Hr 30 Under 30: How Emma Hollands’ Passion for D&d Led to L&d Accolades

What does Dungeons & Dragons (D&D if you’re in the know) have in common with Learning & Development (L&D)?

The former is a legendary fantasy role-playing game. The latter, according to the CIPD, is about ‘ensuring people have the knowledge and skills to fulfil organisational and individual needs and ambitions’. The connection between them isn’t obvious at first, but all will become clear very soon.

Punch!’s Talent Manager, Emma Hollands, has recently been hand-picked for CIPD’s People Management HR 30 under 30. A ‘list of the best and brightest young HR and L&D practitioners set to become the next generation of leaders within the profession.’

But Emma didn’t start her career in HR. Far from it.

In June 2019, Emma joined Punch! as a Sales Development Representative, using phone, email, and online tactics to generate sales opportunities for clients. So how did a self-confessed, tea-obsessed, lover of all things ‘nerdy’, earn her place amongst the top HR talent in the industry in less than three years (and while still in her 20s)? What’s her secret sauce?

Well… Emma knew, before the rest of us, what D&D and L&D have in common and she used it to her advantage…

It was during a late 2019 Punch! ‘book club’ session, that Emma demonstrated a knack for presenting. Her skills were spotted by CEO, James Snider, who asked if she would start curating and delivering training sessions for the wider team, alongside her current responsibilities. The rest is history.

Emma thrived on the new challenge and started to learn about HR law and recruitment in her spare time. Then something unexpected happened. If you’ve been following the story you might have guessed what…


But less than 12 months after joining Punch! and, in the midst of an unprecedented global pandemic, Emma was appointed the role of Talent Executive on a permanent basis. She was challenged to define and implement Punch!’s remote recruitment strategy and L&D programme.

Between March 2020 and August 2021 she successfully recruited and onboarded 42 new team members and singlehandedly delivered over 150 hours of training. Yes, aside from spearheading a 40% growth in Punch!’s headcount, Emma also developed a unique training framework.

Every individual at Punch! has an L&D journey that is linked to their own professional development and progression within the company. Emma has worked cross-functionally to define five key ‘accountables’ for each job role, to allow for a transparent approach to individual growth and career progression.

She also created the ‘ABM academy’ – Punch!’s own accreditation for all team members to learn and understand the basics of Account-Based Marketing (ABM). Emma delivers regular bite-sized training sessions to employees of all levels (including leadership) on topics such as GDPR compliance, presentation, and listening skills.

“Emma is a force of nature. Someone that thrives in her role and brings her whole self to it. She has recognised that we all benefit from ongoing training and has developed a whole series of sessions tailored to our needs. They provide time away from the day-to-day, where small groups come together and learn. As new areas for development are identified, Emma creates a new course to help. An ongoing process that ensures we’re all continuously learning and improving. It’s down-to-earth, practical, adaptive training that only Emma could provide.” – Andrew Godley, Head of Client Services.

So, back to the question – ‘What does D&D have in common with L&D?’ The answer is actually quite simple.


‘The core of D&D is storytelling: friends gather to tell a story together, guiding their heroes through quests, battles, and adventures.’ The secret sauce for Emma’s successful L&D career is her aptitude for storytelling. Her skill for creating engaging, collaborative, and memorable learning experiences for all of Punch!’s employees has earned her a place amongst the top-performing HR practitioners under 30. Not bad for a nerd.

Emma comments: “No one learns by being given information. Likewise, I don’t expect players in D&D to go on an adventure, just because I said so. You need to show your participants a villain to defeat, or a treasure to claim; you need to create L&D opportunities that respect attendees’ time and showcase the practical value of what you’re trying to teach. I believe in both L&D and HR, making an impact requires preparation, empathy, and, above all else, a sense of fun.

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