Article: Focus on 'what is important' to your people: McCANN Australia’s Chief Talent Officer

Employee Relations

Focus on 'what is important' to your people: McCANN Australia’s Chief Talent Officer

In this Special Interview with People Matters, Robert Stone, Chief Talent Officer, McCANN Australia shares his insights on how COVID-19 brought employee experience to the forefront, forcing organizations to change their approach to it and making it a key priority, and how it will evolve in 2021.
Focus on 'what is important' to your people: McCANN Australia’s Chief Talent Officer

READ the May 2021 issue of our magazine: EMPOWERING 'EXPERIENCE'

A year that changed the world forever also brought forward certain aspects that might have been in the backburner for some time now. While organizations understood the criticality of being able to adapt and find opportunities in the midst of chaos, one thing that really stood out was the fact that their people were their most important assets in this journey of recovering, reinventing, and reimagining themselves. And hence, employee experience sprung to the top of the priority list!

In this Special Interview, Robert Stone, Chief Talent Officer, McCANN Australia talks about how the pandemic highlighted the necessity of investing in employee experience, the biggest barriers to empowering employees and elevating their work experience in 2021, and what the future of employee experience will look like.

Rob returned home to Australia as the Chief Talent (HR) Officer, Australia after an amazing four years at McCANN London. Rob has played a critical part in McCANN London’s recent success, having helped transform and diversify talent and performance management. Rob’s unique and forward-thinking approach to talent has also played a significant role in converting global clients. He sits on the Global Diversity & Inclusion Coalition and was recognized by being asked to present evidence at The House of Lords regarding the benefits of an internationally diverse workforce in the wake of Brexit.

Previously Rob was the Global Talent Partner for Adidas, based out of HQ in Germany, Rob oversaw the major sporting brand’s largest Talent initiative in the history of the business. Rob was responsible for building and enhancing Adidas's digital offering across Germany, Amsterdam, London, Brazil, Moscow, New York, Paris, Tokyo & Shanghai. 

As Chief Talent Officer at McCANN Worldgroup Australia, he is responsible for leading, developing, and implementing HR strategies across all McCANN Worldgroup brands (McCANN, MRM & CRAFT). This role sits on the McCANN Australia Executive team. Rob has been listed on the 2019 HRM Hotlist (Top HR professionals in Australia) and 2018 LinkedIn Australia Power Profile List (most influential HR professionals).

Here are the excerpts from the interview.

How has COVID-19 changed organizations' approach to employee experience? How do you see employee experience changing in 2021?

Employee experience has been a really interesting and challenging task for all businesses globally since the beginning of this pandemic. In Australia, we are very fortunate that we are in a position where life is fairly normal.

Having experienced traditional and new ways of working over the past 12 months, organizations need to place significant emphasis on what drives each individual employee’s overall satisfaction. For example, valuing flexible remote working over traditional office space working will impact an employee’s overall employee experience. The foundations/ethos/strategy shouldn’t have changed with regards to employee experience as the core foundations should be based around caring for your people.

I believe that a lot of organizations’ traditional talent strategies around employee experience are still relevant; however, most business and HR leaders are finding that they are dialing up the focus and redefining certain areas such as pre-boarding, onboarding, employee welfare, and performance management.

How do you think the pandemic has highlighted the necessity of investing in employee experience?

The pandemic has really allowed people to step back and assess what is truly important to them personally and professionally. With the pandemic accelerating flexible working, it has allowed people to experience a work-life balance that is more shaped around individual needs. This significant change in ways of working has really highlighted businesses that have positive and negative cultures.  


In Australia, we are already seeing a massive shift in the mindset of “what is important” to our people within the workforce. Since moving away from “the office”, we have actually been able to improve one of the most important areas of employee experience – mobility. I know that might sound crazy as we are currently living in a world with limited global travel; however, mobility is now focusing on how we can allow our employees to have new global experiences working with different teams, projects, and clients all around the world. I know a huge part of mobility is physically experiencing local cultures; however, I do believe that this pandemic has accelerated and removed a lot of the barriers and stigmas that restrict mobility.

The year 2020 is over but there's still a whole lot of uncertainty on the road ahead. Organizations are increasingly embracing hybrid as a mode of work for their employees. Amid this chaos, how can organizations streamline employee experience?

I think that it’s really important no matter how large or small your organization is, that you have a clear and simple framework developed to ensure a hybrid model is set up for success. However, in order to streamline employee experience to complement this hybrid model, businesses will need to remain agile and continually assess their individual needs moving forward, to avoid a one-size-fits-all approach.

What do you think will be the biggest barriers to empowering employees and elevating their work experience in 2021?

I think that it’s hard to apply a blanket approach to all businesses and industries, however, for the creative industries, I do believe that the biggest barrier will be creating a high-performing culture from a remote or partly remote workforce. Whilst a lot of roles can be done remotely, we’re still finding that we’re missing out on some of those “magic moments”. 

Furthermore, the balance between finding a flexible and structured working day will continue to be a challenge. Questions that HR and senior leadership will continue to face will be things such as:

  • Is it as efficient from an output perspective to continue working the way we are? 
  • Are people finding it difficult to differentiate work time from personal time, which is causing burnout?
  • How important is the physical human connection to build a culture? 
  • How can senior leadership forge a culture of trust with employees working remotely?
  • As the economy slowly recovers, competition for the best talent will be fierce and candidates will flock to organizations with good company culture. How do you see the implication of this for HR leaders?

Building a good company culture shouldn’t just sit with HR. It’s so important that this is a group effort that is driven by all employees within the business. HR and senior leadership need to ensure that they are aligned and that “people” are always a key priority in the overall strategy for your business. 

I sometimes feel that culture is mistaken for social within a lot of organizations. A strong culture isn’t purely built on social committees or perks & benefits, it’s built on a strong and clear vision for the business and how each individual has a purpose and a clear understanding of how they contribute to the success of the business. 

How do you see the role of digital innovations in improving employee experience?

Technology has played one of the biggest roles in businesses' success throughout this pandemic. Businesses that understood the power of digital and the importance of investing in collaborative technology, irrespective of their physical location – were the businesses that set themselves up for success. The technology ensures that we’re working more efficiently and that people feel connected in a flexible workplace. 

However, I also think that relying on new technology for communication can have a negative impact. For example, we’re finding that “video conference fatigue” is a real thing. Conversations that would normally take a couple of minutes are turning into 15-30-minute formal meetings. 

How do you see the future of the employee experience post-COVID-19?

We have learned so much and are still trying to understand how to truly build high-performing cultures whilst implementing new ways of working. One thing that does really stand out though, is the importance of human interaction in the workplace and the role of a physical office that people call home.  

All businesses need to understand that office are no longer what they used to be. A lot of businesses in Australia are already seeing great commercial and cultural success when using smaller office spaces for collaboration and inspiration. Across many large organizations, we are already starting to see “The Clubhouse” and “The Hub & Spoke” model which I feel are great for businesses of scale; however, I feel that this isn’t a realistic model for small to medium-sized businesses. With that being said, I believe that a lot of businesses will continue to adopt the hybrid approach permanently.


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Topics: Employee Relations, #EXChecklist, #EmployeeExperience, #HRTech

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