HR Transformation in Europe - published in Frazer Jones Chronicle 2014

Around 80% of our client base in continental Europe are US companies with operations in Europe who require HR leadership talent. Our biggest challenge therefore is to find proactive candidates who can offer business solutions, not solve HR problems. 

The continental European market is roughly ten years behind the UK and US when it comes to the development of HR functions. Implementing business partnering remains a hot topic in Europe and if you attend HR conventions it is still the subject at the forefront of discussions. Many companies are investing large budgets into HR transition projects and up-skilling the HR function to make it more business-aligned. This has been accelerated by a challenging trading environment over the last few years.

However while the term ‘Business Partner’ is on every second business card, it has no standard usage. In Europe it can mean anything from the most junior position to the most senior depending on the company. The true population of business partners is in reality very limited resulting in very high demand for professionals with this type of experience. Such individuals will attract multiple offers when orientating for a new role which is in stark contrast to the more traditional HR recruitment market, with those professionals in low demand.

Many of the companies that we work with might have a small headcount by country, but cover a vast geography globally. This requires a totally different skill set to a role in a single location responsible for 5,000 staff. We largely source for US multinationals in Europe, very often the European expat population who might be somewhere in the US or Asia and want to return home. The relevant talent for the role is not necessarily located where the role is located.

If you are a US company in need of a European HR Director, and the position is based in Paris, the talent that are shortlisted is likely to be exactly the same as if that position were based in Munich. It is not as simple as looking at the Parisian market. However for an American business it doesn’t matter if they are French, German or Spanish, as long as they can do the job in the way that US companies operate.

Global, on-the-ground experience is becoming more and more important. Businesses have been international for decades, so you will find a lot of people who have been promoted from a UK role to a European role to an EMEA role to a global role, but still work out of a London base. Someone who has actually lived and worked in the US, Asia or Middle East will always have a much deeper understanding of the local culture and how they do business, and this is increasingly in demand. I recently met an Australian working for a large news broker, had worked 5-6 years in Asia, 8 years in London and is now in New York. She recently recruited two local HR business partners using a local search firm in Manhattan, and said it was the hardest piece of recruitment she had ever done, simply because she didn’t see an international short-list – she expected people like herself.