Mapara Fernandez is Head of People for Talon Outdoor.
Headquartered in London, Talon focus on delivering smarter, creative, technology-led and integrated OOH (Out of Home) communications.
Combining independence with a collaborative approach, Talon promotes open working between agencies, clients and media partners to deliver outstanding outcomes.
They strive to make Talon the best place possible to work and in 2017 were ranked the Number 1 Best Small Company to Work For by The Sunday Times.
Hi Mapara, thanks for making the time to talk.
Can you tell me a little bit about Talon and your role here?
My name is Mapara Fernandez and my role is Head of People at Talon Outdoor. Talon is the UK’s only independently-owned Out of Home media specialist as well as the Sunday Times 2017 Best Small Company to work for and Campaign Magazine’s 2018 Best Medium-Sized Agency to work at.
We aim to be different, taking a data-led approach to planning and buying and to embrace technology at every turn. We’re still a young company and deliver an approach that comprises energy, fun, insight, creativity, collaboration, openness and fresh thinking.
What was the catalyst for your interest in workplace culture / employee engagement?
As a business, we are only five years old and were set up by inspiring leaders who have been in the industry for a long time. Having worked for large corporate groups, they set out from day one to create a culture that would attract and retain the best talent. The objective has always been to create the best place to work so it is a place that creates the best work.
Describe your people approach / ethos in 5 words or less
We put people first, simple.
What are some of the key behaviours valued at Talon?
Transparency is very important in employee engagement and is an approach that has been successful for us. People respect honesty and authenticity. Without that there is a strong chance people will disconnect or leave. So ensuring communications take place openly and are timely is something we strive to achieve.
When you look at the people and the culture of your business, what makes you smile? What are you most proud of?
The team spirit. We have such a collaborative culture that it makes me smile every day. Everybody gets along and we can all have a laugh at work as well as work hard and get the job done.
We are very proud of our MyTalon ethos that we have created. Made up of six areas: Live, Thrive, Grow, Share, Give and Play, it summarises our culture perfectly and the pillars that underpin it.
What are the specific people challenges faced in your industry?
Retention is a challenge faced by our industry as with most creative and media sectors but ironically we face the opposite problem. We have created such a great place to work, especially compared to our competitors, that people do not want to leave. As a result, we constantly have to think about how we can meaningfully develop people and create opportunities for them because we can’t always easily promote upwards if a role isn’t vacant.
What has been the toughest ‘People’ or culture challenge you’ve encountered (big or small)?
In 2017, we were bought out by a private equity firm so there were many preconceptions on what PE firms do and how they would cut costs. We had to embark on our first change management programme which involved communications and engagement initiatives to ensure our people knew that our people approach is still a priority for the business and nothing would change on that front.
Has anything really surprised you?
My line of work is full of surprises but the main thing that surprises me is how much leaders underestimate their role in employee engagement – they think that you can throw a bunch of perks at people and they will be happy. People need to be inspired by their leaders and believe they are genuine in what they say. I feel this is where we’ve managed to differentiate ourselves effectively at Talon where so many other businesses have got it wrong.
What is the quick or simple ‘win’ you would suggest to someone at an early phase of addressing people & culture within their business?
Find out what matters to your people. Every business is different and the make-up of their workforce will vary. So you need to get feedback. The key is to follow through on your feedback and put in place measures to address what matters to people. Only then will they see you are serious and begin to engage.
Are there any mistakes that you made that you can share? Something you wish someone could have told you at the start of your journey?
You can’t please everyone! We have a very listening and feedback culture however, no matter how much you consult you will never please everyone. So you need to be careful you don’t end up deliberating and procrastinating too much - take on board people’s views but then as a business you need to make decisions, and sometimes fast.
Does anything frustrate you about the world of engagement or workplace culture?
It is often difficult to draw lines in terms of what comes under employee engagement. As an HR practitioner, sometimes areas that don’t traditionally fall under my remit can often be pushed my way because it is considered to be important to the culture. For example, the office environment or IT infrastructure. As a small team we can’t take on everything so this can be challenging. At Talon though we have a People Forum which includes representatives from each team so this is where they can help out in a lot of areas.
Any resources you’d recommend?
As a member of the IPA, the advertising industry’s trade body, we have access to many resources from training advice to employment law counsel so that is a good resource for us.
Who else do you think is doing great things in this area? Who else should I interview?
We have some partner agencies being recognised in employee engagement who you could talk to – December 19 and Specialist Works. Another media agency doing good things in this space are Seven Stars.
What is next for Talon? What future challenge or initiative are you most excited about?
We have recently opened up our first international office in New York which is very exciting but challenging in that we now need to ensure our culture transcends borders while at the same time factoring local nuances.
Thank you Mapara – it’s been great talking to you!
You can learn more about Talon Outdoor by visiting their website (https://talonoutdoor.com/).
Talon are a really energising business and do some fantastic work in their local community. To see more about that, please do check out - https://talonoutdoor.com/culture
I’m interested in completing further interviews with other interesting and dynamic people focused organisations.
Do you have any recommendations for who else would have some great insight to share?
If so, please do let me know!