Neil is the VP of People Operations at Irish company NewsWhip, the fastest and only true real-time media monitoring platform used by newsrooms, global brands, communications agencies, and global non for profits.
As part of the Executive team, he works to align the needs of employees with the overall mission of the company. He strongly believes that, unlike traditional HR departments which work at a distance from most parts of the business, the role of People Operations is to connect all departments together, and therefore lead with real impact.
With a background of over 15 years in both agency and in-house, his expertise is building and growing teams in fast-growing SaaS companies across international locations, leading both TA and People teams to support high-growth environments. Having been in fast-moving SaaS teams exclusively for the past 8 years, he has found the fit for him, driving the People function in indigenous SaaS businesses where he leads in building the frameworks, processes, and culture for success.
What do you think is the key to being successful as a Talent Leader in the current business environment?
I think it’s knowing the business you’re in from top to bottom.
Strategically, this means positioning your talent function beyond being only a service provider to the side of the business. Whether it’s good times or bad, there’s always a need to prove value in business and there’s always a need to keep bringing this value as a talent function and this all starts with knowing the business. And key to this is for the talent function to act commercially, be proactive in developing a talent strategy and feed that into the commercial health of the business rather than standing and waiting to be told what to do.
From a tactical TA perspective, the market has changed, people don’t have the patience to have conversations with recruitment teams who simply don’t know what they’re talking about – the selling of your business, your company, your opportunity. If you don’t know the business, you don’t know your competitors, you don’t know where you stand in the market or what your opportunity offers, you’ll very quickly see the conversation run out of road.
So whether it’s at a strategic level or a tactical one success begins from knowing your business and then taking decisions and actions from that point.
As a Talent Leader, what is your key advice for managing your teams and people?
Foremost, it’s about keeping them involved, making sure that as much as is possible, the information that you have, you’re sharing with your team.
Invite your team in so that they can have input and hear the thought process behind the decision-making and really understand the why. You want them to care about the business, to want to upskill themselves on the business. They want to feel a key part of things, not separate or off to the side.
Being quite transparent at the moment is essential. Whether it’s good or bad, make sure that they understand that this is where we are as a company and ensure that they’re comfortable with it. I think the moment you have people on the talent team not bought in, the team starts to fall apart very quickly. If they feel that for whatever reason they’re not valued, or they’re not going to be in the business long term, the overall business runs into problems much quicker.
In summary, I’d say really keeping people tight to you, keeping them informed, and keeping them involved in all areas of the business is key.
Secondly, a big bugbear of mine is that in a lot of businesses, the talent function is sometimes staffed by very ‘raw’ people starting in the workforce. And it somewhat grates with the message of how important the people function is because you would generally hire certain levels of experience to meet that vision.
I think you need to enable your team to upskill and build their expertise. There’s an underestimation of the learning curve for junior recruiters and the need for ongoing learning and development. You’re talking about some of the most complex technologies in the world and you’re asking people to go at it with the haziest knowledge as to what that is.
Of course, you are often under pressure to get your new inexperienced recruiters just out there, doing their job. But I think you need to go beyond some training at the start and instead learning/development/upskilling needs to be ongoing.
Recruitment is always going to require fresh blood, and I think that’s great and brings great energy. Some of the best people I’ve worked with were junior, but you can’t expect to have someone read a few notes saying “This is what front end is” and expect people to do well.
This is only heightened when it comes to market understanding, competitors within the ecosystem, whether companies are comparable, where they sit in the market, that is another level again. One of the good things about a more experienced recruiter is just simply they’ve got a wider commercial understanding. They’ve been around longer so they have more context for conversations. And I think that’s a challenge for junior recruiters. To support this, ongoing support and knowledge sharing as an extension to the more extensive training system at the start is key.
How has the role of a recruiter changed and what new skills do you think they need to possess and develop?
I think managing the process is more important than ever now. Obviously, the workplace has changed. So people’s demands are huge. It’s imperative to make sure that there’s clarity the whole way through.
The process and the actual human element of it can be very, very complex. And so, I go back to a certain level of commercial maturity and knowledge, the people skills, and the ability to manage it just like you’ve always needed to manage the recruitment process.
For hard skills, it’s an ongoing project that I think the more remote or distributed you are, the better you need to get with your processes and with your internal tools. If you’re not using the tools correctly, you don’t have the data at the other end. So again, you’re not building those kinds of scalable, repeatable processes off the back of it.
Ultimately recruitment is a highly blended role with a need to understand the business, the business ecosystem and have a blend of hard and soft skills essential to the work.
What do you think is the biggest challenge and biggest opportunity facing Talent Acquisition / Recruitment?
I think the biggest challenge is probably how do we hire people and create an environment that attracts and keeps them in such an open and competitive hiring landscape.
We have to make sure that we can create an environment that is appealing. Everyone is now asking ‘How does my work life fit in with my personal life?’. The biggest challenge is making sure when we hire and when they’re here with us, we’re creating and demonstrating a good environment for them, where they feel they are constantly developing within their role and wider career.
Otherwise, you’re just on that cycle of constantly replacing and facing attrition. It’s a morale blow. It’s a blow to productivity and the speed of where you want to get. So definitely the challenge is always bringing in the right people but more importantly, retaining them is key.
This new remote world we have right now is the biggest opportunity. Overnight your talent pool can be so much larger when you can offer hybrid and remote work. But, you need to be set up well for that. You need to make sure to set expectations and be transparent about what you can and can’t do. Ultimately, you need to be comfortable that you won’t be a fit for everyone too but with the larger talent pools, you will have a much greater chance of finding people who will be a great fit for you.
What is the next stage of transformation for the Talent function?
I think it is making sure that there is an understanding that we are the engine of the business. You get a lot of businesses, for example in a software business, where they will state that sales are the engine because they bring in the money. Other companies will say, no, it’s engineering because without building the software, we wouldn’t have anything to sell. But actually, for me, it goes back before that. If you don’t have good engineers, if you don’t have people who can sell, then your business starts and fails with people.
And it’s the people who are in charge of getting the right people in the door who have a massive responsibility. For me, the next stage of TA transformation is the growing recognition that Talent is the fundamental engine of the business while making sure that Talent functions bring that value that warrants that status.
Would you like to share any other opinions or thoughts about Talent Acquisition and Recruitment or the wider business world?
I do think there’s a lack of value currently being seen in the People function. I could list off the companies that have in their tagline “People are at the core of what we do”. And there’s just something not aligning with that and their actions, that we see in the current market. I think companies and leaders need to have a change in mindset themselves but talent functions must be proactive in ensuring that there’s sufficient visibility of their work, ensuring that the value is seen, that they’re not a cost center and instead, they are a value centre.
And on a wider note, people working in this function need to recognise that there will be bumps and ups and downs. And being comfortable with that will be hugely valuable not only to your company but hugely valuable to you as an individual in terms of not being too fazed by it. Bring adaptability, resilience, and flexibility into the talent function, and be prepared to change priorities and refocus efforts as the business needs change. My advice is to be comfortable with a changing landscape, and with every day being different, don’t get diverted from those core company aims, and focus consistently on how you bring value with more than just filling vacancies, and where you place yourself within the business.
TA.guru’s Talent Leader Series seeks to share the view of leaders in the Talent space.
By sharing the thoughts and insights of these leaders will hopefully help the Talent industry as a whole as it explores new opportunities and faces new challenges.
If you are interested in taking part please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.