5 Questions for Seth Wolk Opportunity in the Downturn

By Jessica Marquez

Apr. 29, 2009

Despite the recession, Seth Wolk, the new director of human interest at Saatchi & Saatchi, is optimistic about the opportunities that the poor economy offers for the advertising agency. He is hoping to use the economic downturn to get to know the existing talent at the company and poach from outside for certain positions. Wolk recently spoke to Workforce Management New York bureau chief Jessica Marquez.

Workforce Management: Why is your title “director of human interest” instead of “director of human resources”?

Seth Wolk: It’s a title I have inherited, and it’s key to the philosophy at Saatchi & Saatchi. A resource is something to use. It’s sort of reactionary. It’s looking at your people as resources. I think “interest” is a much more outward-bound way of thinking about people. My function is making sure that we have knowledge, interest and awareness of who our people are and what makes them effective.

WM: How do you put that into practice?

Wolk: It’s making sure that there is real feedback through the performance management process. It’s about having a dialogue about how people are doing and where they want to be and using them more efficiently. That might not sound different from what other HR departments do, but here people have the expectation to have that two-way dialogue.

WM: How are the market conditions affecting what you are doing?

Wolk: From a talent perspective, the market conditions are acting in our favor in that people are not in motion. The doors aren’t swinging so fast. So we can examine our people and talk to them and make sure that they are committed. We can have that dialogue without worrying about them leaving. It gives me a moment to reflect, whereas in faster times you don’t have that opportunity. It’s a huge buyer’s market in terms of talent. Maybe this is my opportunity to say, “Who is out there, and are there strategic opportunities to upgrade our talent?”

WM: Are you hiring?

Wolk: Like most of the people in our business we are under a classic freeze, but that doesn’t stop us from upgrading. I can’t add headcount, but if I can make the case that I can part ways with a B-player and bring on an A-player at the same cost, I can do that.

WM: How has the economy posed a challenge for you?

Wolk: Clearly it makes it difficult to flat-out hire. So you have to make trade-offs to upgrade your skills. We are doing as well as expected, but the days of making money hand over fist are over. Although I said it’s a buyer’s market in terms of talent, people are risk-averse to leave, so that’s also a challenge.

Workforce Management, April 6, 2009, p. 11Subscribe Now!

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