Market update 2019: People Operations & Talent

2018 was the most monumental year in recent memory in terms of the ‘rise of HR’, and demand for strong People and Talent Leaders has never been so high.

The importance of the role of HR appears to be the topic on everyone’s lips; from the top VC’s Partners and Talent Partners, to CEOs and Founders. There has not been one event we have attended, whatever the subject, where the roles of talent acquisition and HR have not been mentioned.

The People and Talent function is finally getting the long overdue recognition it deserves in being regarded as a fundamental seat and voice at the leadership table. No longer should HR candidates have to ask for a ‘leader who understands the value of HR’; a leader who appears at any point in a recruitment process to adopt an old fashioned view of HR will quickly lose candidates, and create a real challenge when hiring because as we all know, word spreads quickly in the Bay Area.

One of the most noticeable changes has been how early founders are now commonly hiring either a Head of Talent or Head of People. Previously, HR wasn’t considered as important as other senior hires, but as emphasized by Andreessen Horowitz in a recent article, if a startup gets to 50 employees and doesn’t think about HR, they are doing something very wrong. The importance of the skills an HR leader brings was further demonstrated by the high profile appointment of Kathleen Wilson-Thompson on the Tesla board. In a post on its corporate blog, Tesla specifically cited Wilson-Thompson’s global HR leadership experience and her passion for building and promoting great workplaces as a stand out factor to them.

HR should drive business strategy from early on and lead the business to a successful position, not act as a fixer filling in the cracks when bad habits have been formed, poor processes put in place or insufficient infrastructure created. This scenario makes the role far more operational, and doesn’t utilize the strategic abilities an HR leader brings, and becomes an unattractive offering to the top candidates out there.

We recently attended a great event where a very well regarded people operations leader stated that ‘the role of HR is to act as a change agent’ and we couldn’t agree more. They are tackling important topics that must be addressed; culture, diversity, parental leave, mental health and wellbeing. Any business who is not thinking about these things is going to fall behind and fail in engaging with the best talent.

Recruiting the Head of Talent role has been a particular point of pain for many startups. At a recent LinkedIn convention it was stated that the role is far more difficult to hire, and will continue to be so, even compared to engineering or technical roles; it is in fact the most sought after skillset in the Bay Area right now. The challenge is that the true ‘Head of Talent’ role is really only around 15 years old. In that time we had the recession where the role was seen as a luxury and not a necessity, which put a halt on progress in this space, and consequently there are now far more jobs in the market than there are candidates. Everyone wants the same profile, the same dream list of:

  • Good schooling
  • Solid foundations starting in consultancy or a large tech firm
  • Transfer to a startup which has then rocketed
  • Taken a company through IPO/acquisition.

These candidates are so in demand that they are being approached several times a day. Of course in an ideal world these candidates would be present on every shortlist, but there are many benefits to thinking outside the box. There are many candidates who can absolutely do the job but who perhaps have had a less traditional route to it, and we spend a lot of time connecting with candidates with such potential in order to be able to offer our clients a more diverse pool of applicants.

For the VP of HR/Head of People role there are some excellent candidates, and the onus is increasingly on the client to ensure an excellent candidate experience, good communication and smooth process in order to maintain momentum. With people and talent leaders currently in such high demand, salaries are inflating dramatically. While many startups understandably place a lot of value on equity, so do all of their competitors, so to stand out from the crowd, having a strong banding for base salary will really set you apart. Talented VPs of HR and Heads of People know their worth and they are demanding it.

All in all, it is a fascinating time to be in the people and talent space. There is certainly a demand in our role as recruitment consultants to be as creative as possible in our approach to building out our network. Relying on old headhunting and recruiting techniques is simply not enough. Fortunately, being creative, thinking outside the box and doing things differently has always been our favorite part of this role, so we have some exciting projects and strategies this coming year to support clients when hiring in HR.

Please keep an eye out for events we will be leading in the people and talent space over the coming year. If there is anything we can do to assist and partner with you for such hires, please do not hesitate to contact us, we’re always open to connecting and simply adding to one another’s network should we be able to help in the future.

To discuss the current market, or get help with your hiring, please reach out to:

Faye Tracey, Senior Consultant - HR

Dir: +1 415 549 2026