an organisation whose ethos matched my values.  I have since worked with Vana to recruit almost my entire senior HR team! From HRBP's to a Reward Lead and most recently a HR Director. Vana really understand the importance of culture fit."

Kim Atherton, Chief People Officer, OVO Energy

I have worked with Vana Resourcing for a number of years representing me in my own search and as a client. Debbie and Jo are professional and efficient but unusually for this sector, genuinely caring about both client and candidate experience in equal measure.

Jonathan Edge, HR Director UK & Ireland at Ideal Standard International BVBA

“Jo is highly professional, knowledgeable and proactive. It’s not often that a recruitment consultant really interviews you in the same way a prospective employer would.”

Simon Amesbury, SuperGroup plc

What a refreshing delight to work with a commercial partner who understood my business, had national and regional awareness, a handle on the market, an effortless connection with candidates and could tolerate my Everest-like expectations.

I will continue to work with Debbie and Jo again on my incessant drive to solve the talent conundrum of the coming years.

Keep up the great work, you are a credit to the industry.


Stephen Robson, HR Director, Global O&Supply Chain at Kingfisher plc

"The team and I have worked with Jo now on a number of occasions for various recruitment assignments. I have always found Jo to be consultative and considered in her approach but above all honest and straight forward! She has a great understanding of her market place and is always at the end of the line to offer insight and market knowledge. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend Vana and look forward to our continued relationship."

Resourcing Partner, Nationwide Building Society, Resourcing Partner, Nationwide Building Society

I've known Jo for a number of years and worked with her as a client and candidate. What's great about working with Jo is that you're guaranteed an honest perspective and terrific insight to the market. She nurtures her relationships in a natural and engaging way: put simply - she knows her stuff!

Marie Aitken, Chief People Officer

I initially engaged Debbie to undertake a search for a Head of OD. She is consultative in style, and took time to gain a comprehensive insight into our organisational culture and HR journey, delivering an excellent shortlist of candidates and a super hire. The feedback from our candidates on their engagement with VANA has been equally positive. Jo and Debbie has since supported me with several other senior hires within the People organisation at RLG, and we enjoy an effective working partnership.

People & Corporate Affairs Director, Royal London Group

“I have worked with Debbie as both candidate and client. In both contexts I have found her to be super-efficient, thorough and a pleasure to do business with. She listens really well, responds quickly and is flexible to evolving demands. Debbie is up there in my top 3 recruiters.”

Sue Round, Head of Talent and Organisational Effectiveness, BP

I have worked with Debbie and Jo for many years as a candidate looking for opportunities and a manager looking for talent.  I have always been impressed by how Vana strive to ensure that there is the best fit in terms of candidate values and company culture.

Sarah King, Head of HR, Triodos Bank