EP78: WildBrain - How to Navigate Around Expansion Complexities

January 31, 2024
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State of Recruitment 2024

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All-In Recruitment is a podcast by Manatal that focuses on all things related to the recruitment industry’s missions and trends. Join us in our weekly conversations with leaders in the recruitment space and learn their best practices to transform the way you hire.

This transcript has been edited for clarity.

Lydia: Welcome to the All-In Recruitment podcast by Manatal, where we explore best practices, learnings, and trends with leaders in the recruitment space. If you like our content, please subscribe to our channels on YouTube and Spotify to stay tuned for weekly episodes. My name is Lydia and joining us today is Felicia Squire of WildBrain.

It is a pleasure to have you with us.

Felicia: Thank you for having me today, Lydia.

Different Industries But the HR Issues Are the Same

Lydia: Felicia, walk us through your background. You've been in HR and in the talent space for most of your career as I understand.

Felicia: Yes, I have worked for a range of different sectors and sizes of companies. I’ve worked for not-for-profit, government, and fast-moving consumer goods sectors.

I’ve also worked in the tech space. Where I am now is about creativity, children’s, and family content TV. So, I have a very wide variety of industry experience.

But the talent issues, the HR issues, and opportunities are all very similar in all those organizations. Just different companies are on different journeys throughout their strategic journey.

Lydia: You are the People Director at WildBrain. I mean, it’s been a year and a half now. We were talking [about it during] pre-show. So, what are some areas you’ve prioritized for this industry?

Bringing all that experience from different sectors that you were in into the creative industry, what might be some areas that you’ve looked at during this time?

Felicia: Yes, so one of the key focuses in the last year and a half has really been about expansion. We’ve expanded into the APAC market and opened offices in Singapore, China, and across the region.

It was really about bringing in the right talent, especially in the post-COVID world, ensuring that we look not just at what we need now, but what we need in the future. We made sure that this talent was aligned with our future strategic goals.

So, the last year and a half has just really been about growth and expansion. We made sure that individuals were really onboarded into the business, and understood the business, as well as people who are already established in the business really understanding the different cultural contexts.

Complexities Around Expansion

Lydia: What might be some complexities around expansion into a totally different market that is new for the business and also new for HR in terms of bringing culture together?

Felicia: One of the first issues was really about the packages that we were offering. We were on very fast-paced runs, getting into those markets very quickly, whether or not our name was really known there.

So, what was our value proposition? Because we couldn’t offer competitive benefits like established organizations, and we had only a few months to set up and those things take time. It’s really about a case other than just compensation and benefits. What is our value proposition?

It’s about bringing on people who could build the business with us, who have the entrepreneurial spirit, who are ready and willing to build and really establish a business from the ground up. Then those pieces, or other pieces, would come together as the businesses become more established.

So, it’s really about defining what our value proposition was.

Lydia: I see that WildBrain obviously emphasizes creativity and also collaboration. So, what tactics or what kind of strategy in terms of talent has been put in place to reflect these values? What steps are taken to attract the candidates who embody these values?

Felicia: So, we were on a journey, and we’re still on that journey. Some of the things that we have done are really about having matrix organizations rather than having this country’s organization poison this country’s organization. We actually just have more collaboration.

We have our centers of excellence if you want to call it that, but then every department will have a matrix line or reporting line. So, you have to collaborate. There’s no way we can do business without collaborating. Every country and every department needs the other department to be able to function.

We make sure that we onboard individuals who know where they fit into the organization, which teams need to go, and which teams need to collaborate with to get things done. And we also embody that throughout all of our policies and procedures.

So, we don’t just focus on how you bring the sales in, or how you focus on the numbers that you bring in, but ‘the how’ as well. So, we look at the values. It’s not just the ‘what’ but ‘how’ you do that.

Setting the Expectations Early On

Lydia: Compared to your previous experience in all those different sectors, what might be a differentiating factor? What may be unique about this particular vertical or this industry or talent space in this industry?

Felicia: I think coming from a post-COVID world, navigating the complexities in a post-COVID world is challenging. Other countries are different in terms of, if you look at hybrid working, and the future of work, every country is in different stages.

So, we’ve run offices where they want to go in five days a week or teams that don’t want to go in at all. It’s really about answering those global complexities and just really trying to understand what’s going on there.

Rather than having a blanket global approach, we’re trying to localize it as much as possible.

Lydia: So, we’ve got these people coming in, and you’ve opened a brand-new office with a new proposition. But how do you foster an environment that not only attracts the right kind of talent but also prepares them for success or nurtures this talent?

Felicia: I think it’s really about setting expectations very early on. Making sure people have meaningful and purposeful work, and making sure that what you saw at the interview is actually what the role is. A lot of times there’s a misalignment in terms of what’s sold and what the role is.

So, just being very open and honest from the beginning about what the role is, making sure individuals have a clear career path, so they know exactly where they can go. And because the organization is so complex and global, it’s not all just linear. I think those days are gone.

But look, making sure that individuals can see that they might not be able to go linear this quickly. But actually, the opportunities mean to do lateral moves or to gain more skills, more experience, and really have hybrid skill sets, hybrid career moves.

We often do exit interviews when people leave, and this is just overall, but we never really understand why people stay. So, understanding it from people who’ve been in the business, we have people who’ve been here for 30 years, 25 years, 50 years. What is it that drives them? What is it that gets them to stay, and make sure that we continue to foster that and motivate employees?

And really, not just looking at what we’re not doing very well, but what do we do well, and really accepting that as well, and making sure we sell that and make sure that’s available to all employees globally.

Equipping Managers to Tackle Burnout

Lydia: Burnout in the creative field can be quite a concern when you’ve got passionate people working in the creative field if it’s not managed correctly. So, what initiatives do you think can be put in place to minimize or maybe even prevent this altogether?

Felicia: It’s definitely an issue, not just in the creative space, but in all industries. I think one of the main initiatives that can be put in place is really about focus. We need to make sure that the work we’re doing is achieving those strategic goals. Sometimes we just do things because we’ve always done them. But do we need to do this? If it can be automated, let’s shift it and automate it.

We really need to make sure that managers are equipped. As we know, a lot of managers are promoted to these positions. They have this technical skill set, but they don’t have the people management skills, not because they lack them, but because they have never done it before.

So, we really should make sure that those managers are key in that burnout piece. We need to have open and honest conversations, making sure our culture actually allows individuals to have that open and honest conversation. And that managers can support their employees’ well-being, recognize the signs of burnout, and make sure we can take steps to support that.

Lydia: A lot of this management comes down to communication, and also an overall culture that everyone buys into. This is in order to make sure that, “Okay, I’m sharing this burden with you. We’re doing this together. We’re in this together.” That is pretty much a cohesive work approach.

In terms of going back to all the different expansions, or the APAC expansion that you were talking about, this simply means that there will be more international offices. So, how do you promote a cohesive culture across these international offices?

Felicia: Something's energetic. We've only been doing it for a year and a half, or one of the main things that we've done is, and it might sound really basic. But just respecting different time zones is a big thing.

Lydia: That's fundamental to everything else.

Felicia: What we find is that meetings are being booked at like nine o’clock. These are not necessarily urgent meetings, but just normal standard team meetings are being booked at nine o’clock because it was convenient for the team in the UK and Europe. But actually, we need to remember that, yes, people will join the call. But no, it’s not okay to have a nine o’clock meeting every week. So, little things like understanding time zones are important.

When we opened up our offices in APAC, we introduced a mentor system where all the new joiners were signed up with somebody in Europe who was in a similar role to them. So, they can ask questions and really understand the business. And then for the people in Europe as well, to understand the market and the complexities. So, it’s been a lot of education on both sides, but one of the main things was really about that timezone piece.

Another piece that we’re looking at now also is that our organizational structures don’t necessarily work as well in some of the other cultures that we work with. So, how can we be flexible? And how can we make sure that we’re not just doing a one-size-fits-all, but looking at those local nuances and seeing how we can adapt and change to make sure that we are meeting the overall needs of our business and local needs?

Lydia: I imagine that might be a long-term project, or it’s a long-term effort to find out what these different nuances are like in various markets. So, who might be the stakeholders involved in this?

Felicia: The leadership team definitely has to understand that and be committed to driving some of those changes. We have separate contracts that people shouldn’t be so sensitive or defensive, because we’re all in it for the same goal.

So, the senior leadership team really takes the lead in terms of making sure that those costs are understood and feeding that back to their teams, really encouraging people to understand different cultures. And actually, before we opened up the offices in APAC, we bought a particular book, I don’t remember what it’s called now, but we gave that to one of our leaders so they could understand different cultures.

So, when somebody from one culture might not be very vocal on a team’s meeting call, it doesn’t mean they’re disengaged, or they don’t know what they’re talking about. It just means it’s a different culture. And it’s about being able to invite people into those conversations rather than just assuming because they’ve been quiet, that they have nothing to contribute.

So, just making people aware of that, and the leaders, the senior leadership team, really owning those conversations.

Looking at the Process and Technology

Lydia: So, in terms of the hiring process itself, what steps do you think might make that process seamless, effective, and bring results? And what might be the role of technology in this regard?

Felicia: Yes, I’ll take it in two different steps. I’ll look at the process and then look at technology as well. I think the first one is just really having a clear understanding of what the role expectations are. I think a lot of times, organizations can tend to oversell or miss out on a role, and then we end up in the same cycle, recruiting people again and again.

I think being very open, and transparent, and making sure that everyone’s very clear about what the role is, is important. And then in terms of the hiring process, for my TA person and the hiring manager, to be very clear in terms of what the process will be, and not for the process to be too cumbersome. So, it shouldn’t be like three, four, or five stages. We’re just very clear about what the expectations are, and what the process will be. And we could just move very quickly. This is especially true in some markets, especially in APEC, where we need to move with pace.

And then in terms of technology, it can be fantastic in terms of speeding up that process. So, the TA person could do more of the value adds in terms of speaking to the candidate, and validating, and the technology can actually sift out when we have hundreds of applications. AI is great. But recruiters just have to keep in mind that some people might have used the likes of ChatGPT for their CV. So, how do we make sure that we are validating what is on the CVs?

Create a Balance of Built-in and Buy-in of Talent

Lydia: In terms of workforce planning, I’m not sure if you’re already there with WildBrain, but generally speaking, how do you approach workforce planning? For instance, what might be some ideas for thinking around it to make sure that the company is in the right place? They have the right talent to be able to adapt to different changes or trends in the market.

Felicia: The pace of change is expanding so quickly. So, I think one of the strategies is to build or buy. We either have to bring in the talent in-house, or we’re going to build it. I think there has to be a collaborative learning company that needs to bring in new talent, and we also have to build our current talent as well.

In my previous role, it was a tech education technology company. So, we were very focused on building the existing workforce, making sure they have the skill set and knowledge of the new technology and the skill set needed in the future. So, it’s a collaboration between the two.

Because of workforce planning, we look to see what we need just for next year. When people leave the organization, do we really need to fill the role in the same way? So, it’s a fantastic time to really evaluate what it is that we need. Then we also look at what’s the five-year plan of the company, what people we need, what skill set we will need, and building that within our teams, as well as bringing in new talent.

I think it’s a good balance to have a built-in and the buy-in of talent in the organization.

Lydia: Going back to these changes that you mentioned, as you rightly mentioned, the change is so rapid and it’s getting shorter in terms of intervals. You’re seeing that happen as we go along. So, learning is definitely a key element in becoming a well-rounded or really informed Talent Acquisition Professional.

So, on that note, what advice would you give someone who’s starting out in Talent Acquisition today?

Felicia: I would say it’s really important to understand the business dealings and the business itself. Understand what the market trends are, and just keep up to date with those market trends. Build a network of different Talent Acquisition partners, as well as build a pool of strong candidates in different sectors with different skill sets. But the main thing I would say is to really understand the business that you’re working with and supporting.

Lydia: Thank you so much, Felicia. It's been great having you on the show and you've been very generous with your insights as well. I wish you all the best with your role at WildBrain. So, do drop us your contact details if someone in the audience wants to pick up a conversation with you later.

Felicia: Thank you for having me. You can connect with me on LinkedIn and my username is Felicia Squire.

Lydia: We have been in conversation with Felicia Squire of WildBrain. Thank you for joining us and remember to subscribe and stay tuned for more weekly episodes of All-In Recruitment.

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