Sewar Azzouni, Head of Talent Transformation ME&T at Publicis Groupe, explains how her network is constantly on the lookout for the next best talent strategy.
There are many different ways in which different organizations in the regional industry have been impacted by the pandemic and the ensuing crisis, and how they may have been driven to conduct, or not, an in-depth rethink of their approach to the future of work.
Some have reverted to business as usual, including in terms of work practices; some are still struggling with finding their footing; others have started a thorough transformation; and others have embraced this new era as the natural continuation of a change they had already initiated. It’s fair to say that Publicis Groupe squarely stands in that last category.
Agility at heart
For example, the network hadn’t waited for the post-Covid era to adopt a hybrid strategy allowing employees to juggle between their home and the office, as explains Sewar Azzouni, Head of Talent Transformation ME&T: “As an organization, we’ve had a flexible approach and evolved from 9-to-6 at your desk for more than a decade now. However, our workplace is the heartbeat that powers our culture, and we’ll always value it. So, we will continue to host a flexible and hybrid work environment – this is here to stay – [but] we will never be a fully remote-working organization. Connecting with our team in person is invaluable for our work, our ideas, our growth, our exposure, and our talents.”
Similarly, salary grids and benefits are not set in stone. “Compensation and benefits are based on high performance and delivery, and we are structured and methodical in maintaining this within our set processes and parameters. We do expect to sustain this growth trend, looking into strategies to ensure fairness, equity, and competitiveness,” says Azzouni. “[We offer] many benefits, and our strategy is ever evolving. We strive to stay competitive, not only within our industry but looking at others. We are continuously looking for ways to add benefits that matter the most to our people,” she adds. In short, “Our strategy follows delivering ‘new ways of working’ for our people and not following what the competition has necessarily done,” she says.
Indeed, Azzouni firmly believes that “For rewards and remunerations, companies will be looking at expanding into never-tapped-before areas to grow their total rewards system way beyond the traditional monetary values. This, of course, positively affects both hiring and retention and, out of our industry, this is the area that, I believe, requires heavy development to match the maturity of the other disciplines.”
This approach has been proving fruitful. Publicis Groupe has been doing rather well for the past two years, according to Azzouni who says that business success has led to a headcount increase. “Our growth was exceptional [in 2021 and 2022], which led to an increase in employment, be it from business requirements or investment in outstanding talents, that will drive the Groupe’s agenda,” she says, adding that she forecasts this trend to continue in 2023.
Even though the network experienced a slight increase in resignations compared to previous years, the drivers behind employees’ decision to leave or change jobs have more to do with the nature of the UAE market than with employment practices, says Azzouni. “One of the main factors, in my opinion, and for the UAE specifically, is the reality of the market being expat-driven, in which it is easier to transition in and out of jobs. Our turnover rate, however, has not drastically increased in the past two years. Our talent strategy is to continuously adapt to retain our best talents year on year,” she explains.
Investing in HR
Most interestingly, Azzouni highlights the fact that Publicis’s Talent Acquisition team has grown by 200% since 2021. This surge in HR talent reflects the importance the group gives to its teams and their satisfaction as employees, allocating the means to listen and act upon feedback.
“When our belief is based on being a people-first organization, the value and responsibility of the Talent practice are amplified, and that is how HR is at Publicis Groupe. It is a Talent Transformation practice that enables, partners, and supports the organization and its talents in our transformation journey. When I joined a little over five years ago, we were a team of three individuals; we are now a team of 22 valuable members, with specialized skillsets, overlooking key people areas that are important to our people and the business,” she explains. For example, Publicis Groupe has put in place a dedicated Community & Engagement unit within its Talent team, that focuses on creating opportunities for employees to belong and be part of an employer of choice, she says.
Soon, this focus on HR will also involve adopting modern tools that facilitate and improve the efficiency of the work. “When it comes to hiring, systems that are AI-enabled will take over the heavy lifting of employee screening and qualifying for openings. Gamification will heavily drive retention and development with custom-made career learning paths tailored by recommendation engines,” explains Azzouni.
A major push on DE&I, furthering the efforts to establish equity across the workforce, better inclusion; workplace and hours flexibility; the continuous identification of new ways of working and new ways of upskilling and reskilling talent; a shift from education and hiring certain roles holding big master’s programs to being certified in niche and specialized capabilities based on the business and industry’s current and future needs… There’s a lot yet to happen, according to Azzouni, and organizations should be ready for it all.
This article was published in Communicate's latest issue.