Reflecting on people and talent at HGB

By HGB , Nov 26 2019
Last week I went to the Icehouse People and Talent session with Jason Ennor and John Olsen – two HR heavyweights with some serious work credentials!

Jason and John both shared their top five takeaways for attendees. While I sat and listened (and typed up notes furiously) I reflected on whether HGB is consciously, or even unconsciously, actioning them.

So, here are Jason and John’s top 10 people and talent tips, alongside my reflections on HGB which I have decided to share with EVERYONE. Brave thought isn’t it – to explore your gaps publicly? Tonia Cawood and Sacha Coburn (who ran our recent leadership training) would be proud!


Strategy is critical

Well, strategy is in our brand name so we should apply strategy to everything we do, including people and talent.

Our strategy is to think ahead, plan for the year, adjust when needed but keep in focus.

From a practical perspective I love a good spreadsheet. We’re in the bums on seats business – we charge by the hour – the more people, the more revenue. But then our chicken and egg strategy kicks in – what comes first – people or clients? We sometimes gear up before we need to.

Our core purpose is to create meaningful experiences, which we won’t be living if we work our staff to the bone. So we choose toadd people, sometimes contractors, rather than add hours to people and make them work through the night (fondly remembering my Ballantyne Agency days of working into the wee hours).

Adapt a recruitment mindset

Jason said – 1) be in the market all the time, 2) stay in touch with people you like and 3) don’t think of your recruitment campaigns in isolation.

We talk to our clients ALL THE TIME about recruitment marketing. Marketing for people is as important as marketing for sales. If you want good staff, how are you reflecting that online? Do potential staff get a sense of your company personality, benefits, and culture?

Take a look at our Facebook page – it should give you an idea of what it’s like to work at HGB. Thanks Monique!

Get the hygiene factors on lock

Get the basics right, be a smart company – that means employment agreements, processes, feedback and coaching…

Walk in our HR consultant Sarah Morton-Johnson… we thought we had our house in order, but when Sarah joined our team she organised the shit out of our HR filing systems and processes, sent out calendar invitations for performance reviews (oh so many reviews), questioned our thinking at times (yes we know we go off-track sometimes) and just bought everything back into line. We’re now very, very sorted!

Communicate all the time

Actually, this was one that I went TICK 10/10. Each Monday Jacqui and I send out a weekly update to our staff under the headings THINK – FEEL – DO. THINK for high level discussions, FEEL for culture and social and DO for production meetings, deadlines….

Then we meet daily at 10.03am for a full staff meeting with four questions – 1) Who has deadlines, 2) Who has capacity, 3) who has meetings and 4) who needs help.

We use Microsoft Teams for internal communications and Trello for production communications. I would suggest that we almost score an 11/10 for this one!

Fire fast – don’t hang onto the bad eggs

Jason didn’t beat around the bush here. He said moving a bad egg on is healthy for other staff and powerful for your business. John said “address directly, be frank. Hire long and widely.”

We are fiercely protective of the culture we have built at HGB and our people. But as Jason said, letting go, or forcing someone to go is always easier to say than do. The way I see it is, both parties are probably feeling a degree of uncomfortable stress so sometimes letting go is a better outcome for all. Thankfully this isn’t something we’ve had to do very often, but we can empathise with the issue.


This man had some serious pedigree – Microsoft and Amazon – sheesh!

Grow yourself and your skills – set an example

My initial thought – what a cool point to make! But do we do it? I think so, but let’s check…

Professional development – Jacqui and I are on seven boards between us, networking, learning about governance, attending IOD and leadership courses, and speaking at events.

We push ourselves big time, including fitting in fitness and health and family time. We are strong advocates for balance. But we don’t just talk about it, we do it.

Set the bar high but remember to teach respect

John talked about maintaining a high say: high do ratio. He meant don’t just talk about it – do it! Have you all met Jacqui? She would be the fastest actioner (new word) that I know. A person who sets the bar very high, then goes for it at one hundred miles an hour. She’s a veritable machine! R-E-S-P-E-C-T!

We talk about hiring people who ‘DO’. Whilst we look like an agency, we don’t act like one. We hire people who have real skills in a particular area. Mine isn’t writing (lord knows if the copywriters let me keep this copy) but I have an enormous amount of respect for writers who can frame anything, in anyway. All our staff have enormous respect for each other’s hybrid skill … helping each other out, helping people up when they’re down. R-E-S-P-E-C-T!

Build trust by asking for feedback and then doing something about it

This point was about conducting a survey, getting feedback and being open to change. You might not like what you hear but you must be open to doing something about it. Ouch.

This was a takeaway that I thought we could do better at. We work with companies that conduct surveys like TinyPulse, but we don’t do it ourselves. With 15 staff we thought we might be too small to get impartial results. However, we do listen when our staff speak up. We have in the past been on the receiving end of Ann or Kat walking in and starting a sentence with “Now girls, we need to talk…” and we always shut up and listen! So I think we’ve got room for improvement here! #honesty

Stay connected to the details but don’t micromanage

In the creative industry this can be quite hard to do, but new experiences and skills learnt in governance has helped Jacqui and I in this respect. Distancing yourself and enabling your team is a jump that is quite big when you’re usually the person who has control over the creative process. Jacqui tells me off ALL the time!

But handing over those reins – oh the power that you give your people! You might not love it but they sure do!

Culture is important, obsess over it.

John spoke of this as the #1 point, although it was his last. I think it’s because he wanted to really explore it. At HGB we consider our culture our greatest success. HGB was created so that we could be creators of our own destiny (school hours, flexibility, power and control). The first people who joined us ((Ann, Kat) believed in this philosophy and we built from there. We continue to hire people who embrace and build on our culture.

Funniest takeaway – Young people have always been a problem for old people.  Think back to the leather jacket wearing ’60s, the free spirited hippie ’70s, the grunge ’80s. The older generation had the same attitude back then, as we do with Millennials now. It’s the same but different, so get over it!

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