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How to Find and Keep the Right Talent: An Interview with Alana Bennett, Head of Talent, oOh!

How to Find and Keep the Right Talent: An Interview with Alana Bennett, Head of Talent, oOh!

November 26, 2015 by Raghav Mehta

When it comes to identifying and developing talent, oOh! does things a little differently to most.

Being a company that’s innovative, bold and forward-thinking, they value people with the same attitudes and traits.

Alana Bennett is the Head of Talent at oOh!, an award-winning media agency that has the largest digital advertising network in Australia and is known for creative media solutions that connect their clients with more consumers while they are away from home.

As she explains here, there’s a lot more to finding real talent than what you’ll read on a resume. And once you’ve found the right people, it takes more than just the standard on-the-job training in their roles to retain them. To see your people thrive at work, you’ll need to invest some time and thought into getting to know the individuals that make up your team, and find out what makes them tick.

I discussed this topic with Alana and gained some valuable insight into what it is that recruiters truly value, and why it’s critical to find a good fit, for the benefit of both the employee and the business.

How do you identify talent?

There are two sides to this. The first is skill – do candidates actually have the skills to do the job? The second relates to traits, values and behaviours.

I look for people that want to take a career journey. It’s about knowing they have a flexible character and traits, so we can give them opportunities to grow. For oOh!, innovation is core to our culture. We look for people that are curious, creative and open minded as it is these qualities that we really pride ourselves on.

How do you retain top talent?

Retaining talent has different facets, but a big thing  is really knowing our people and ensuring that what we do is tailored to them. It needs to be individualistic and relevant otherwise we won’t hit the mark.

HR as we know it is changing. It now has to inspire and teach managers to buy into it, and to take ownership of the “getting to know the employee” piece. People can sometimes fail to recognise that everyone is at a different stage of their life. For example, my needs as an employee are very different to when I was 25 and single versus now where I have two kids. Flexibility meant nothing to me when I was 25 but now it is the single most important element which enables me to do my job and spend time with my young family. With that understanding comes a completely different approach to talent acquisition and retention.

Equally, HR is about coaching hidden talent into the right roles that suit the business and our culture. A lot of graduates come straight out of university expecting to lead a team with all the theory they have just learnt. Our job in HR is to help our leadership team identify this talent as one that we need to nurture and grow, but to also be able to help them understand where they are currently at and enable them to realise their own potential.

oOh! have invested in a new leadership program centered on mindfulness. Facilitated by Michael Bunting we ran workshops that enabled mindfulness and conscious conversations within the business. It’s all about using appropriate language, and understanding your needs and values so you can understand why you are behaving the way you are which in turn allows to understand how other people you work with behave. These workshops have started to give our Leadership team the tools and techniques they need to drive the right behaviours and have the right conversations with people.

What are the critical attributes that you would classify as high talent?

When we look at talent and potential we look at things like cognitive ability, openness to learn, emotional intelligence, resilience, motivation and breadth of thinking. Have they got leadership ability? Can they move cross-functionally and transfer their skills? Openness to learn and resilience are big elements of potential. You can have all of these traits however if you don’t have the desire to take on more or do other things then that is a big missing piece.

When selecting a candidate, what is more important – technical competency or culture fit?

Culture fit, absolutely. For a business like ours that is built around fun, it just doesn’t work if there is a no culture fit. When it comes to collaborating and working hand in hand, if that connection does not exist it’s not going to work for anyone. There has to be an alignment to our culture and values otherwise we’re going in opposite directions.

If you get it right upfront you avoid a lot of problems down the line. You can always train technical, but it’s much harder to fix problematic behaviours.

How much would you compromise on the technical fit to ensure you hire the right culture fit?

My first caveat is that it depends on the role. If it’s a lawyer or a technical accounting role, then it’s different. My view is that if someone can do 60 – 70% of the role but we’d have to train them in the rest then that’s a bet I’d take. However, if the fit is not right, it will end up costing us more and it has a broader impact which can lead to a whole host of issues.

Anyone that we bring into the business, regardless of the job they do, becomes a custodian of our brand. The best question to ask yourself is: Can I trust you to be an extension of our brand to our wider audience? In a sales and relationship business like ours, we can’t get that wrong.

Why do most organisations hire based on industry experience versus selecting candidates purely on capability?

If I think about media, we are looking for people typically with media experience, however Outdoor media is different to other forms, and it gives us a good head start if they have it.

Another element is their level of comfort. When you recruit out of a particular industry you get to know what the talent will look like. Familiarity reduces the unknown. With less unknowns, there is also a faster path to productivity.

However if we focus on attracting the right attitude and behaviours then industry experience becomes less relevant.

What are the top organisations in the Australian market doing to develop talent?

Innovation is a key element of our culture and because of this we believe in making sure we provide the right experiences and development for our people. We’re going to make sure we give the leadership tools and techniques, and have robust conversations about development along the way.

For us it is not just about being the top OOH and media provider in Australia – but creating a business that talent from all around the world stops and looks at us and says “I want to be a part of that journey?”.

In closing

Today, identifying talent runs deeper than purely formal qualifications. Having the right mental attitude is just as important, as is a candidate’s ability to align and fit within the company culture.

A crucial first step in identifying the right talent for your organisation is to be clear on your own values, and those of your business. When you understand this, you’ll spot a like-minded soul a mile away.


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