Written by
Changeboard Team

Published
20 Mar 2014

Dynamite recruitment at NBCUniversal

20 Mar 2014 • by Changeboard Team

Growing your talent

The word ‘dynamite’ is derived from Greek roots, its literal translation meaning ‘connected with power’. Taking this as an analogy, how will you, as a leader, connect your talent to power? The responsibility lands squarely on your shoulders to act as a guide; to nurture, protect, role model, grow and empower those that look to you for strategic direction and personal development. If you’re an honourable leader, you will take these vows seriously because whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert, you are permanently on display and accountable to everyone you serve.

Your own behaviours will influence whether you’re well respected, or, at the uglier end of the popularity scale, you have a bad reputation. It all comes down to your values, how you represent these and filter them down the organisation to create a healthy, cultural ecosystem where everyone is united because they share the same ethical code.  

Throughout my conversation with him, James Ryding’s passion for developing people is unwavering. He takes his responsibility to serve talent very seriously. To kick off the interview, I ask why people matter in an organisation. His eyes light up and conversation flows. I note his use of language.

‘Growing’…‘stretching’…’challenging and pushing them out of their comfort zone so they continue to learn’…’encouraging them to rise to their full potential’…’supporting’…’to express their own style’.  He’s not just talking about his immediate team of in-house executive search professionals. He’s referring holistically to his attitude to talent.

Backbone to business acumen

Ryding first started his career as a graduate trainee with Norwich Union. “It wasn’t long before I couldn’t resist the allure of London,” he says. “I wanted to move to the big smoke because that’s where I felt the opportunities were.” Following his move to London, Ryding went to work for Penna, an HR consultancy. He began as a researcher and ended up a fully-fledged consultant. During this time he worked for one of the company’s top performers. He says: “It was a really important turning point for me – I realised I was only going to get somewhere if I worked extremely hard and delivered on my promises.”

From there, Ryding went on to work with Astralis, an HR niche recruitment agency, as senior consultant. Before working at NBCUniversal, he landed a role as recruitment and talent manager for Tesco, managing the global finance team. Soon he was promoted into the position of group resourcing manager for Asia. It’s at this point that Ryding pays homage to his mentors.

“When I first started at Tesco, Paula Harvey, who was HR director, took me under her wing and saw my potential. She helped me to create structure by challenging me, and never letting average do.  She always knew when there was more in the tank and she always motivated me to produce more.”

When promoted to his next role at Tesco, Ryding reported into head of group resourcing Mark Thomas. He comments: “Mark was super commercial and had millions of lists. He was always concerned that whatever we did genuinely effected the business. He tightened up our ROI by ensuring I was working against a set of metrics. Mark also gave me the opportunity to go out to China and South Korea and he pushed me to understand recruitment capability, not just recruitment.”

Universal talent agenda

Ryding joined NBCUniversal back in September 2008, and was brought on board to build a talent acquisition strategy from the ground up. With an international workforce of over 2,500, operating in 37 countries, the average number of roles recruited per year is around 550.

“Steve Burke, our CEO, believes 100% in the connection between company culture and company results. My main responsibilities are to bring in the right kind of people, and provide them with the right kind of opportunities,” he says.

Ryding’s initial challenges were to create a talent acquisition framework, build an in-house executive search team, and create the infrastructure to support his plans. He believes there are two types of HR professional – those who are good at maintaining a level playing field and keeping their organisations out of trouble, and those who drive the business agenda through talent.

Direct sourcing metrics & targets

“There were no metrics on how many hires we had made across the organisation or how much we had spent on recruitment and retention in the previous year before I joined,” he explains. Reporting to Erik Schmidt, senior vice president of HR at the time, Ryding was given free reign. “Erik gave me a massive sandbox in which to play,” he says. “He seemed to have confidence that I would deliver something worthwhile and that inspired me. He said: ‘Come to me with ideas and set your own objectives’. With every idea I brought to him, he listened and challenged me. And he taught me how to put together a business case to persuade senior executives.”

By developing a direct resourcing infrastructure, Ryding introduced four main metrics which are produced in a report on a quarterly basis:

1. Average cost per hire
2. Average time to hire
3. Proportion of direct sourcing versus agency hires
4. Candidate experience

Ryding’s mission is to influence and lead his team of recruiters, as well as influence HR business partners to source talent directly, reduce reliance on recruitment agencies and streamline the recruitment process. All roles with salaries of $100K to $1million packages are recruited in-house.

He argues that any company relying solely on agencies to fill senior level posts will fall behind: “Every time you pay an agency to get to know your own marketplace, you are giving up control over your employer brand.” Currently on the PSL (preferred suppliers list) there are 20 suppliers across 37 countries in which NBCUniversal International has a presence.

“As a team, we’ve moved the needle significantly,” says Ryding. “Within my first year, direct sourcing stood at 40%. Last year, up to 82% of our recruitment was direct and time to hire decreased from 63 days to an average of 40 days per role. One of the team singlehandedly saved $690,000, and overall my team saved the business $1.3million in 2011. This year, our targets are more ambitious and we’re aiming to save $1.8-2million, which means each recruiter is challenged to save at least $500,000.”

Benchmarking team results

He explains that quarterly reports help HR leaders to have quality conversations with their business leaders. “Everyone within the team is transparent, visible and accountable to their peers,” states Ryding. “The reports generate a sense of healthy competition and individuals can compare themselves. Every quarter a reward is given to the person who is the most effective in their recruitment efforts.”

Ryding assesses each individual’s strengths, and stretches them. He says: “You have to attract, select and employ people who have potential and ambition, but remain humble. Everyone has the ability to ‘knock it out of the park’, but you have to keep challenging and supporting your team to become fully rounded individuals.

Navel-gazing talent leadership pipeline

Recently, Ryding and his team looked at succession planning for the next 100 top leaders, and identified external talent pipelines. “We invest in relationships and have open-minded conversations with potential candidates. For example, over a two-year period we kept in touch with Michael Edelstein, who is now one of our presidents. When we were ready to recruit, it took one phone call and the whole process took a matter of weeks. Particularly at presidential level the return on investment was significant.”

So what’s next on the talent agenda? Ryding says: “We have only just begun to deliver on what we can do. With the full team in place internationally we can concentrate on speed, quality and proactivity.

If we keep up our assessment work we will ensure the next generation of leaders at NBCUniversal will have the right skills and adaptability to keep us ahead of an ever changing media market.”

Role modelling behaviours employee insight

Swapna Arun, talent acquisition manager
NBCUniversal Asia Pacific

James sets great examples for his subordinates and fellow employees to follow. He has real integrity as a leader, and always lets his team have their say during discussions. He encourages conducive, two-way discussions and fosters great relationships within the global HR team and across the business.

I don’t think James has ever failed to listen to any of us when we need guidance, or praise us when we succeed. It’s through this, and promoting teamwork, that we’ve really been able to do well.

With help from James, I’ve been able to add exceptional value to talent acquisition initiatives in Asia. I’m new to the media industry, so have learned a lot from his valuable experiences and insights, and he’s given me the freedom to source the recruiting tools I need. He’s let me learn the business at my own pace, while passing on his knowledge to get me up to speed.

By bringing me over to the UK office, and allowing me to meet key HR leaders and colleagues, I’ve really been able to integrate into the team. I’ve also learned quickly about the responsibilities of others, and now I know exactly who to go to when I need something.

About James Ryding

James Ryding is director, International Talent Acquisition for media and entertainment company NBC Universal.

He currently supports recruitment for NBCU outside the US, consisting of 37 countries, 8 different business units and a turnover approaching $4bn. He runs a team of internal executive search specialists who’s role is to approach the media talent marketplace directly and reduce agency usage.

Previous to NBCU James worked for Tesco where he ran global finance talent, and recruitment for the Asia region. In his early career James worked in executive search for Penna Consulting and Astralis Group. He has a degree in English and Philosophy from The University of Liverpool.