Considering Hiring Your First HR Leader?

7 mins

As a specialist Global HR Recruitment business, Elliott Scott HR have been privileged enough...

By Tom Dover

Associate Director

As a specialist Global HR Recruitment business, Elliott Scott HR have been privileged enough to work with some of the most influential HR leaders Globally. 


These are innovative HR leaders who continuously contribute to the evolving world of HR within their organisations and influence the HR agenda externally.


Over the years we’ve been in business, we have seen market demands change considerably. The role of the HR Leader has advanced greatly with new ways of learning, EVP, ED&I and developments in technology.  


HR leaders are having to become more technology driven and agile, with many aspects of their roles becoming like their peers in Sales and Marketing. Especially in businesses where they are being recruited as an organisations first HR leader.


With nearly 25 years’ recruiting experience between them, we ask two of our team members; Tom Dover, Associate Director, UK & Europe, and Lucy Bielby, Global Recruitment Director, for their views on hiring HR leadership for such situations. 



In the first part of this two-part interview, we ask:



Is there a new type of HR leader?



Tom: The HR leaders I partner with are often from evolving organisations. Some are telling us they are balancing the shifting demands of their internal customers, whilst others are saying they are experiencing talent attraction challenges when seeking individuals to take them through thatgrowth journey. Many are also focused on how to develop and retain the essential skills needed for tomorrow.  



Lucy: The last few years have been some of the most challenging market conditions that I’ve seen during my 16 years in HR recruitment. The demands on HR leaders just haven’t stopped. We’ve come through a (hopefully) once in a lifetime Pandemic, into a period of extensive hiring and then ‘The Great Resignation’. Now we have HR leaders looking at the impact of the Cost of Living on their employees. All of which are areas that a truly commercial HR leader can add commercial value to.



When looking for their HR leader, how can organisations ensure they are executing the right hiring process?



Tom: Avoid the first mistake... a common mistake, made time and time again, is for business owners or decision makers to start the search on their own, after all, “How hard can it be, they have worked with HR people before…?” 



Following the Pandemic, the strongest HR leaders are in greater demand than ever. Many of whom, have a full portfolio of activity within their current roles and therefore aren’t active in the market.  



As passive candidates, these professionals are unlikely to be moved by way of a poorly executed recruitment process. Without a well-structured, end to end, strategy and vision for talent attraction, the hiring process can become difficult to navigate and for the hire to buy into the company offering. 



Lucy: Managing a business is highly demanding at the best of times, but as we are seeing increased changes across the industry, MDs and CEOs are having to adapt quickly. Then adding to that, executing a crucial hire such as their first HR leader, alongside the day-to-day running of a business, will become extremely challenging. 



Some may ‘strike lucky’ and manage to find candidates through their network, but what may initially seem like a cost saving exercise, can soon become a drain on resources. Alongside a business leaders most precious commodity - their time.


How do you hire a leader?


Tom: I think, when hiring, there needs to be a clear focus on the ‘what’ and ‘why’.  What are you trying to achieve? Alongside, ‘why’ are you hiring in the first place? I often suggest, to our clients, that they think about the key attributes and skills a successful candidate will need to have. Staying focused, and having these goals in place, will also help them when they meet a candidate who ‘wows’ them but doesn’t necessarily match the requirements of the hire they need to make. 



Of course, that hire should be based on competency but also, most importantly, they should believe the hire will become an asset to the business, in a commercial sense.  



Lucy: An HR leader should be seen a key member of the leadership team, working to drive the organisation forwards and taking people with them. Yes, they are the expert on people related matters, but their strategy should be centred around the overall business goals and objectives.



The HR leaders of today and the future leaders of tomorrow will need to provide business owners and decision makers with a commercial vision and should inherently be an integral part of the commercial team. These skills can be hard to identify without expertise in this field. But by working with a search partner, clients can gain a clear indication of what ‘top talent’ looks like. Alongside how to successfully engage and entice these HR leaders.



How do you identify the right HR leader for your business?



Tom: I’ve found that, to source the right HR leader for a business, there is a high level of importance in hiring based on behaviour and cultural fit. Now, after of lot of research done on ‘culture fit’ recently, this can be a contentious subject. A culture fit hire can affect other matters like inclusion and engagement. HOWEVER, I still maintain that, if you are hiring someone to build the HR function, it’s imperative they align with, or least have the vision to shape, or mould, that culture for the better. With an ‘experience and culture’ based approach that many companies are adopting, they are looking for an influential leader with a people focused approach. If the business is an SME, in the early stages of its journey, this HR leader will be the initial touch point for attracting talent and provide a window into the business.



HR professionals will know competency-based interviews inside out, as they would have led many over the years. For this hire switching to a strengths-based model is recommended. 



How to determine the right search partner



Tom: Ultimately, the partnering firm needs to understand what journey the business is on, and where they are in said journey. They will also need to know what the client is looking for and if they have already gone to market, any challenges in the search, thus far. Not to mention what they have done to navigate these challenges and flag areas they have already targeted. This is also a good time to discuss the perception of the client in the market and how the search partner may approach any comments/ feedback.   



For a partner such as ourselves, we be able would provide expertise on the market. This could be anything from the size of the talent pool, through to the possibility of global re-locators if applicable. Alongside advice and guidance on compensation packages ensuring that the role is benchmarked in relation to this competitive market. We don’t want a search to fall down at offer stage!



Lucy: For a business such as Elliott Scott HR, we have now delivered requisitions across 30 Countries through our 6 offices across the globe. There is little that we haven’t seen as a team in terms of delivering on requisitions! As HR specialists, with many of us having recruited within the discipline for a fair few years, we have in-depth knowledge of the HR function, strong networks and a true understanding of what it takes to complete on a search. Partnering with our in-house research team to determine suitable talent pools, we can utilise our knowledge and experience to bring our clients an accurate view of the market and where this next hire may come from.  



In the second part in the interview series, Tom and Lucy will talk through their thoughts on the ideal interview process for this role, through to successful onboarding of the HR leader.



Should you wish to discuss your next leadership hire or your next move in the HR market, you can get in touch with Tom Dover at td@elliottscotthr.com. Tom specialises in recruiting for mid to senior HR positions in the Luxury Retail and wider Commerce sector and is building out this desk for the UK business. At Elliott Scott HR he has gained extensive HR market knowledge which he channels into his passion for a positive candidate journey and keeps his networks abreast of industry news.