Rewarding Futures

As we saw it: The Year in HR

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(Image credit: Curtis MacNewton/Unsplash)

A lively market, the growth of disrupters, the quest for the next generation of digital talent, Brexit anxieties… and learning the ukulele.

These are just some of the things that defined 2017-18 for Vana Resourcing. With the recent conclusion of our business year, co-directors Debbie Flowers and Jo White give an assessment of the current HR landscape based on Vana’s candidate and client connections from over 15 years as specialists - plus several more in the industry.


1. How would you describe the marketplace currently? Is it similar or different to 12 months ago? What sectors are particularly active?

The marketplace remains buoyant with organisational change and transformation still dominating many of our corporate clients’ agendas. Consequently we’ve been busy supporting them to drive up capability across the people cycle. 

Once again we’ve worked with a diverse range of organisations from the small owner-managed businesses, to SMEs with either domestic or international outlooks, to FTSE/Nasdaq-listed organisations. These are businesses active in an equally varied range of sectors – FMCG, Retail, Hospitality, Professional Services, Pharmaceuticals, Telcos, Engineering, Chemicals and, increasingly, Digital.

Talent attraction and development has been a key trend over the past 12 months, and we’ve made several senior hires to global organisations as they invest in their talent and Employee Value Proposition (EVP). We’ve hired a steady number of experienced HR leaders in the HRD/CPO space and a similar volume of Senior HRBPs - a talent pool consistently in high demand. Whilst demand for specialists fluctuates and the need for Global L&D specialists remains constant, this year we’ve hired an increasing number of Heads of Resourcing & EVP, Group Directors of Reward, and Employee Engagement & Experience roles.

Alongside the big corporates, it’s been good to see an increased demand for a first HRD or Chief People Officer role from smaller ‘disrupter’ businesses. ‘Disrupters’ is the buzzword of the moment and we’re seeing rapid growth of these businesses (typically venture capital or private equity-backed) in the marketplace as they prepare to make an initial public offering. We’ve worked with their executive teams on hires that build and develop the culture and organisation, and ultimately help them achieve their aspirations. They may well be disrupters but they can’t succeed without the right talent!


2. Have you seen a change in the qualities and skills that clients expect of candidates?

The prevailing trend seems to be a search for digital talent and those who can work at pace. Candidates need to be agile, adaptable to change, and able to ‘sweep and soar’ – combining strategic thought leadership with a willingness to make it happen and get hands-on when necessary.

Many of the FTSE/NASDAQ corporate clients we work with also now demand candidates with multinational and/or global experience; people who can demonstrate a track record in successfully building stakeholder relationships across complex matrix organisations. They also need to achieve the difficult balancing act of communicating with and engaging a global employee audience across different time zones, taking into account cultural nuances and all the while offering a consistent employee experience.


3. We’ve seen a recent emphasis on employee value proposition, digitisation of the workplace, organisational change, and mobility. Is this still the case?

Absolutely. As we’ve said, aligning the employee engagement strategy with a consistent employee experience remains a priority for most, and digital talent continues to be in demand. The challenge for companies is finding that talent - and connecting with the next generation of talent coming through. The trick is to be at the forefront of identifying this pool, and engaging with them so that they’re future-ready (has workforce planning ever been more critical?). We’re also seeing our clients evolve their work in the Artificial Intelligence (AI) space. In particular, technology companies are building internal AI capability to ‘heat map’ the market, and identify and bank talent in niche skill areas.

As you’d expect, diversity is now firmly part of the lexicon of business. Consequently we’re starting to see the effects of the push for diversity, particularly amongst our corporate clients, recognising that diversity of thought comes from diversity of talent. This has sometimes involved us challenging preconceptions and delivering our client ‘Unconscious Bias’ training.


4. In March 2018 we reported on the biggest challenges facing candidates and clients. If you could identify one thing that both are currently having to deal with what would that be?

For clients, it’s two things; maintaining an engaged, productive workforce whilst dealing with Brexit and anticipating its likely impact. For candidates it’s the same as before - the holy grail of balancing life and career. We have the technology and opportunity that previous generations could only dream of. However, this also means that life is so busy now and we are switched ‘on’ all of the time. For candidates the twin pressures of achieving aspirations whilst enjoying a good quality of life remains the most challenging of juggling acts.


5. Brexit has been on the agenda now for some time but, with the March 2019 exit date looming, is this starting to feel more ‘real’ for business from your experience?

We’re seeing anticipation, hesitancy, frustration... Probably how everyone’s feeling at the moment wherever they stand on the debate.


6. What are your hopes and aspirations for Vana Resourcing over the next 12 months?

Vana is 14 years old now. But whilst the world has changed around us, we want to remain true to our founding principles; to continue to forge rewarding relationships, receive great feedback and keep ourselves - and our brand - fresh and relevant. We love the variety and diversity of assignments we get to work on, and the great people we get to work with, so long may this continue. Additionally, Debbie has just become a Virgin StartUp Mentor as part of a desire to do pro bono work for some of the young bright minds out there with great ideas. So plenty to look forward to as we head into our 15th year.


7. Describe your favourite achievement away from the office in 2018.

Jo: In our half year review I mentioned the twin challenge of taking up the bass ukulele and singing – and, seven months later, rate this as one of my greatest achievements of the last year. As part of a band, I took part in a charity fundraiser playing to an audience of hundreds (well it felt like it anyway). It was pretty daunting to be up on stage and things weren’t quite alright on the night - sound, instruments… let’s just say it didn’t quite come together in musical harmony. But whilst it felt like a disaster at the time, looking back on this now it actually feels like a huge achievement. Why? Because we kept going and kept smiling, the audience were fantastic - and the event raised £3,200 for Dorothy House Hospice Care. Above all though, I’ve realised that it’s okay to fail. We focus too much on achievements in life but without failure how can we measure those achievements, and how do we ever learn and become better?

Debbie: I set out to master paddleboarding and have certainly improved. There have been some sublime weekends on the coast, and I’m now paddling steadily on moderate waves and enjoying the more tranquil waters in and around Bath when at home (Yoga has certainly made a difference). My twin children made the transition to senior school which felt like an amazing moment (where did those 11 years go?), and I’m very excited about a new venture for Jo and I whereby we’ve acquired a small property in North Devon as a holiday let investment. It’s a beautiful part of the world - and another little interior design project for me!


8. And finally, which charity is Vana supporting this year?

We are supporting the RNLI. It’s an amazing iconic organisation that needs little introduction. It’s also a cause that has become more relevant given the amount of time we spend on the beaches of the south west with our families. We’re always grateful that the children are overseen and well-advised, so this is one way of showing our appreciation in return.


Vana Resourcing supports businesses and HR professionals alike to build rewarding futures. Over 2018-19 we look forward to developing existing industry relationships, and meeting new clients and candidates through our extensive network. We’ll also continue to share the type of exciting opportunities that you’ve read about here via our website and LinkedIn page. Jo or Debbie are contactable either by phone (01225 487201) or email -

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