Rewarding Futures

Reflections on an HR landscape at Half Year

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Image credit: Simon Matzinger

With the halfway point of Vana Resourcing’s business year approaching, once again we’ve taken a step back to contemplate HR industry trends and developments based on our own experiences.

It’s a landscape that is constantly shifting and ever-intriguing. The good news is that the market is strong, driven by organisational change, mergers and acquisitions, a renewed focus on employee value propositions and new ventures that bring with them unique challenges. Within this same context however, the expectations of candidates are increasing and there’s a notable tension between physical presence and flexible working. In the background is the continuing digitisation of workplaces and HR functions, offering significant opportunities to improve employee experience. And it’s in this environment that Vana continue to support clients and candidates, with the help of our specialist services and partnerships.


1. Thinking about the year to date, how is the marketplace currently? Is it similar or different to 12 months ago? And do any particular sectors stand out?

Although everyone is anticipating the impact of Brexit, for now the market remains buoyant and demand is strong for permanent hires. Furthermore, we see no sign of this slowing. 

Vana has facilitated hires across numerous industry sectors, and multiple hires into Gaming, Tech, FMCG, Retail, and Engineering. Over a third of these have been HR Directors, almost as many Heads of Organisational Design and Heads of Talent, with Senior HRBPs and Resourcing/Talent specialists completing the picture. The demand from the market has been split fairly evenly across a FTSE 100 portfolio, SME-level organisations, and challenger brand start-ups.

According to Vana Resourcing co-director, Debbie Flowers, the majority of successful hires continue to come from direct search work. “It can be an intense timetable but experience has led Vana to be skilled in this area, enabling us to identify and ‘disrupt’ the right talent quickly,” says Debbie. “Candidates are taking a more passive stance, and are approached regularly, so it’s imperative that we present a compelling proposition – an informed view of our client organisation, their market, and a detailed but balanced view of the opportunity itself.”

The demand for talent generally continues to be high across the board. Candidates are increasingly driven by deeper due diligence on a prospective employer’s culture and values, and it’s imperative that we support them to gain a clear sense of this and provide any evidence we can throughout the process.

2. What trends are we currently seeing?

a. A big focus for most organisations on building or refreshing their employee value proposition (EVP). Last year we saw most take a more holistic view through connecting the customer and employee experience. Now clients are extending this across the talent attraction and acquisition cycle to improve candidate experience which has been refreshing to see. The digitisation of HR (see point b) continues to be a journey of discovery for most, and we’ve met some interesting CEOs in the HR tech space with new products that could revolutionise this space. We hope to partner with them on some project work later this year.


b. Increasing Digitisation. Linked to employee experience is the digitisation of the workplace itself according to Vana Co-Director, Jo White. “Those employers leading the way are developing in-house mobile apps that give employees an HR resource centre in the palm of their hand. As well as offering access to features such as ‘Ask HR’ these apps can offer much broader analytics,” says Jo. Josh Bersin of Deloitte Consulting shares his perspective. Just as many digital disruptors have toppled businesses in travel, retail, and other sectors, we should essentially ‘topple’ our HR thinking with the adoption of digital solutions,” he says. “HR organisations now have to learn how to ‘be digital,’ not just buy ‘digital products.'” The irony of this is that many businesses don’t have robust HR Systems in place to track the basics. However, a significant opportunity exists for ‘leapfrogging’ or skipping legacy technology and processes altogether, and progressing directly towards a more digital HR offering.

c. Change, change and more organisational change. You may have followed the merger and acquisition activity across the Media, Gaming, and FMCG sectors. It’s fast and furious, and we’ve seen this for ourselves and the subsequent integration as organisations push for greater effectiveness and create shared services across their corporate and support functions. Little surprise then that our Organisational Design (OD) and Integration specialists have been well utilised by clients. The demand for candidates who can operate at pace within matrix environments, simplify complexity during periods of change, and switch between strategist and operator, remains strong. This is perhaps most aptly described by one of our Group HRD clients within a FTSE 50 organisation; the need to ‘fly with the eagles and peck with the chickens’ is now more important than ever.

d. Mobility. Whilst most organisations continue to embrace and develop their flexible working ethos, the majority of our senior hires are partnering an executive or leadership group that lead colleague groups across multiple locations. To effectively support them demands face-to-face time, both to become immersed in the organisational culture and different working environments, and also to build strong stakeholder relationships. With some believing that scalable change in a business can only really be achieved through a physical presence, this ‘push-pull’ scenario has been much more evident as remote working (though still important) becomes less of a consistent weekly feature. It’s certainly proved a challenge in recent searches, and we’re well aware that the lines between work and home are becoming increasingly blurred.

e. SME HRD demand remains steady. We’ve worked with CEOs from several SMEs again this year, many already with an international footprint and strategic aspirations to grow through further European acquisitions. Consulting with this cohort is always rewarding, as we help them to shape the role and person profile for their first HRD/Chief People Officer. This continues to be an attractive move for most HRDs given the opportunity to be accountable for end-to-end people strategy – particularly where there’s a strong connection to brand. Demand has been spread geographically across London, the M4 Corridor and the south west.

f. Something different. It’s always good to have a new challenge to keep us on our toes, and one particular example comes to mind for Debbie. “Following an approach by a highly successful entrepreneur this year, I was tasked to find a Group HRD with aligned expertise to operate across a complex portfolio; an Investment/Venture Capital business, Sporting Interests, and a Family & Estate Office. It was an interesting project, certainly different from the business landscape we’re used to, very much a ‘build’ opportunity and a challenge to find the right fit given the unique requirements of the role. But we prevailed - with commitment and a lot of search activity!”

Finally, it’s worth mentioning two extra ways in which we’re supporting clients in response to some of these trends.

  • Vana’s Executive Assessment service continues to be an important component in our selection process for most clients. Dr Martin Spencer, who runs this on our behalf, has also been busy developing some independent assessment work of executive teams within our client portfolio.
  • We continue to enjoy a close working partnership with Lee Mears and Julie Stokes at executive coaching consultancy, Tom Preston Associates (TPA), where there’s an opportunity to introduce them to clients looking for one-to-one coaching, team coaching and OD intervention services. TPA have delivered fantastic work for some of our clients including an international programme with Kingfisher plc.



3. Vana's international focus has continued - where have you been recently?

Our international travels have been slightly warmer compared to last year’s activity in Calgary although we’re still hanging out for that search in Asia! For now, our work has taken us to Amsterdam and Stuttgart for the UK operation of a NASDAQ-listed client, and to the emerald isle extending our work for a Consulting Engineering HQ in London. “It’s interesting to review a Senior HRBP cohort across Europe,” says Debbie. “In Engineering it’s evident that a number of Business Partners are still operating in a more quasi-generalist role, whilst many of their UK counterparts are empowered to perform more strategic work through the advanced Ulrich model, supported by mature centres of excellence.”

The direct search work and pre-screening is easily executed via Zoom and Google Hangout.  However, the long-list assessment is always more effective face-to-face. Clients continue to provide very positive feedback on the quality of our process, and in particular the richness of insight we provide not just about the candidate’s career but also their personal journey, style preferences, and team and cultural fit.

4. What do you see as the biggest challenges for candidates and clients?

Three challenges stand out in particular;

  • being physically present in a role spanning multi-site operations versus the flexibility to build in remote working presents a dilemma for candidates, and for clients to offer an attractive employee value proposition in a competitive market.
  • the increasingly blurred lines between work and home, coupled with competing demands, mean that people require more energy and recovery time. So how can clients ensure their best talent remains energised? This is being discussed in the industry media and a subject we’ll return to later this month.
  • candidates looking for career progression should be mindful of tenure in role/industry. Clients increasingly like to see demonstrable success in different industries, with a range of customer groups. Multiple internal promotions within the same organisation can also sometimes present an incremental rise in compensation and benefits – but not necessarily reflect market rate. There’s been some interesting articles on this subject, including Forbes reporting how employees who stay in companies in excess of two years get paid 50% less.

5. What does the rest of this year look like for Vana?

We’re optimistic and excited about what the rest of 2018 has to offer.

“We’ll continue to do what we do well!” says Jo. “With a genuine passion for our work, combined with integrity and expertise, we’ve shaped our reputation as trusted resourcing partners who add value with a long-term consultative approach well beyond the delivery of successful hires.”

Based on the experiences of the last 12-18 months, Vana is looking forward to building new partnerships similar to the one we enjoy with The Preston Associates (who we’ll continue to explore new opportunities with). In particular we’re anticipating work with some new tech businesses in the HR space, and further partnerships with venture capitalists.

“Going back to an earlier point,” adds Debbie, “it all serves as a reminder of how fortunate we are in this role to meet so many new people in our industry, learn from them, gain an insight to new businesses, sectors, strategies, and generally understand more. All of this drives the passion for what we do. Whoever we work with, Vana’s approach remains consistent and one characterised by an ethos of collaboration and in-depth value-add relationships.”

6. And finally, what does 2018 have in store outside the office?

Debbie: I’ll shortly be heading to Asia for a dose of sunshine and some quality time with my little people. Summer promises festivals with friends, staycations and long weekends in Cornwall where watersports will be on the agenda (I’m determined to crack Surfing with the help of some friends, there’ll be more stand-up Paddle Boarding and a first attempt at Wake Boarding). I’m also learning to sit still with some ceramics sessions at Bath Artists' Studios - a new-found hour of peace alongside the weekly yoga. Finally, I’ve just booked my compulsory basic motorcycle and moped training - the exciting first step towards nipping around on two wheels.

Jo: Life as usual is pretty full – which is just the way I like it. My bees are continuing to flourish, and with two hives now and 100,000 bees I’m kept ‘buzzy’! I’m also continuing down the musical path, and having gotten to grips with the Ukulele I’ve challenged myself to learn the Bass-Uke (essentially a small bass guitar). Following a couple of stage appearances last year, the group I’m part of have surprisingly been invited back to play at a few pub gigs and mini-festivals. So with the pressure on I’m now also taking singing lessons - all really good fun but completely out of my comfort zone. Oh, and I have a pair of roller-boots sitting in the cupboard. Maybe this is the year to blow the dust off…


Throughout the year we’ll continue to report on the headline trends and stories across the HR industry catching the attention, and share our own experiences and insight as well as that of the candidates and clients we support. Don’t forget that you can follow Vana throughout 2018 both here and via our LinkedIn Page where you can also view recent stories and current opportunities.

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