How can HR practitioners help businesses to improve performance and better function in the interests of its employees and customers? This should be a question for everyone involved in the creation and operation of people processes and organisational development. It was certainly a topic much debated at the 5th Annual HR CoreLab conference, which took place in Barcelona on 28th and 29th March.

Pulling together more than 400 senior recruitment and HR practitioners, the event offered two days of case studies, insights and shared learning. Split across three streams – covering recruitment, HR agility and analytics – the sessions offered practical advice and experience from a range of speakers representing many different sectors and disciplines, with all areas of HR being discussed.

The overarching themes from the sessions I attended were around how to create better work experiences for our employees. From when they apply through to the way we help them develop and grow. Helping to drive improved engagement and performance through a greater understanding of what motivates them and what they look for in the workplace.

Amongst the many takeaways across the two days, I picked up on three questions that HR practitioners everywhere should be asking themselves:

How does the business experience HR?

 

This was asked by Janak Mehta, Group Head of HR Modernisation at BP. In his role, he looks at how HR can respond to evolving people trends and how to help future growth through innovation. For him, agile HR means unleashing change in a systematic way. The journey has taken them from consolidation, through simplification (a mixture of automation and Cloud based systems) into the current phase of experience-centric modernisation. They are responsive to key behavioural trends amongst the workforce, for example the growing preference for instant messaging over email for both external and internal communication.

The key to how the business experiences HR is finding out what they need. “Do they need support for change and workforce shaping rather than help on how to fire someone?” he asked. And his answer? “The business doesn’t want someone to help them hire and fire, but to help them build capability”. Simplicity and flexibility is also important. Businesses growing at pace need an HR team open to change and simple people processes that can be constantly evolved.

Is our next crucial hire inside or outside the business?

 

The case for external hiring when there are new vacancies to fill is often strong. Organisations that evolve and grow might feel they need an injection of new people with fresh ideas and different thinking, but is this always successful? There were sessions on workforce planning and the importance of understanding where the crucial roles were within the organisation, and underpinning this was the importance of offering development opportunities to those within the business. A session from Arcelor Mittal showed the cost of hiring a poor graduate could be as high as $90,000 in the first year. Their Global Head of Workforce Planning, Krystyna Aranha, concluded “Hiring and firing are the most expensive gap closing interventions and should be used only as a last resort” Internal mobility is important, as the opportunities a business offers its people to grow and develop has become a differentiator and is now part of the employer brand. This was underlined by a few speakers. One of the strongest cases for filling roles internally came in a joint presentation from AstraZeneca and Kings College London. The purpose of the project was to use machine learning and analytics to try and predict the employees who are most likely to resign.

Internal mobility is important, as the opportunities a business offers its people to grow and develop has become a differentiator and is now part of the employer brand. This was underlined by a few speakers. One of the strongest cases for filling roles internally came in a joint presentation from AstraZeneca and Kings College London. The purpose of the project was to use machine learning and analytics to try and predict the employees who are most likely to resign, however, there were two findings that stood out. Firstly, there is a clear link between internal hires and stronger performance, much more so than any other source of hire. Secondly, not only are internal hires more likely to perform better, but they are also less likely to leave.

Firstly, there is a clear link between internal hires and stronger performance, much more so than any other source of hire. Secondly, not only are internal hires more likely to perform better, but they are also less likely to leave. However, analysis showed that external candidates were much more likely to be shortlisted for an interview than an internal candidate, yet the internal person is 2.5 times more likely to receive an offer. Clearly, internal candidates need greater consideration, particularly in organizations where prior knowledge of the business and internal structures is likely to be beneficial.

Our new and future employees are probably customers so are we giving them the experience they would expect?

 

One of the statistics presented by Willis Towers Watson at the conference was that 70% of employees want to be understood in the way we expect them to understand our customers. The link between consumer expectations and the employee experience is strong, leading to much talk about the consumerization of many internal HR processes.

The clearest link came in a session from Appical client, the Dutch Lingerie manufacturerand retailer, Hunkemoller, who’s Global HR Director Anne Jaakke gave a fast-paced presentation of how they hire and onboard their workforce.

“Marketing had a lot of data on who our customers were. So how could we use this in HR?” she asked.

The answer was simple “Your customers of now and the future are your employees of now and the future. Hire them how they want to be hired”. There followed a radical overhaul of recruitment and onboarding. Recruits were hired for attitude rather than their CV, with video interviewing helping. Unsuccessful candidates received a video message and a voucher, ensuring that they remained customers and advocates.

Onboarding became app based, with videos, chat, and an immersive experience that a consumer, and fan, of a brand might expect if they were applying to work there. Overall there was a significant improvement in engaged and motivated new recruits, with a positive impact on staff retention and commercial results.

Great brands are powered by great people

Like the recruitment and onboarding experience at Hunkemoller, her presentation has fun and fast paced, using videos and illustrative data. This helped underline an important point that she wanted to make – the importance of creating a visualization of your plans, not purely using words and figures in a business plan, to get real buy-in from the CEO, and all important budget.

And her closing point was very relevant to the theme of the overall conference – “Great brands are powered by great people. And it’s great HR Directors who make that happen”.