What lies ahead: Roundtable with Oracle, Interserve, URBN, Islington Council, Network Rail & Omnicom

Written by
Changeboard Team

14 Jul 2014

14 Jul 2014 • by Changeboard Team

Vance Kearney, VP of HR, Oracle

“The biggest game changers in the lives of HR leaders are the internet and big data. We have information about how employees spend their time and what interests them, and they have access to details about companies, jobs and projects.

Employees are collaborating and networking with others inside and outside the company. Everybody is wiser; it’s not possible to keep secrets any more.

“When hiring we have to work hard to maintain an internet brand and put our own information out there. Sometimes the most vocal people aren’t your biggest fans – no one goes online to say how great their company is.

‘Sales and customer services are conducted in new ways now. We need to keep people up to date with these skills; there is a lot of training required for everybody. You also need to be very active on LinkedIn.

‘Another challenge is how to manage careers. Leaders are always asking where their successors will come from and looking to adopt processes to ensure talent is reviewed. I work with the head of Europe and assess talent in the top three levels of the company – that’s about 1,000 people. We meet as a management team four times a year, which generates information that my team is able to use every day. ‘In the past, managers tried to hold on to talent for as long as possible. That is sub-optimal. Now they have realised that co-operating on talent is better for everyone. We need to keep promoting this and making sure our processes are good.

‘We are also trying to get more data from employees – asking them how we can change our business to be more successful. What are we doing that helps and hinders people? Can we take some stones out of their rucksacks?

‘Next year we will refine our recruitment processes and ability to attract staff, continue with talent management work and try to improve our HR intelligence.

‘The main challenge for the private sector is growth and jobs. HR leaders across the UK will work closely with company leaders on how to grow customer numbers and work more efficiently.’


Vance KearneyVance Kearney, vice president of HR, Oracle

Vance is responsible for 25,000 employees across 72 countries in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.


Catherine Ward, group HRD, Interserve

“As we aspired to double earnings per share from the end of 2010 to the end of 2015, it became clear we needed someone to do group-wide strategic HR.

“My job has a remit to set direction for the group and manage to that plan to ensure we have the capacity, skills and operational tools necessary for the scale of growth planned.

“The key focus is on leadership and management. As the group becomes larger and more complex, we need more capability in these areas. We are starting a programme to accelerate development and identifying people ready to move up to the next level of leadership. A lot of our business opportunities are lateral with existing clients so our training programmes take people from core leadership skills to working across the business. It is a challenge balancing the group requirement and the practical needs of the individuals in their current roles. We use a blend of internal resources and people that help us develop the programmes – most of the design work is done internally.

‘‘Another big area for me is culture and values – in this fast-developing business, having a unifying culture is extremely powerful.

“The challenges ahead are mainly associated with talent and skills. As the economy picks up, a lot of organisations that have been operating leanly will need to judge how to support the change with a slender structure. Where will the skills come from?

“We need to make sure we have people that can support organisational change; this means training and we may also need to recruit people with change management capability.

“In general, the HR profession is getting harder; the demands are getting more complex. But this brings an opportunity. If you operate at that level it is a chance to be involved in forming the strategy of the business.’


Catherine WardCatherine Ward, group HR director, Interserve

Catherine is responsible for setting group-wide direction for HR and managing implementation of that plan.

Jamie Homer, director of European talent, URBN

“How we grow internationally is the big challenge. Our brands, which include Urban Outfitters and Anthropologie, have large stores, and finding that kind of space in the right place for the right money is difficult. 

“We are looking at expanding further afield into Eastern Europe and the Middle East. Our options include partnering with department stores, franchising the business and using smaller stores.

“I will not have ultimate responsibility for this strategy decision but I will build relationships and investigate opportunities. And we will need to find the right people to fit the strategy we choose.

‘The challenge in our existing stores is retention.We are trying to ensure people understand they are in a business that is growing and entering new markets, operating in an entrepreneurial environment. The opportunity to create your own role is one of the best things we can offer.

‘In HR, our responsibility is always to build relationships for today and tomorrow. I built my team by finding people to complement where the business was, where it is and where it is going.

‘On a broader scale we are looking at what is local, regional and global. Should we decentralise the head office to capture local markets or set up a regional office outside London? I need to understand the employment laws and cultures in other European countries, too.

‘As a profession, HR needs to establish itself as a viable function. Only a tiny minority of FTSE 350 boards include HR. The function is all too often reactive – someone else makes a decision and HR deals with it.

‘It is up to individual HR directors to position themselves at decision making level. They have to be more operational and commercial.’


Jamie HomerJamie Homer, director of European talent, URBN

Jamie has ultimate HR and recruitment responsibility for 2,300 employees in 45 stores across Europe.

Shane Lynch, head of HR, Islington Council

‘I joined Islington in late 2009 and my time here has been framed by the government’s austerity programme, with organisational change being the dominant theme. We’ve had to make almost 500 redundancies, which has been very challenging for all involved.

‘Linked to this we have also in-sourced a number of services. By late 2014 almost 2,000 staff will have transferred to the council under TUPE.

‘Integrating six businesses has been challenging. The HR support required has been significant and impacts every part of my service. And then there is the day job of running a busy HR service. 

‘The sheer range of services delivered by a London borough can make delivering HR services quite complex. In the past 12 months, we have processed about 160,000 payments via the payroll to 13,000 individuals, handled 12,000 job applications, received 10,000 queries to our first line HR service, undertaken 2,000 DBS checks and delivered training via our in-house team to over 1,500 employees.

‘The HR service has gone through considerable change as part of meeting our own budget cuts. The ratio of HR staff to employees went from 1:65 in 2010 to 1:110 in 2013. Despite this our overall satisfaction rating as a function went from 69% to 89% during the same period.

‘Fortunately I have a fantastic team who work incredibly hard to ensure we deliver a good service to our customers. Looking forward, the budget cuts we require as a council over the coming years are eye watering. Much as I hate the phrase, the “low hanging fruit” is gone.

‘Where a commercial entity would drop an unprofitable product line, we don’t have that luxury. We have a statutory duty to provide many of our services.

‘There are also wider uncertainties with local and national elections looming. Working collaboratively with other organisations is becoming the norm. We already deliver a number of services with our neighbours Camden and through groups such as the Public Sector People Managers’ Association and London Councils we continue to share and promote HR best practice.

‘Shared procurement exercises we have led on or joined have saved the public sector millions of pounds. From a HR perspective, Islington has a range of transformational programmes which will help us deliver the savings we need without compromising services.

‘Our people strategy sets out our priorities for the next three years, and we have identified three key strands covering employment, engagement and development. Our employment strand is ambitious and includes tackling worklessness in the borough.

‘Incredibly, despite the level of organisational change, our staff engagement levels have actually gone up over the last three years and we want to maintain that trend. And all the time we need to be developing staff at all levels of the organisation to ensure they have the skills and values needed to deliver services to our residents.’


Shane LynchShane Lynch, head of HR, Islington Council

Shane leads a team that provides an HR service to 5,200 workers at the London local authority.

Mike Bickford, head of resourcing, Network Rail

‘The way we communicate with prospective candidates has changed in recent years, with social media becoming more prominent. Candidates are also better informed about our business and tend to have high expectations of things like contact, response times and lifestyle benefits.

‘We spend a lot of time thinking about how to attract key engineering, technical and professional candidates while doing all we can to operate efficiently. As we rely upon the taxpayer for funding, it’s crucial we source brilliant people as cost effectively as possible.

‘With so many access points now for sourcing a new role, we have to work really hard to get our message in front of the right people at the right time.

‘I want to define resourcing as a true value function and for it to become the business’s preferred recruitment partner. I also want to continue to elevate our brand so that we lift our profile with a wide candidate audience.

‘If you really understand business needs, you can challenge, cultivate and deliver more effectively. And if you reach a point where a senior director is coming to you for advice before he or she changes something, you’re starting to become credible and can shape things.

‘These directors already know enough about recruitment to have their own ideas. When they ask for help, you must make the opportunity count.

‘For me, this year is about aligning resourcing with our Control Period 5, which runs until 2019, and having the right channels open to help us reach our goals. We need to develop resourcing plans for key skills including electrical and power, at a point when this skill set is already scarce. And we must have the right systems and processes to remain agile and effective.

‘However, while our current focus is on CP5, we’re thinking about CP6 and CP7 and linking these things with future demands and needs. Resourcing and HR have a key role in guiding the business and creating strong people plans which mitigate risks and future challenges.


Mike BickfordMick Bickford, head of resourcing, Network Rail

Mike works with embedded resourcing teams to determine demand and define operational strategies to support recruitment.