Talent spotting to launch your company high-flyers

Raymond Snoddy asks five executives for their top tips in talent management

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STEPHEN LOCHHEAD

VICE-PRESIDENT TALENT AND RESOURCING

UNILEVER

Stephen Lochhead, vice-president for talent and resourcing at Unilever, the multinational consumer goods company, is prepared to compress his messages to not much more than the length of his job description – the 140 characters of Twitter.

Responsible for nurturing the talent already within Unilever and attracting new talent for a business that operates in 70 countries and in 22 languages, Mr Lochhead is increasingly turning to social media for competitive advantage.

A lot of organisations, he believes, are just waking up to the role that social media – LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter – can play in finding talent, alongside more established traditional methods.

He says Unilever’s LinkedIn profile has “a really good top-five position” not just for FMCG (fast moving consumer goods) companies, but for all companies globally. This obviously helps Unilever’s profile as an employer, and it recruits more than 800 people a year for its Leader’s Programme, but individuals can also use the network to put themselves forward and highlight their experience.

“LinkedIn does what it says on the tin. Facebook is very good for driving both company messages and what we stand for in our brand and Twitter is very good at putting information out there about what’s available and what people might like to go and see if they are interested in a career at Unilever,” says Mr Lochhead.

Unilever is more concerned about attracting the right kind of people than what subject they studied at university.

“We want people who can challenge conventional thinking and who can match the big ambitions we have as a company in order to drive us forward, people who have a bias for action and are onboard with its purpose and what we want to achieve,” says the vice-president for HR who studied theology at university.

Part of the attraction in finding and keeping people is Unilever’s “Sustainable Living Plan”, which aims to double the size of the business while “reducing our environmental footprint and increasing our positive social impact”.

Anyone who shows potential, either as an emerging or senior leader, is sent to Four Acres in London on a leadership development course. From this year there is also a €50-million Asian Four Acres in Singapore. It amounts to Unilever’s internal university, although it specialises as much on the non-academic aspects of leadership as the academic.

In the end, whether you deploy Twitter or headhunters, Mr Lochhead believes that everything to do with choosing and keeping talent has to be really personal.

“The extent to which recruitment and talent management becomes a process or a cycle, we have lost the art of talking to people in a most fundamental way,” he argues.

TEEMU SUILA

CHIEF OPERATING OFFICER

ROVIO

Rovio Entertainment of Finland has become one of the fastest-growing companies in the games and animation business because of the creative talent that produced the Angry Birds franchise.

Arising out of a humble gaming studio, founded in 2003 in the city of Espoo near Helsinki, Rovio only took flight in 2009 when the Angry Birds game rapidly became what the company says is the number-one paid-for phone app.

Now, apart from a series of blockbuster games, the Angry Birds have spread into television animation, publishing, product licensing, activity parks and produced a company with more than 700 staff in Finland, Sweden, the United States, China, South Korea and Japan.

Angry Birds, the animated full-length feature movie, is due for release in 2016 in a deal with Sony.

“We are predominantly today an Angry Birds company although, as an entertainment powerhouse, there is an ambition to be much more than that. We are developing capabilities and talent to create a company that can expand from Angry Birds,” says Teemu Suila, Rovio’s chief operating officer.

He arrived in June from a career in Nokia and his appointment is part of the process of putting structures in place to manage the transition to a much larger organisation.

The key to success is attracting creative talent from all over the world “to delight the fans with unique and surprising experiences”.

Prospective staff are set assignments relevant to their role whether as animators, composers or coding engineers.

“We are very good at understanding how good the people really are from the skill perspective and understanding our way of working, and we are not afraid to say ‘No’,” says Mr Suila.

Even though the company is relatively young and has an average employee age of 32, Rovio has already recognised the need to nurture and develop its people.

Systems are being put in place to enable staff to change roles within the company and offer team leadership positions for those who want to go on the leadership path.

The creatives will be motivated by greater opportunities to see their work being enjoyed by tens or even hundreds of millions of fans worldwide.

“What we have recognised and what we honour is that every person has a different view on how they want to develop themselves, and we offer multiple ways for them to grow and develop within the company,” says Mr Suila.

But for now at least, the future of Rovio Entertainment is still very much about the fate of those Angry Birds.

CLAUDINE COLLINS

MANAGING DIRECTOR

MEDIACOM

When Lord Sugar faced a question-and-answer session for clients of large media agency MediaCom, UK managing director Claudine Collins asked the questions.

They were as tough as anything Lord Sugar asks on TV’s The Apprentice and the famously blunt businessman was somewhat taken aback.

But he must have been impressed because he invited Claudine to appear on the hit television show as one of his “trusted business advisers” to put his apprentices through their paces.

Her appearance could not have been more appropriate. The MediaCom managing director had ramped up her interviewing at the agency and last year introduced an apprenticeship scheme, an unusual development for “adland”.

The reasons were simple. She feared that, although those being hired were often technically brilliant, not all have the personal skills, the passion, the brilliance she was looking for. The agency’s culture was gradually being diluted.

“I would rather have someone, who is slightly less qualified, but who has the right temperament and personality, who would get on with our clients and be a support for their colleagues. The technical stuff you can train. The citizenship stuff you cannot,” she insists.

The MediaCom executive had also become increasingly aware the graduate hiring policy was excluding some very bright people who couldn’t, or didn’t want to, go to university. Many, in more informal times, had been able to talk their way into the industry.

Last year, ten apprentices were chosen and given training, education and a year to make the grade. All were warned there was no guarantee of a permanent post.

“We gave every single one of them a job because of their passion and their drive, and they couldn’t believe they had been given this opportunity in the number-one ad agency in the UK. They proved to be fantastic,” says Ms Collins, who did not go to university herself.

MediaCom has also had to tackle another staff problem in recent years – high churn in an industry prone to poaching.

The remedies included a new HR and talent director, and giving line managers direct responsibility for identifying and managing their talent.

There is also a quarterly “Big Conversation” when top executives give an unvarnished account of how the agency is doing and, in turn, face tough, anonymous questions from staff. The churn rate has been massively reduced.

As for Ms Collins, she hopes her interviewing technique is robust enough to get the call again this year and be “hired” for TV by Lord Sugar.

WILL BECKETT

CO-OWNER

HAWKSMOOR

Will Beckett, co-founder of London’s Hawksmoor restaurants, acknowledges that the restaurant business too often suffers from workers who come and go and do not see hospitality as a long-term profession. Low pay, poor conditions, long hours, and shouting and swearing in the kitchen are commonplace.

“There is a perception that working in a restaurant is not the thing to do for your career, it’s something you do while you are trying to find something to do for your career and we have always wanted to turn that on its head,” says Mr Beckett.

The restaurateur says Hawksmoor’s 400 employees are well paid, with waiters earning as much as policemen or nurses. The benefits package includes everything from vouchers for childcare, staff meals every day and free English lessons, to 75 per cent pay for up to two years for long-term illness. Hawksmoor believes it is the only company in the industry offering such illness cover.

“I have learnt that being able to stand out as an employer is a really important thing,” says Mr Beckett, who with his partner Huw Gott admits they were only average employers in their first gastro-pub venture.

“At one point we decided we wanted to be really good employers and try things. We have probably only been very good employers for about two years,” he concedes.

The dividends have been obvious. Hawksmoor staff-retention rates are high and the company came fifth in the 2013 Sunday Times list of the 100 best companies to work for.

Critics are complimentary over the high-end British fare that majors on steaks, complete with fries cooked in beef dripping, and bookings run for weeks ahead.

More practically, the founders recently sold the four-restaurant chain to venture capital group Graphite Capital for around £35 million.

In turn, a lot is expected of Hawksmoor staff, all of whom have to do a trial shift to get a job and survive a probation period to keep it. They have to be nice to customers, nice to fellow staff and, above all, remain nice under stress.

“If you want to work at Hawksmoor, you have a very good job. You are treated well. You’re happy. You’re well paid and people won’t shout or swear at you, but if you can’t work to the standard required, you have to work somewhere else,” says Mr Beckett, who is already planning more Hawksmoor restaurants.

STEPHANE FLAQUET

GROUP IT DIRECTOR

HISCOX

There’s more than a touch of the unexpected about Stephane Flaquet, a senior executive at Hiscox, the insurance company in London.

As a Parisian, he supports the Clermont Ferrand rugby team. As IT director of Hiscox, responsible for a 160-strong department, he has no background in IT whatsoever; in previous lives he was in banking and operations management.

“As an organisation, we take risks on people and I am a good example of that. A lot of my role is not about technical advice or decision-making, but it’s about aligning business goals with IT investment and priorities, and making sure whatever we do serves the business,” he explains.

The Hiscox business ranges widely from insuring against the effects of flooding and tsunamis, as a Lloyd’s underwriter, through kidnap and ransom insurance to high-end house contents and art.

Above all Mr Flaquet’s appointment was a symptom of how IT is changing and has to be integrated with the strategy of the company, rather than being almost a function apart.

Excluding a few specialist jobs, such as network engineers, almost all IT department vacancies are advertised internally and many surprising people step forward.

Apart from referral, another big recruitment source involves persuading external contractors to give up the freedom of the freelance life and become employees.

Once the ratio was two-thirds contractors to one-third employees. Mr Flaquet has managed to reverse that ratio by persuading many to join the staff.

“We prefer staff,” he says. “They have a better sense of knowledge retention; they are known quantities and have a sense of ownership. Contract people can walk away with one month’s notice and expose your organisation quite significantly.”

To persuade and retain such people in a very competitive London insurance market, Hiscox has to promote “the right working environment”.

That includes flexible hours, one day a week working from home, a great emphasis on communicating the needs of the overall business, and “recruiting clever people and letting them use their brains, rather than constraining them”.

Mr Flaquet’s principal aim is to ensure that each new hiring or promotion adds more to the whole than the measure of that individual talent.

“For me it’s all about finding the right skill-set for particular positions in the organisation and getting the team to realise that by working together we can achieve more than we can individually,” he concludes.