The Importance of Functional Talent in 2024

March 11, 2024 – Communications and labor relations teams played critical roles in keeping employees safe and informed during the pandemic and during recent labor unrest. These senior executive teams also kept management’s message in the market during the recent labor negotiations, according to a recent report from Holden Richardson’s Beverley O’Connor. The report highlights why these two unplanned events should be instructive to Corporate America as it looks for cost savings. Ms. O’Connor explains to invest in PR, communications, and HR talent for future success.

“When business starts to slow – and it will, companies understandably go into survival mode to conserve cash,” the report said. “A common first response is to eliminate soft-skill corporate roles – positions that are nice to have when times are good, but that seem like a luxury in a downturn. These expendable roles often tend to be in PR, marketing, communications, and human resources. As tempting as it might be to reduce headcount, it could end up being a short-sighted perspective and a costly mistake when the economy recovers – as it will.”

There’s no better example of this than when a global pandemic brought the world to a standstill in 2020. The Holden Richardson report explains that Corporate America had to adapt its infrastructure to remain operational. “The playbook for how management set its goals, managed productivity, and interacted with its employees and customers, was rewritten – overnight – by HR and communications teams all around the world,” the report said. “Business had to adapt quickly. The pandemic turned into an opportunity for some but was a catastrophe for others. The companies that had invested in HR and PR talent teams kept plants open and safe and were rewarded by employees and customers. They fared far better than the businesses that pared these departments.”

The Holden Richardson also notes that communications teams too, are more important now than ever. “In 2022 and 2023, unions representing Teamsters and auto workers won major and historic gains through work stoppages and leading-edge communication tactics,” the study said. “Relative labor peace over the past decade led to complacency and headcount reductions among labor relations and crisis management teams. Without new blood and ideas in these roles, employers were vulnerable and caught flat-footed in the face of well-organized labor PR teams.”

Related: Executive Hiring Trends Reshaping 2024

The projected costs associated with recent Teamster and UAW labor agreements demonstrate the importance of investment in new skills, talent, and ideas related to labor relations, PR, and communications – regardless of industry, the Holden Richardson report explains. The search firm notes that successful outcome of these negotiations will surely become a template for the future of any unionized workforce.

Pandemic Takeaways and Interesting Trends 

Preparation is Key: If it feels like a lot of change is happening all at once, it’s because it is, according to the Holden Richardson report. “We may not be able to predict the next catastrophic event, but we know it’s coming,” the search firm said. “All the more reason to continue investing in the HR, communications and labor relations departments. The prepared will be in the best position to survive.”

Keep Teams Together: The report also emphasizes that the bar keeps rising – and the need for highly skilled, new-generation leaders has never been greater. “Hiring new talent is critical, but the institutional knowledge of an integrated and cohesive in-house team is an advantage that needs to be considered,” the study said. “The long-term benefits of preparation and readiness go well beyond contingency planning.”

Recruiting Firms Continue to Focus on Winning New Business in 2024
In the midst of a tumultuous year and uncertain global economy, the recruiting industry in 2023 focused on maintaining revenue and margin in the face of declining job requisitions and slower conversions. As a result of these challenges, firms seem to have stalled in their digital transformation journey, according to a new report from Bullhorn. In 2020 only 25 percent of firms had a digital transformation strategy, but that rose to 84 percent by 2022. And by 2023, 29 percent were in the advanced stages of digital transformation. This year, for the first time, Bullhorn found that progress slowed, with only 73 percent having made progress on digital transformation.

“Teams that are already connected and aligned with the company’s objectives will be better-positioned long-term if they are kept together through the tough times,” the Holden Richardson report said. “Why pay more to hire and train new talent when the economy recovers, when you have an existing team that can function more effectively as a bonded unit? Executives who are prepared to answer this question will have a better chance of overcoming resistance from the C-suite when there is pressure to justify staff retention.”

Building Leadership Teams 

Holden Richardson is a boutique executive recruiting firm focused on building leadership teams in the diversified industrial space, with a strong concentration in automotive, on-and off-highway and specialty equipment OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) and their tier-one and tier-two supply base. The firm works globally and supports a broad range of clients headquartered both in and outside of the U.S. Holden Richardson has track record of working with large F500 companies as well as small venture backed companies at the opposite end of the spectrum. 

Ms. O’Connor has 27 years of combined administrative, research, and retained search experience at global firms – Korn Ferry International and Heidrick & Struggles, where she managed assignments in the global industrial practice. She has developed her specialty in the automotive sector, supporting successful executive placements with OEMs, Tier 1 and 2 suppliers, as well as new technology start-ups.

Related: Keys to Finding Top Senior Talent in 2024

Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Executive Editor; Lily Fauver, Senior Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media

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