Author Profile Picture

Harriet Shurville

McCann London

Head of People

Read more about Harriet Shurville

People management: making way for future employees


Automation and artificial intelligence might be changing how we do business, but it’s people who give businesses their edge.

People are your greatest asset. This has been a buzzword in business for decades, but with technology displacing people from jobs and the spotlight increasingly on commodities, many business leaders are likely wondering, how much longer will this ring true?

Advertising is one of many industries grappling with technological advancement. At McCann, we even “hired” the world’s first artificial intelligence (AI) Creative Director, AI-CD β, in our Japan office a couple of years ago.

Technology is certainly creating exciting opportunities like these to deliver ever more innovative work for clients, yet advertising is one industry where people will always be paramount.

Even AI-CD β needed a team of exceptionally talented people firstly to come up with the idea and then to bring it to life – and it was only ever intended as an additional perspective in the creative process as we hurtle further into a technological world. Creativity still needs people.

This is what drew me to advertising. As Head of People at McCann London, I am responsible for hiring and retaining the kind of talented individuals who will be able to fuel our ideas-driven business.

However, while the need for brilliant people remains constant in the creative industries, our workplaces and what people expect from their working lives are changing. Only the businesses that offer the best environments and opportunities for their people will survive.

How are people changing?

Many recent trends brought about by technology form a bridge between our personal and working lives, so that the changes people are experiencing outside work and the evolution of our workplaces are interlinked.

Globalisation, which is undoubtedly one of the most talked about trends, is really starting to take root. Whether in our personal networks or business communities, everyone today is faced with a truly global environment.

With this comes countless opportunities for people and businesses to thrive. No one would have thought just a decade or so ago that today’s world leaders would have come from starting businesses in their dorm rooms or eschewing traditional routes like university entirely.

Many industries, including advertising, are living in the most competitive landscape they have ever experienced, and we need people to reveal new ways of doing things.

Time and again we have been shown that to succeed today, all you need is a great idea and a website, or even just an Instagram account.

This has given rise to a widespread entrepreneurial spirit that is shaping people in the workplace, with employees feeling more empowered to try to do things differently in a way that suits their own personal goals and needs.

At our agency, it is common for people to have their own side hustles, which we actively try to encourage. Businesses that fear this new entrepreneurial streak – or think of it as a distraction from the day job – do so to their detriment.

We have found that not only do people bring stronger and better commercial understanding to their roles, but they are also likely to be more engaged and inspired, which can only benefit the business as a whole. At McCann London, people have taken up pursuits like personal training, photography, app design and illustration. We even have a yoga influencer and a rapper in our midst. Businesses need people like these.

Where HR comes in

Of course, not every employee will be predisposed to entrepreneurialism, nor should those who aren’t be sidelined; but there is certainly a growing trend around the individual in our workplaces.

What businesses need to do is identify and harness the different positive behaviours that people are displaying – such as lateral thinking, empowerment or being plugged in socially – and become the kind of workplace where these unique attributes are encouraged and can grow.

In advertising, we already know that a diverse workforce benefits our clients, and that extends to people’s skill sets and interests.

Every industry and workforce will have its own unique issues when it comes to HR.

Today, we need brilliant technologists, data scientists and graphic designers, as much as people who can write beautifully or take stunning pictures. We should therefore be encouraging a greater cross-pollination between industries than ever before.

This is where HR teams come in. They need to educate their decision makers about the value of making way for new ways of doing things, while ensuring that they are putting the right mechanisms in place to attract and keep talented people on board.

Fortunately, this second part is interlinked. The programmes you have in place to keep people engaged and motivated at work are exactly what will help you to become a more attractive choice in recruitment terms.

Making people aware of what you do just comes down to a good communications strategy.

Finding the golden thread

Every industry and workforce will have its own unique issues when it comes to HR. At a time when we should be encouraging diversity and uniqueness more than ever before, getting the right strategies to suit everyone in place can feel like an impossible task.

Over the past few years at McCann London, we have hired a former school teacher into an account management role, a former chef into creative and an ex-police officer into operations. How do you satisfy everyone?

What HR teams need to do is find that golden thread that connects people in their specific organisation and use it to weave together different programmes and initiatives that can then be tailored to suit people’s individual preferences.

It is up to HR teams to listen holistically across the business and provide solutions.

Whether it is our health and wellbeing, our connections with others, our need for meaning or our pursuit of happiness, humans remain connected in many ways.

For instance, we know that advertising is fuelled by creativity and that sharp minds are imperative, but it is also an industry where stress, late nights and tight deadlines are common, which can take their toll. Advertising businesses should make looking after the health and wellbeing of their people a major priority.

For some, that could be exercise classes or mindfulness, while for others it might be free fruit and healthy snacks. It might even be as simple as ensuring there are breakout areas or that the office playlist is kept at a reasonable volume and tempo.

It is up to HR teams to listen holistically across the business and provide solutions.

While technology like automation and AI are upon us, it is people who will help businesses gain an edge. Many industries, including advertising, are living in the most competitive landscape they have ever experienced, and we need people to reveal new ways of doing things.

HR teams will be paramount in ensuring their businesses are making space for this future employee. Only then will our best work be able to thrive.

One Response

  1. Hi Harriet Shurville,
    Hi Harriet Shurville,

    Great Work by you. Love to read this article.

Author Profile Picture
Harriet Shurville

Head of People

Read more from Harriet Shurville

Get the latest from HRZone.

Subscribe to expert insights on how to create a better workplace for both your business and its people.


Thank you.