Leathwaite founding partner Andrew Wallace talks all things talent acquisition: trends, technology, diversity and of course COVID 19.

We are pleased to release our latest interview featuring Andrew “Wally” Wallace, one of Leathwaite’s original four founding partners. Andrew has been at the forefront of Executive Talent Acquisition for over 20 years, advising firms on senior leadership talent whilst helping them to deliver on their Human Capital Strategies.

PHOTO: Andrew Wallace (far right) pictured with fellow Leathwaite founders (from L to R): Martin Phillips, James Rust & Neil Ejje

Let’s start with the inevitable elephant in the room: COVID19, which is having a huge impact on the market globally. How are TA leaders in your network handling this, and what advice are you giving them during this time?

AW: In what is a hugely challenging period, we are finding our partners in talent acquisition are playing a hugely important role. They are at the front line of their organizations when it comes to candidates – they are managing the candidate’s expectations during this time and ensuring they are set up with the tools and resources for success. They’re also playing a key role in reassuring risk adverse candidates and guiding them through the process. All of this is happening while at the same time they are switching to fully virtual onboarding experiences.
In terms of advice to them, I’d say “the show must go on”, however it’s important to adapt measures and expectations in a virtual hiring market and ensure line managers are guided through these changes in order to make successful and impactful hiring decisions.

Could you give us an idea of what you’ve seen in the last five years or so in terms of how the role of talent acquisition has changed?

AW: Talent acquisition’s influence has increased significantly over the last 5 years and I believe it will continue to grow. Firstly, firms have always considered talent as a top 3 priority– whether that’s finding, retaining or developing talent- and I think TA leaders have now become integral to the success of that whole process. Another important change is that senior TA roles have generally been elevated in terms of reporting line direct into the CHRO rather than into a generalist function, which allows more influence. An important aspect in retaining this influence is to ensure that TA teams are consistently improving the value-add services they provide to the entire talent life-cycle, from slicker process around interviews and offers, to onboarding and finally ensuring that the aftercare is spot on.

Have you seen the relationship between TA and line hiring managers change along with the evolution of the TA role?

AW: What we’ve observed is that TA leaders add real insight and give line management clear confidence when they demonstrate their intricate understanding of the markets they focus on, and when this happens the two usually share a strong relationship. Sometimes the focus of the CHRO or HRD can affect the relationship between TA and line. By that I mean that some CHROs and HRDs really don’t want to get involved in TA or the recruiting side as have less interest in that aspect of HR, so they are very happy for TA to lead and deal directly with line.
Fundamentally, if line managers see TA adding value in the markets they support, then it is a relationship worth investing in, whereas if they see the TA function purely as a facilitator of process, then it’s likely they will have a stronger relationship with the CHRO or HRBP.

On the subject of diversity – nearly every corporate now has a diversity hiring agenda. How have TA leaders in your network been trying to move the needle on diversity hiring?

AW: I think it’s worth saying first up that most TA leaders in our network are genuinely very committed to diversity hiring. We see is a clear commitment to more representative shortlists and appropriate scrutiny around our process to ensure we are running inclusive searches.
We do however feel there could be more done around mapping out alternative diverse talent pools and really exploring how organizations can access them and ensure that diverse hires integrate successfully into an organization once they are hired. Without a doubt, I think TA leaders play a key role in this. Where they can help is to get their own organizations to think about talent in a more wholistic way about talent rather than very specific skills or experiences that may limit the candidate pool. It’s about making sure the organization starts every search understanding that there will be a range of skills and backgrounds shared as part of the interview process. I think once this kind of groundwork has been laid, TA leaders can then drive third parties like Leathwaite to access more diverse candidate pools.

There seems to be a lot more openness and interest nowadays to hire people from outside the same industry – what would you say to the TA leadership community about this?

AW: In terms of industry appeal, I think it’s absolutely key to have a well thought out employee engagement program. As an example, the aviation sector has historically done this very well.

In our own work, we’ve seen an increasing number of notable cross-industry hires, coming from tech firms into banks and vice versa. In other industries it has been a mixed bag – I can think of some marquee hires into the financial sector that have failed but also a good number that have been very successful. Generally, where hires have been successful, firms have been more attentive to ensuring there is good cultural integration, and this is where TA can add a lot of value. For example, using executive coaching to change communication style and matching candidates with an internal mentor – these are key.

It’s also imperative to be open to how a cross-industry hire could help a company change and improve its own environment and approach. Organizations must ask themselves what can we learn from other industries? What do other industries do better? TA leaders can play a key part in bringing that information together and feeding it back to internal stakeholders.

Clearly the whole talent lifecycle is so important -we’ve talked about onboarding and our HR survey recently highlighted that Employee Experience as key. How well integrated is the TA function with those other HR pillars?

AW: As previously mentioned, the fundamental change is that TA now have a direct reporting line into the CHRO which means you often have a Global Head of TA sitting on the HR ExCo. This gives them more influence on a range of HR topics like D&I, L&D and so on. I think it’s important because TA leaders are often more externally focused and as such, they get to see and hear what other firms are doing and can feed that back to ExCo. It comes back to the same question – are TA adding value? They must know their market intricately and give their clients confidence in that and when that’s effective, they have a really strong voice in their organization. When TA focuses purely on process, while it is vital, they tend to have less influence.

Disruption - data, technology and artificial intelligence - are likely going to change how TA functions operate. What are you hearing about this from your network?

AW: There is an awful lot of data and technology becoming available and some organizations are discussing very seriously how this can be used to speed up and automate the TA process. Background checks and documentation are operational examples of where this can be used, which will streamline process and shouldn’t be underestimated.
At the other end of the spectrum, technology companies are investing heavily in the data and technology that underpins their recruiting process. Facebook recently hired a very senior Goldman Sachs MD to focus purely on data engineering for recruitment – this is a big statement of their intent in this space.
Contrary to all this, the reality is that most TA leaders are still frustrated by how clunky their systems are and how inefficient and manual their processes remain. There is more talk around how data and AI can improve things, than there are concrete examples of companies putting data and AI into practice. We hope to see this change over the next few years as the necessary investment takes please and companies get to reap the rewards of their investment.

Thank you Andrew Wallace for such an insightful interview!

Come back soon to see more in-depth interviews addressing the key topics shaping the global talent acquisition market - and if you have any suggestions of topics or people for future interviews, please send them to emily.ivey@leathwaite.com

Did you download our Global 2020 Talent Acquisition Outlook Survey?

Download the paper now

Leathwaite recently undertook a global survey of Talent Acquisition leaders within corporate & in-house recruiting with the aim of better understanding the needs, frustrations and challenges faced by the group responsible for ensuring their organizations are attracting their most valuable asset: talent.

The results of our survey speak of a function in a period of transition, and a market that has not yet coalesced around a single operating model for the digital age.

Contact us!

Click on the button below to contact your local Leathwaite office to discuss your executive search or senior leadership requirements: 

Click here to contact Leathwaite