From FTSE to Football Webinar: Talent and HR leaders give us two very different perspectives of the COVID-19 crisis

From FTSE to Football Webinar: Talent and HR leaders give us two very different perspectives of the COVID-19 crisis

COVID-19. Despite official reports and disaster planning, no one saw it coming and no one could have imagined the impact on all our lives. Just as millions of us have reimagined work to something which happens for 8 hours a day from the kitchen table, thousands of businesses have had to evolve and revolutionise their operating models almost overnight. 

This crisis has touched all markets and all professions – and HR and talent professionals are no exception.

In the latest in our series of webinars for HR & Talent Professionals, we invited expert guest speakers Jonny Briggs, Global Head of Talent at Aviva and Janine Brown, Head of Human Resources for Heart of Midlothian PLC to share their experiences, the challenges keeping them awake at night and the positive changes that this crisis would drive, if any. 


A view from the FTSE 

First up, Jonny shared the impact on Aviva, one of the most widely recognised financial services brands in the UK. From functional “we built, and I have the exact number, 3,996 laptops (working to a peak of about 300 per day” to cultural changes, where different thinking and mind-sets were required, for example in continuing with senior hires:   

“We’ve made our first Executive offer to someone we’ve never met. We need to have confidence in our selection.” 

The challenge of tech

Whilst Aviva had overcome tech hurdles through the crisis, from a talent perspective “the concern was that the candidate experience wouldn’t be as good as face to face, but in terms of assessment it has been excellent.” 

And whilst elements of technology had improved access and communication in some respects, its use needs to be carefully monitored to ensure it doesn’t exacerbate diversity and inclusion issues. 

“We’re really cautious on the use of tech, we know that its use can disproportionately affect certain groups; it’s not as good as face-to-face.”

To a leading Scottish football team

So, from a completely different perspective, Janine Brown, Head of HR at Hearts of Midlothian PLC, better known as Hearts FC, gave us the inside track from a key cog in one of Scottish Footballs leading clubs. 

As Janine explained, Hearts “is more than just a football stadium open on Saturdays, in fact 24/7 operation”. Like most teams, Hearts are heavily dependent on gate receipts from fans who pack into the stands week in week out.

Hence, a furlough of the majority of staff was inevitable, to ensure the future of the club for the long term, this leaves a fraction of staff “keeping the show on the road” and more, during an extremely turbulent situation.  

For Hearts, COVID-19 has taken away their chance to win, to compete and ultimately to remain in the top flight of Scottish Football, it has also ended a promising cup run and resulted in major losses of potential revenue - hugely disappointing for players, staff and fans alike. 

But, with all the disappointment put to one side, Janine explained her focus  throughout the crisis, “people must come first”, and communication with players and staff alike was key. 

Take the players for example, unable to train many were allowed to return to their home countries to rest and see out the crisis in relaxed surroundings “some players have never had a break at all, it’s a continuous cycle from when they get in at a young age. This break was very alien to them, but they’ve had to adapt to the uncertainty.” 

A crucial recruitment window 

In football, recruitment is a business like no other. Players are paid well, but fixed term contracts and transfer windows make talent scouting and acquisition absolutely central to success. As Janine points out,

“Many players are on fixed term contracts due to end and the market is simply saturated. This could be a very important transfer window for us in the summer, players are assets.” 

More widely, it was important to Janine and Hearts to understand the impact that the situation and the lack of football was having internally and within the community. As Janine explained: 

“Duty of care and support has become even more important, it has bought humanity back into the workplace and it is important to reach out – people are at their most vulnerable in these uncertain times.

"The community and Hearts goes hand in hand, we’re large part of our local community within one of the most deprived parts of Edinburgh. Football, is people’s lives.”