Boardroom Insight

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Interview: Xalient CPO David Bowes on the role of HR in enabling business growth

Xalient is a London-headquartered IT services firm that specializes in networking and cybersecurity. It counts Kellogg’s, Keurig Dr Pepper, WPP and other major brands among its clients. This past February, the firm was featured in the Financial Times’ annual ranking of Europe’s 100 fastest-growing companies for the second year in a row.

Xalient has won multiple workplace awards against the backdrop of its recent business momentum. This month, Boardroom Insight caught up with Xalient Chief People Office David Bowes for a look at how a fast-growing company approaches workplace engagement. On the agenda: recruiting in the era of hybrid work, employee experience and the nuances of supporting teams spread across multiple time zones.

Boardroom Insight: Xalient has reached several growth milestones recently, including the acquisition of Integral Partners last month. At a firm with a rapidly growing headcount, what role does the HR team play in the organisational scaling process?

David Bowes: Our role is primarily one of being enablers. Employee roles change as an organisation evolves and scales. For example, the skills we need, the people we interface with, the systems we use, the processes or policies we follow, and a key role of the HR team is to enable that change.

We must have more of the right people, typically in more locations, and we have to develop different skills. Let’s take management and leadership skills for example. Managers need to learn to work with teams across different countries and leaders need skills to set and communicate a compelling vision and lead a more complex, larger organisation. Also, in very practical terms, as the organisation grows and scales, we may need to attract, onboard, and support more people in new locations. So, understanding labour markets and cultural norms is imperative. 

Connecting the business together via a shared purpose, vision and culture is also key. Getting this right at the start is crucial, to prevent the organisation from fragmenting and becoming very inefficient and losing sight of its culture.

Boardroom Insight: Within an IT industry context, what role can the HR team play in fostering a positive company culture? 

David Bowes: We have an important role to play, starting with the recruitment and onboarding process. It’s a competitive market for talent, so developing a clear employee value proposition to attract talent is important, as is using the appropriate tools and methods to connect with potential candidates.

Then, making sure each employee has a great experience during their time with Xalient is core to our work. As an IT company, that experience is different to perhaps other sectors, so we do tailor it, for example by giving space for employees to access new technologies and develop new skills. So, a culture of continuous development is one we strive to create.

Boardroom Insight: Has the increased emphasis on remote and hybrid work in recent years affected core HR processes like recruiting?

David Bowes: Yes, it definitely has, and there are both pros and cons to a hybrid work environment. The world has become “flatter” in that we can hire people in different locations, so our potential talent pool has got significantly larger. On the flip side, our employees now have a larger potential market for their skills – i.e. the competition for our talent has got bigger. For me, this is a positive, because it places a clear emphasis on us to build Xalient into a great place to work. If we do this, we can take advantage of the wider geographic market for talent while retaining the best people we already have. This competition has improved us.

Boardroom Insight: Xalient maintains offices in multiple regions. When a firm has team members who work in different time zones, do HR processes have to be adapted to address the different work schedules? 

David Bowes: Yes, they do. A simple example is reward strategies and processes. Different geographies have different legislation and market norms when it comes to the various types of reward, so we have to adapt to that. As we do with recruitment as another example. To help, the HR team is increasingly widespread geographically so we can understand the local market and be closer to the employees we are ultimately there to serve.