Recognising Potential in a Crisis – The HRD’s Moment with Gillian Taylorson, Grant Thornton UK

At Livingston James we are led by our purpose; to advise and support people and organisations to realise their potential so that together we can change lives and communities for the better.

In these challenging times, organisations must elevate the most important asset they have: their people. By focusing on the fundamentals of people strategy – leadership, culture, talent, reskilling, and HR, companies can emerge stronger, more agile, more innovative, and better able to respond to an ever-changing environment.

In the last quarter of 2020, we introduced our ‘Recognising Potential’ series, which focused on the experience and impact of CEOs throughout the pandemic.  In 2021 we are continuing the series, with a focus on HRDs, entitled ‘the HRD’s Moment’ focusing on the experiences of a select group of HR professionals from the local market to discuss these key areas as businesses settle into the new reality.

In this instalment, we hear from Gillian Taylorson – Strategic HR Business Partner, Grant Thornton UK.


Technology has been radically transforming the way work gets done, changing the skills that people need for their jobs, and redefining the jobs that will be needed. But the pandemic has catapulted businesses five to ten years into the digital future. How can organisations remain distinctly human in a technology-driven world?

Technology has been fundamental to the operational efficiencies of many businesses during the pandemic, and much of our current ways of working will be here to stay so we need to continue to think ‘digital first’ in how we work with clients and colleagues, which is a strategic priority for us. Technology itself has a role to play in how organisations remain human, by continuing to evolve the functionality of the software people are using to communicate.  Indeed, in our own Firm where we use Teams and Zoom, updates to this technology over the last 12 months have supported us as we try to create ‘virtual office rooms’ to replicate the environment of being in the room together, asking questions in real time, sharing documents, progressing work efficiently, and learning.

The other aspect of this is for organisations themselves to be flexible in how their people work, and it will be interesting to see how firms approach this going forward.  I believe the emphasis on wellbeing and how we support and empower people to work more flexibly will continue to be a priority for many organisations.  One of our priorities will be to ensure we have the right people managers with the right skills to develop and support our people in a technology-driven world.  I am a strong believer we are social beings and working in isolation (for most of us) does not get the best results, so remaining ‘human’ as we emerge from the pandemic will need our focus.


The new generation—of both talent and consumers—expects businesses to look beyond profit and to positively impact society. Purpose, and its impact on strategy, sits at the heart of this shift. How have you prepared your business/clients for this shift in expectation?

Across our profession there has been some negative press in recent times and there is a focus to turn this around, and it will take time to build trust and integrity in the market. Our focus is on challenging ourselves to do the right thing ahead of what is easy, with our people and our clients.  This may not always please our clients, however given a large part of our business is Audit we are trying to shift the focus to do the right thing in the public interest and help our people understand delivering an Audit is not just about exceptional quality, we need to help our people understand the wider impact their work has on society and building trust in businesses.  Much of what we are doing with our clients is building in more challenge and rigour, demonstrating we are representing the broader shareholders and society.  We are also working with our people to shift the perception that what they do matters in building a better economy for all.


The business world is changing at an exponential rate. Multiple forces are reshaping how organisations function, including new technologies, changing business needs, an evolving talent market, and greater employee expectations, among others. To remain relevant organisations have had to adapt in order to thrive. In your professional opinion, what do you believe the core characteristics of reimagined organisations to be?

Organisations will need to be agile in how they work with their clients as their demands and ways of working evolve.  Our people want more than a job. They want a career and a life out of work, both of which provide great experiences, often a top priority, so providing a career that enables people to take career breaks, and fulfil life experiences will be essential.  Diversity of experiences brings diversity of thought and talent which I believe will be increasingly important for organisations to stay ahead, and create inclusive cultures where people want to be.  Increasingly, people want flexibility within a framework, where they have clarity on strategy, purpose, and policy and understand their role in bringing this to life in a way that empowers them.

As we are a learning organisation, taking on around 200 trainees each year, we have had to be creative in how we orient people to our business in a remote working world – another example of where we had to embrace technology.  I believe digital learning and knowledge will be critical to all organisations, not just those where this is their industry, and we now have digital training as a key part of our learning curriculum.


People are the driving force behind any organisation and therefore organisations should place significant attention to the empowerment of their staff. What strategies did you implement to continue to empower your/clients’ employees through such turbulence?

Luckily we have a strong IT infrastructure so moving everyone to home working happened overnight and without any real issues.  Our priority during this turbulent time has been to support and empower our people to work in a flexible manner to suit childcare, wellbeing etc.  While we encourage people to speak regularly to their managers, we have empowered people to do what they need to in a way that works for them, in order to stay safe and well during the pandemic. Part of this has been empowering them to also have conversations with clients on what can realistically be delivered when balancing the multiple challenges of working in a lockdown environment.  Tone from the top is important so having our Partners and directors lead the way, and share stories helps our people feel empowered to do the same.

We have strongly reinforced these messages during the pandemic through regular communications to our people, and feedback from our people has been really positive. Where before our people may have held back from working in an agile way, I believe it has quickly become the norm.


During the pandemic, many organisations have accomplished what had previously been thought impossible. What have you learnt about yourself through the course of 2020 and into 2021?

Almost a year on from the pandemic it is important we all take a step back to reflect and consider what we have learnt about ourselves.  The pandemic has changed all of our personal and working lives and to an extent merged the two more greatly.  Working in our remote world has reminded me why I do the job I do and reminded me of the aspects of my role I Iove and miss.  The energy and buzz I get from being out and about in the business, meeting people and visiting our offices across the UK.  As an HR professional, we are adept at dealing with change and things coming from left field, although I don’t think any of us could ever imagine the challenges and degree of change we had to deal with over the last 12 months, and reflecting on this is a valuable lesson in how agile and resilient we all are.  I think many organisations have shown exceptional agility to survive and thrive during unprecedented times.

As someone who did get quite ill with Covid, and who is still on a journey of recovery, one thing I did learn is the importance of self-care.  Considering my mental as well as physical wellbeing during this past year has been a key learning for me and working in an agile way to support both aspects. It goes without saying we have all had our eyes opened in terms of perspective and for me the emphasis has been on work-life balance.  Staying healthy to stay productive is something I’ve always cognitively understood, and I have now had to learn how to put it in to practice!


To discuss leadership and people strategy requirements please contact Sophie Randles on [email protected]

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