‘First and foremost, keep your ears open and listen’ – Martin Falkenberg shares his HR insights

Martin discusses key business practices in an ever-changing world

When it comes to analysing changes in human resources, few are as well placed to comment as Martin Falkenberg. With over 25 years’ experience at firms such as Mobil, Nestlé Waters, and – most recently – as Chief Human Resources Officer at the environmental services firm SUEZ North America, he has accrued vast knowledge of the increasingly significant role that HR plays in companies’ practices. We caught up with Martin on the Venari Podcast, where he shared his unique insights on this key component of the workplace.


‘There’s been an evolution, over the years, of an increasing focus on HR in connection with business strategy’, Martin notes. But when the pace of change is so fast, in both corporate and global spheres, it can be difficult for firms to ensure their HR policies are up to date with current trends while remaining competitive.



However, despite the shifting HR landscape, some things remain constant – not least the acquisition, development, and retention of talent. The prominence given to these areas may ‘ebb and flow, depending on the situation in the market', though presently ‘it’s at a high level […] it’s very acute.’


Indeed, HR-related topics are gaining more attention from executives and board members alike, which makes sense when ‘soft’ HR issues, as Martin calls them, have such a bearing on workers’ lives in both professional and personal contexts. He namechecks three as being particularly important:


Previously, organisations were ‘focused on making customers feel good,’ Martin says. ‘Now, that focus is moving internally, towards our employees.’ This encompasses everything from stakeholders expecting firms ‘to take a more public and vocal stand’ on topics that are important to them, to recognising that staff are ‘not just focused on what's happening at work, but what's happening throughout their entire lives.'


Nurturing employee welfare is not only good for staff – it is beneficial for business. Workers are more likely to put in ‘discretionary effort’ – i.e., to go above and beyond their duties – in supportive, engaging environments, which can help to give companies a competitive edge. But this is not just about the workplace itself; companies must also demonstrate ‘strong purpose’, ‘fair and competitive compensation,’ and, as Martin puts it, set and provide ‘realistic expectations and sufficient resources to achieve those expectations'. Short-termism in how businesses approach these crucial topics leads to scenarios like the Great Resignation and ‘quiet quitting’.


What advice does Martin give fellow HR leaders to stay agile in the current market? ‘First and foremost, to keep your ears open and listen.’ That goes for the concerns of both employees and stakeholders, in addition to an organisation’s business strategy. Although the world is changing rapidly, Martin regards this uncertainty as something to embrace: HR executives should see it ‘not as a scary thing, but actually as an opportunity and a way to make change and move things forward.’


Last, but not least, Martin encourages HR departments to be brave; things that seem unpopular or unproductive at first can end up helping ‘to drive long-term business success,’ he notes. ‘And so it’s important […] at times to push ourselves and our organisations into maybe uncomfortable places.’



You can download this episode of The Venari Podcast on Apple Podcast, Spotify, Deezer and Podbean.




With over 8 years of experience headhunting global leaders, Tim Hartnell works with Retail, Consumer Goods and Sustainable Packaging companies to identify and engage the very best senior strategic, commercial and operational talent within the UK, Europe and the US. Candidates he sources have typically spent time in top-tier consulting firms such as McKinsey, Bain, BCG, etc.