Pioneer Profile: Meet Dean Jennings

4th Oct 2023

It’s time that we recognise the people behind the evolving world of work. Our working lives have shifted to being more inclusive, more people-centric, more flexible, and just plain better for both employees and companies. 

These changes didn’t just happen: they were put into place and upheld by individuals and teams working to create a better working future for everyone. 

So we’re finally putting the spotlight on the people who make great companies great: the people-people.  

People-people are crucial to the success of every company. They find you the talent that drives you forwards, and they’ve taken on an increasingly strategic role in the past few years – often taking on responsibility for mental health, diversity and inclusion, culture, EVPs, Employer Branding and team happiness. 

Read more about the Pioneers List and go behind the scenes to understand how and why we’ve selected our Pioneers.

We were lucky enough to speak with Dean Jennings, Global Head of People, Culture & Talent at Hydrogen Group about his career, his experiences with flexible working and building great company cultures, and his hopes for the future of work. 

Tell us a little bit about your career history, and how you got to where you are now. What were the key milestones?

Having always wanted to be a barrister, I quickly came to realise that although I was able to qualify as one, I didn't necessarily feel that it was the right career path for me. I very quickly found myself in the staffing industry, where I was able to develop quickly and become an asset to an organisation's growth. 

Working in a large talent acquisition team for one of the world’s largest staffing agencies gave me a real insight into how 'big business' works, and it was here that I learned a lot of what I know today. I was a fresh graduate with nothing to lose, and found myself getting regular promotions up to the point where I was leading a team of 12. 

Then, the pandemic hit: and all but me in the team were furloughed. This was a make-or-break moment for me, but I hunkered down and took on anything and everything that was thrown my way. From big data to ER and HR queries, I found myself reading a lot of books, listening to podcasts, and working out just how to take on these newfound responsibilities. 

That's when I realised that I really wanted to impact change, and I was given the opportunity to build out a brand new team for a purpose-driven recruitment business called Hydrogen. I was able to take my learnings and challenges with me, and quickly created a well-oiled talent delivery model that focused on the benefits of WFH and hybrid working, pulling superstars from bigger businesses purely on the basis that they didn't want to be forced back to the office 5 days per week.

Fast forward to today, I now lead the charge for our People function, encompassing our People & Culture, Talent Acquisition and Growth Mindset teams to ensure that Hydrogen Group empowers individuals to realise their full potential, and to be able to thrive that little bit more often. 

When did you become interested in flexible working, EVPs and the future of work?

I'll be the first to hold my hands up and admit to once thinking that presenteeism was real, and that if you weren't in an office behind your desk, you weren't being productive. But I didn't know any different, and I wasn't fully aware of the benefits that a hybrid model could hold. 

Since figuring out that what works for one person doesn't necessarily work for another, and truly focusing on the results, not how you get there, it’s opened up a whole new world of possibilities and talent for our business. Whilst I feel that cultivating a good office and work environment is still important, I do believe that a blend of what works best for the individual should always be at the forefront of any business decisions. 

What's the most impactful change you’ve overseen?

Similar to what I said above, you don't know what you don't know. I was a strong believer that I needed to be in the office before the lights were on, and be the last one there when I left. I didn't feel the impact until I tried something different

Working from home, for me, just doesn't work if I do it 5 days per week; my best work comes when I have a blended approach to home and office life. This has resulted in a much more focused and productive approach to my days, knowing what I need to do and where I need to do it. Better yet, it has meant that my family knows where and when I can support, and we have been able to get so much more done at home in those periods, whereas before it just wouldn't have been an option. 

What’s the biggest challenge of being in your role right now?

Getting the balance right, both for the employer and the employee. It's all about trial and error, and ascertaining what's easy to do and what will actually enable you to thrive and be more productive and successful in the long run. If you can get this right, the results follow.

What do you think the next big trend is in working culture?

My hopes are that the technology we are able to utilise in the hybrid model becomes more accessible and more interactive (hello VR!). The hybrid model can only truly work when you are able to have 3 or more people in 3 or more different places, and each and every one of them walks away from a meeting or conversation feeling like they were heard and fully invested. A laptop hooked up to a TV just doesn't cut it. It is my hope that we will see technological advancement play a huge role in working culture in the next 10 years. 

Take a look at the other Pioneers who made the list, and subscribe to our newsletter to get updates on new Pioneers, guides to help you navigate your strategic role, and exclusive invites to webinars and events.