Rewarding Futures

Behind the scenes with Vana Executive Assessment

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In September 2016 we launched Vana Executive Assessment. With expectations of candidates greater than ever, increasing the need for an assessment and selection process that hires ‘right-first-time’, Executive Assessment can bring valuable insights to clients in talent acquisition - both internal and external - and development activities.

Vana Executive Assessment is managed by Dr Martin Spencer (pictured above) - a leading Chartered Occupational Psychologist - so we caught up with him to ask about how it all works.

How long have you been working in this field?

Almost 30 years now. I first came across assessment as a Psychology undergraduate, and became so interested in individual differences that I went on to do a PhD in the subject. I became a Chartered Psychologist and started working in management development and consulting in the late 80s, running the UK's first independent training course on psychometrics. I've since worked in development, HR and talent management (Zurich, Openwork, GoCompare), including a stint as an HR Director, but have always been drawn back to assessment and development. I recently gained a Diploma in Executive Development to support my coaching work.

How does Executive Assessment work in practice, and can you tell us about a client you’re currently supporting on this?

One of the best examples where I see Executive Assessment being applied is when an organisation wants to create a new leadership team. My approach with them is as follows;

  1. we start by working on the success factors that differentiate good performance from outstanding leadership,
  2. a group of existing senior staff then go through a large scale development process, based on the tools and techniques I use.

From this we get a set of objective data about everyone, as well as a clear picture of their motives, ambitions, key strengths and skillsets. The client can then use this information to determine who’s in the new leadership team, and provide meaningful and relevant development for those who weren’t ready.

I’m currently working with a client on their leadership team. I’m involving them all in a one-day development event, preceded by some psychometric tests, where they’ll have an in-depth discussion and run business-related exercises. The output is a focused, meaningful and targeted individual development report which they then work out how to implement and support through ongoing coaching.

Prediction plays a key role when it comes to a significant hiring decision or individual development. How can Executive Assessment help?

For me it's all about risk reduction. By knowing more about people, what makes them tick, what motivates them, how they’ll lead, how they will cope with stress etc. simply helps you narrow the gap between what you know and what you don't. There’s no such thing as perfect prediction, but improving your chances of avoiding a costly mistake is a good thing to invest in.

Emotion and intelligence (EQ and IQ): is striking a balance at senior level too much to ask?

Not at all - these days it's the least you should ask. EQ is supposed to be about how we are with others and generally interact. We are living in an increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world (or VUCA for short!). VUCA often relates to how people view the conditions under which they make decisions, plan forward, manage risks, foster change and solve problems. For me that's also a great reason to look at how someone generally thinks to make smart judgements, and also get an understanding of the nature and style of their extraversion/introversion, how agreeable/affable/friendly they are, perceptiveness, what derails them and so on.

How do you help an individual’s thinking to enable them to realise their potential?

There are expert systems and computer generated reports out there – for me, I like asking people to complete a ‘big 5’ personality questionnaire, for example NEO, and then discussing the results to find out what it means for them. I also do something that I see very rarely these days, and that's talking to people about their values. Values form and drive just about everything we do, and also inform the kind of places and cultures where professionally we might thrive. I therefore use a structured process to help people understand themselves and discuss their motivations and beliefs. This really aids prediction – after all, we’re more likely to fulfil our potential if we're working somewhere with values aligned with our own.

Overall what difference can Executive Assessment make for businesses and individuals?

Organisationally, hiring people into key roles is a hugely significant call. So, assessment provides insight (for example, how far an individual’s behaviours and outlook broadly match what you are looking for to begin with), and this insight leads to a better call.

From an individual's perspective, it's knowing what you’re really good at and learning how to execute against your strengths. Understanding yourself helps determine the kind of work you want to do, the type of organisation you want to be part of, and a preferred routine. Getting that right increases the chances of being more fulfilled – something definitely worth having in my book.


If you’d like to find out more about Vana Executive Assessment, and how it could benefit you or your organisation, please contact us on 01225 487201.

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