Laura Cole, Head of HR Digital Service & Employee Experience – Standard Chartered
Melanie Lepine, Group Head of Learning, Development & Talent – CBRE, GWS
Vishal Gandhi, Head: Staffing & Sourcing – UK&I – Tata Consultancy Services Limited
Caroline Smith, VP, Deputy General Counsel – HireRight
Nicole Ward, HR – NHS
Traditional talent and teamwork initiatives that may have seemed incidental in the past, are now seen as bottom-line indicators of the success of a business, especially around the cost of low productivity. In the evolving landscape, battles for talent continue and acquisition strategies must change to attract and retain the skills that will be crucial to future competitiveness.
WHAT IMPACT HAVE THESE CHALLENGING TIMES HAD ON YOUR RECRUITMENT STRATEGY AND WHAT HAS BEEN THE KEY LEARNING THAT IS INFORMING YOUR FUTURE STRATEGY?
Melanie Lepine: A certain amount of opportunity for recruitment is opening up. Where previously, a business might have been compelled to base in city hubs, now we can recruit from anywhere and of course people can work from anywhere. Experientially, it has helped us to reach talent and we are a real estate business that is client-drive and in the past, it was felt that there was no option than to be on location and client facing. But that mindset and culture has changed.
Vishal Gandhi: We have continued to recruit almost 60,000 people globally. We have endeavoured to be as mindful on the changing issues that circumstances have caused, but all in all, with the borders taken away, we are experiencing an abundance of skills and talent opening up and this is causing many changes. A case in point is, in general, opportunity used to attract talent, but now talent is attracting opportunities – the tables have reversed, particularly in the digital space. Organic talent and keeping skills development locked internally, is not sustainable.
Nicole Ward: To really turn the tide on the resourcing crisis will require a radical strategy. I am an HR senior in the NHS and the effects of Brexit on international recruitment and retention of healthcare staff is still being felt, will impact future recruits and could affect the pace of any succession planning and the sorely needed ‘quick response’ to the changing landscape of the provision of healthcare. To compound the issue, the amount of restrictions and new legislation that now has to be adhered to means that foreign recruits may not be as available or accessible.
HOW CAN ORGANISATIONS – ESPECIALLY ONE OF SUCH SCALE AND SENSITIVITIES AS THE NHS – ENSURE THAT THE RIGHT CHECKS AND MEASURES ARE IN PLACE TO MITIGATE AGAINST RISKS IN HIRING?
Caroline Smith: The pressure comes through lack of time and resources and that’s when the danger of cutting corners occurs. With the disruptions in resourcing routes, the right provisions must be put in place, to make sure that people are fit and proper for the roles. If there is the pressure to start onboarding people before they have even completed Disclosure and Barring Service checks, there are obvious wide-ranging risks. We trust that the NHS can avoid this, but for private healthcare agencies, the pressures are evident. So, questions must inevitably be asked about how to screen, to ensure the correct steps are taken. On top of the competency and qualification issues, there is the added pressure of COVID-19 vaccinations, which we are advised is something we will have to live with going forward. In terms of criminal records and more nuanced issues, which may influence decision making, there is General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) to consider, along with a myriad of legislation with extraterritorial effect.
Laura Cole: In a highly regulated sector rolling out hybrid working presents challenges. There is the basic considerations about the difference between frontline, customer-facing staff and, say, traders. Trying to find an equitable balance in the hybrid frame, with location flexibility required, is challenging. The answer perhaps is in time flexibility, but as we operate in 60 global markets, that too has a level of complexity. In consideration of talent acquisition, this was central to informing our plans in the move to hybrid working. Access to talent relies upon attractive EVP and central to that is flexible working and we’re almost working hand-in-hand with our regulators to try and make that work.
Caroline Smith: What has proved the greatest challenge is the constant and sudden changes in work guidelines, during the pandemic. What remains is a willingness to change the set and rigid parameters of work, to enable people to have greater control over work/life balance. Yes, there will be issues such as data security, but technology is increasingly providing solutions and it will require a greater focus on robust risk policies. There’s a pandemic, there’s Brexit, and there’s a talent drought – meaning risk is an inevitable consequence when people start to cut corners and turn a blind eye to detail, checks and measures, because of extraneous pressures.
HAS YOUR ATTITUDE TOWARDS EMPLOYMENT RISK CHANGED DURING THE PANDEMIC AND WHAT MEASURES, IF ANY, DID YOU INTRODUCE TO MANAGE THE CHANGE IN RISK THAT CAME WITH REMOTE WORKING AND HIRING?
Melanie Lepine: Risk, of course, comes in many shapes and forms. In a bank setting, as we’ve discussed, there is data security. But turn the spotlight on the human issues of this crisis – with many people working in isolation – and the risk to the health and wellbeing of people and the wide range of different life circumstances, has raised the bar from an HR management perspective. This must inform on EVP going forward, to demonstrate authentically that we are an organisation that cares. This crisis has changed mindsets, increased a level of empathy and changed what people are looking for in an employer.
Vishal Gandhi: We have transitioned into 2030 in less than two years, that’s the reality. There are sophisticated systems in place that can help us monitor activities online, but offline we have absolutely no clue and that poses a risk. Because people will not be coming into a controlled ecosystem, they are now free to explore and test the boundaries of the new hybrid arrangement. It will be down to HR teams to manage this and find that sustainable balance. Success will be predicated – as it always has been – on the calibre and integrity of the people you recruit and employ in this new era of work. In the absence of line of sight – heightened due diligence, checks and measures, as well as a level of surveillance that mutually protects employers and their employees, is a necessity.
Nicole Ward: Indeed, this is the era of individuals making choices increasingly autonomously and returning to the element of risk, it’s an unavoidable reality. There’s a risk from every keyboard stroke and piece of communication. As always, it’s the work of HR to promote positive behaviours that can mitigate, but no matter how many safeguards you put in and best of intent, there will always be error, cyberattack and very occasionally, nefarious intent.
Caroline Smith: In the world we live in, with social media and the proliferation of information, businesses have to be constantly vigilant about brand and reputation and you simply cannot completely de-risk. In terms of the gig economy, hopefully we will start to see employment legislation introduced, because if the direction of travel is more people working on consultancy contracts – may have access to rival firms’ information, how do businesses mitigate? It’s a case of, if a freelancer leaked information about one firm to another, that person is immediately untrustworthy, so a combination of law, common sense and security checks will lead the way.
Vishal Gandhi: Organisations are looking at how technology will play a very critical role in mitigating risk because it can identify it more quickly and in advance than a human being can. There is a catching up that needs to be done towards 2030. With risk in mind, we still must continue to operate in a very controlled ecosystem – whether it’s virtual, hybrid or back to traditional – and so screening will play a vital role. What we cannot control is the intelligence that goes out when the individual quits.
Caroline Smith: Right now, in terms of areas such as intellectual property, it’s a balance that is sliding more towards an individual market and away from corporate control, which is aligned with the huge increase in remote and flexible working. This will require a significant review of policies and procedures to support security. Looking beyond your actual employment jurisdiction, if you don’t have an entity, then you run the risk of establishing a business with a pseudoentity. That in itself will create issues for you from a corporate tax perspective. Add to this COVID and Brexit and the driving need to bring businesses back and operating, the pressure is on and there is no room for costly mistakes.
HOW HAVE YOUR DAPS EVOLVED OVER THE PAST 18 MONTHS AND HOW CAN DIGITAL ONBOARDING BE CALIBRATED TO ACHIEVE VIABLE, CONSISTENT AND SUSTAINABLE PERFORMANCE?
Laura Cole: COVID was a catalyst for us, although we were already on a journey for the past five years. Last year, we implemented a workflow management system that we also use for our HR platform and case management system. We’re also increasingly using digital tools – whereas before we had quite a manual processes – and the focus has been on streamlining the process through automation, particularly to enable newjoiners to connect to the culture of the organisation, having not met face-to-face in some instances.
Nicole Ward: I’ve heard and read mixed reviews on digital onboarding, particularly when candidates encounter a fragmented digital systems which often ask for repeat information from the candidate instead of this being the smooth process that it’s marketed to be. By the time the candidate is at your front door, the ease or difficulty of the processfor the candidate is taken into account and reflected as a part of the organisation they have joined. Fragmented should not be the impression that you wish to make to your new hire. Digital onboarding will increase, but I worry about the lack of psychological contract at a crucial point. You cannot beat the human touch in understanding the candidate, but the inevitable direction of travel has to be acknowledged. But because digital is automated, how can we be sure that we’re not turning off potential talent?
Caroline Smith: Everybody has their own concerns and perspectives about data, breaches of personal information and intrusion and that’s where there is potential cause for friction. The general process flow doesn’t need to change – but there will be certain obvious changes and nuances – so it’s a case of managing expectation. Recruiters will invariably say that the want to know everything about a candidate. But it has to be qualitative over quantitative.
Vishal Gandhi: Most big, global organisations are a very confused setup, because if they are headquartered in a certain part of the world, they try and influence the same things across borders, without consultation. So, for global firms asking what recruiters want, prepare for a myriad of expectations as each location will have their individual wants.
HOW CAN SOCIAL MEDIA BECOME A PRACTICAL AND EFFECTIVE PART OF THE JOURNEY FROM ATTRACTION TO ONBOARDING?
Melanie Lepine: Our organisation has many different role profiles – for example engineers to professional services, plus we have people who are realtors selling properties – and so we need to take into consideration a wide array of people with different perspectives and expectations of social media. We are also mindful about privacy issues, particularly as more people work remotely, where boundaries are still grey areas.
Caroline Smith: There are definitely lines to be drawn and balances to be found in the new era of work such as, when does legitimate vigilance become intrusion? The big question is surrounding people’s own social media stories – which are invariably badly edited and revealing – and so intrusion is something that cannot be taken lightly. Questions surrounding using people’s social media in the recruitment process continue to be asked and tested in law.
BUSINESSES ARE INTERROGATING SOCIAL MEDIA TO SEE WHETHER THEIR EMPLOYEES AND POTENTIAL RECRUITS ARE THE TYPE OF PERSON THEY WANT. THAT’S CONTROVERSIAL.
Caroline Smith: It’s controversial, but take the pharma market, for example, where it’s perfectly understandable why you would want to screen social media for keywords around animal rights activism and anti-vaccine sentiment, because of the risks that these present – not just to the business, but also its employees and contractors. Again, setting that balance correctly is difficult, particularly globally across borders with a wide and diverse community. Ultimately, every business will want their people to uphold core values and so it’s all about trust and transparency, communication, working within the relevant laws, using technology and understanding what the risks are.
Vishal Gandhia: You can liberate social media for all the right reasons, but it’s a power that must not be exploited and misused and only to safeguard and inform on people’s motivations, in context with working for any particular employer.
HOW IS YOUR EMPLOYEE ENGAGEMENT STRATEGY EVOLVING TO MEET THE CHANGING NEEDS OF EMPLOYEES IN THE HYBRID WORKFORCE FRAMEWORK?
Melanie Lepine: Health and wellbeing has to take center stage, along with guidance and support surrounding worklife balance in the hybrid environment and it’s about people living brand values and culture. There’s no doubt that employers will have to work smarter in terms of keeping people engaged and retained, understanding, for example, their aspirations, how they want to be developed and supported in a career management capacity.
Laura Cole: We’re shifting our employee engagement strategy from just an annual survey to a more continuous, moment-intime feedback. We launched, earlier last year, our Continuous Listening survey – effectively a rolling culture survey – which constantly pulses different employees across the organisation. The most times you’ll receive it is probably twice a year, but it’s just pulsing a set of questions, which gives us a bit of a health check on how the organisation is doing as a whole. We’re beginning to align that to employee journey mapping, particularly those key moments. We’ve tested working from home during COVID, now we have to test as hybrid plays out.
Caroline Smith: We need to define policies that allow a degree of individualism and tailoring and I think pulse surveys really are the way forward, for gauging how people are thinking. It’s about a sustainable balance because people intrinsically like structure and boundaries.
Vishal Gandhi: The big question is, is this achievable? The answer is, it has to be, because we have no other option than to make it work, but we still have an analog mindset in a digital world and that has to change. Engagement will be defined based on the experience of the individual, based on them being given the support and autonomy to reach their aspiration and expectation. Engagement has moved to being focused on wellbeing and belongingness and it’s on these two important platforms that I believe engagement programmes will pivot on.
Nicole Ward: The answers lie in staff surveys, in the interpretation of that all-important feedback and that means that annual, tick-box surveys are redundant. How could employees ever have conveyed what was important for them? We have to stop thinking of resourcing as fixed assets and understand how to engage with the passing “talent clouds” and set up the way we operate for this new way of working, in there lies different understandings of the future, where we snatch that talent for the minute to do a particular job. Then it’s how you engage with that person who may be in your organisation for a limited period of time and that means flipping engagement on its head.
Melanie Lepine: Increasingly too, talent and skills want to be associated with organisations that have CSR deeplyseated in the culture, socially and environmentally. They have a much broader scope of expectations.
Laura Cole: Agreed, there’s a heightened awareness of how people perceive the company in context with themselves as corporate citizens. There’s also a change in how loyalty is perceived, because increasingly, talent will seek shorter tenure, as opposed to long-term employment with one organisation. Lynda Gratton wrote about the 100-year life, in which we will have multiple careers within our lifetime and the pandemic seems to have stimulated that motivation.
Caroline Smith: People have reevaluated what’s important and part of that is, that they have a career within an organisation that allows them to develop, within a culture that acknowledges that people will increasingly want different career experiences, and trying to tie people into longevity can be stifling. At HireRight, we’ve developed a network internally where we talk to each other as leaders about different people in our teams who may have different interests. People still want to feel supported but they may want to grow their careers in less linear directions.
Vishal Gandhi: There is a turning of the tables in talent management. No longer can people be caught in a rut and pigeonholed by a limited frame of skills and expertise. From a talent management perspective, if you apply an analogue mindset, HR typically applies structured, tick-in-the-box engagement programmes. I think that has to move away from a catalogue-based engagement programme to customised, real-time on-demand engagement. Employees do not want to wait for an engagement programme to be arranged by HR or by a business leader and then participate. Talent engagement should mean if I have a need for L&D today, I need a solution today.
IT’S A TIRED OLD CLICHÉ, “RIGHT SKILLS, RIGHT PLACE, RIGHT TIME.” BUT IT IS SO OBVIOUSLY RELEVANT TODAY
Melanie Lepine: A big focuses for us now and into next year is critical skills and, absolutely, it’s right skills, right place, right now. But the real challenge ahead for employers is anticipating how roles will change in the near and further off future, due to technology changing how we work and operate. There is a need for us to be thinking ahead, as well as filling the skill gaps now and understanding what skills will be required going forward.
Nicole Ward: A lot of people work in very compartmentalised ways and now all of a sudden, the doors have been thrown open, the snow globe has been given a massive shake and now the need is for multi-skilled and those able to adapt and respond quickly and effectively. How do you retain those people and help to build and instill professional resilience? Those who wear many hats are engaged, they may be more willing to give you more of their talent mix and skill from their experience set.
IN THE PAST, PEOPLE WERE OFTEN PIGEON-HOLED FOR THE 40-50 YEARS OF THEIR WORKING LIFE, SO HOW CAN WE CHANGE THAT FOR THE FUTURE?
Laura Cole: We’ve started to create almost a bit of an internal gig economy within the bank and using some platforms like Talent Marketplace, where you can put projects or bespoke work packages that colleagues can then apply for. All in all, it’s about creating opportunities to develop new skills, to network, to connect and using some of our technology partners to help deliver it.
Caroline Smith: So much of this is about developing people’s confidence to come forwards and express what they want and, as leaders, we need to move away from that paternalistic relationship. We’ve spoken about performance appraisals and our approach here needs to shift, to be a more adult conversation that is informed. Much of today’s conversation has been the flexible workforce, gig economy and hybrid working, and both leaders and the wider workforce will have to adjust to a gig economy mindset.
WITH THE NEW HYBRID WORKFORCE IN MIND, WHERE IS THE SUSTAINABLE BALANCE BETWEEN PERFORMANCE, PRODUCTIVITY AND WELLBEING?
Nicole Ward: As Vishal said, people have been just as productive, if not more, during the pandemic. That says to me that it’s potentially business as usual in a hybrid setting, but perhaps we need to separate performance and productivity more clearly, in line with the definition of what work represents.
Caroline Smith: Agreed, it comes down to whether you measure performance or productivity. I cannot envisage a situation where there are no expectations, goals and responsibilities, and there is no reason why flexibility and a good work/life balance should be an obstacle to meeting objectives. That means promoting self-responsibility and that requires a different relationship between leaders, line managers and the wider workforce. In reality, it’s the flatter, more collaborative world of work.
HOW DO WE BREAK THE TABOOS SURROUNDING STRESS AND MENTAL HEALTH, WHICH HAVE BEEN SO DAMAGING IN THE PAST?
Caroline Smith: The pandemic has definitely increased awareness and empathy. The idea of somebody being told to “get a grip” when they speak up about stress has to be resigned to the past. Most often, it’s a case of people needing somebody to just listen in a non-judgmental way and also cultivating a culture and mindset of understanding must be a core pillar of values.
Vishal Gandhi: All of these elements are not isolated, they are connected – productivity is predicated on levels of engagement and happiness, that’s nothing new – but a lot of organisations fail because they do not consider the cultural dynamics, cultural setup and cultural sensitivities.
Nicole Ward: We can listen, but most importantly, we need to ask people; “what do you want? What would you like for me to do with this information now?” Because that is how you really empower somebody to take charge of their own wellbeing, by enabling them to make the choices to enact the change they want to be and see.
WHAT ARE THE CRITICAL MEASURES THAT MUST BE INSTALLED TO MEET THE NEEDS OF THE FUTURE OF WORK?
Melanie Lepine: We must find that sustainable balance that meets the needs of the business and excites and engages talent. Urgently, we need to identify the future critical roles and crucially, understand how people’s existing skills and capabilities will need to be developed to make the transitions to future skills requirements.
Laura Cole: We need to look at how the existing parameters and enablers will need to change, for example; what does the physical workplace setting now represent? We’re experiencing that at the bank as we transition to hybrid and flexi working and the office space is under review, as it’s currently set-up for the pre-COVID world. The other agenda topper is technology and supporting employees to develop a future-looking approach where they have greater autonomy, in a remote working setting, working with a diverse range of resources.
Nicole Ward: A lot of things have to happen in the rethink of the world of work and employment cycle. Now, as we adjust to a candidate-driven market, how are we going to attract and retain the best? We also have to become used to a different mindset surrounding loyalty and longevity and that will really have to be reflected in our understanding of attraction and retention. There will be no more ‘lifers’ at work, the ‘job for life’ is well and truly gone.
Vishal Gandhi: A lot will depend on individual businesses, but everything will be redefined. There’s going to be a talent cloud – talent on demand – and the rules of engagement will have to reflect that.
Caroline Smith: For the first time, organisations have the catalyst to look inwardly at their culture as well as understanding what the business and the brand represents to the wider world. The reality is, all companies need key people in their orbit, to stay competitive in increasingly tough markets and, in the immediate future, it’s demonstrating that the business is future-ready, with the right mindsets, cultures and values. Authenticity is essential in an increasingly transparent world and businesses need to wholeheartedly embody and live the values to which they espouse. There are many challenges ahead, but also great opportunities, and being competitive in talent markets will continue to be an essential element of future success.
For further reading please take a look HireRight’s 2021 Global Benchmark Report, based on the responses of over 3,000 human resources and risk professionals worldwide who shared their experiences of background screening, talent acquisition, and talent management over the challenging last year. https://bit.ly/HRBenchmark
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