HR and building a 'culture of belonging'

Profile picture for user jtwentyman By Jessica Twentyman February 22, 2015
Recruitment consultants who work hard for their clients still need a strong sense of what their employer expects of them, says hief people officer Sheena Cartwright at Alexander Mann Solutions.

Sheena Cartwright
Sheena Cartwright

A great recruitment process outsourcing (RPO) consultant knows how to blend in with their environment, chameleon-style. Often working in a client’s offices, they must support and promote that client as they interview job candidates. They must be an ambassador for the client’s mission, aims and culture. Above all, they must have the adaptability to ‘fit in’.

But, on the flipside, they should never lose sight of the fact that their real loyalty belongs with their employer, the RPO provider - a company with a mission, aims and culture all of its own.

Balancing those two identities can be tricky, says Sheena Cartwright, chief people officer at Alexander Mann Solutions (AMS), a London-based talent management services company. This week, AMS announced it was moving its human resources (HR) systems to cloud provider Workday  in a global roll-out due to kick off at the beginning of March.

The implementation is, in part, designed to help AMS maintain strong ties with its workforce of 3,000 people in 80 countries, 40 percent of whom work remotely at client sites. Performance management modules, in particular, will be used to more effectively set goals for AMS employees and measure their progress against them. It’s about promoting a culture of belonging to the AMS team, Cartwright explains:

Our best consultants become deeply embedded in the client and its culture - and while that’s vital to their effectiveness, for us, there’s a real danger of losing visibility into who they are, what drives them, how they’re performing and so on. It’s incredibly important for me and my team to have a strong connection with, and deep understanding of, our people.

Cartwright speaks from experience, gained on both sides of the client/provider divide. Prior to working at AMS, she worked in HR at blue-chip companies including Coca-Cola, Mars, the John Lewis Partnership and Vodafone. While at Vodafone, heading up recruitment for the mobile provider’s UK and group operations, she led a team of consultants supplied by AMS.

While she always thought of the AMS team as ‘her people’, she says, she also observed that they had their own, strong AMS culture. It’s one of the things that attracted her to the role at AMS - and it’s vital that this culture is maintained as AMS pursues an aggressive plan of expansion. (Further to its acquisition by private equity firm New Mountain Capital, announced in October 2013, the company aims to double in size over the next three years.)

Phased replacement

Workday will replace an system that is no longer up to the job, having been implemented when AMS was a much smaller company and almost entirely UK-based. Says Cartwright:

As we’ve grown it’s become quite challenging for that system to keep up. It really isn’t fit for purpose now for what we now need it to do and we decided the time had come to make a real investment in our HR systems.

A wide range of suppliers was considered. Workday’s “closest contender”, she says, was Agresso, but that system was felt to be lacking in “sophistication, accessibility and potential” by comparison.

In addition, AMS execs had already seen Workday in action at a number of client companies, which counted strongly in its favour. The cloud model works well for AMS’s globally distributed workforce and a steady stream of updates and enhancements from Workday should keep the product fresh, Cartwright says:

We wanted to be sure that whatever we put in would support the future growth of the organisation. We didn’t want to be in this situation again in five years’ time, where we’d bought something that only took us to the next stage of our journey. We need something that will take us well into the future.

alexander mann solutions
Alexander Mann Solutions

The roll-out of Workday will be phased, focusing first on some basics: modules for holding employee data, interfaces with payroll, managing absence and basic reporting. Over 2015 and into 2016, AMS plans to introduce additional modules around rewards and benefits, succession planning and, of course, performance management:

Like most organisations, we have a performance management process. Like most organisations, it’s not always applied as consistently as I’d like. Coming into this role, this was one of my main areas of focus.

It’s less about how you hold the data, and more about making sure that people are clear on their objectives and the quality of conversation their managers have with them throughout the year so, as they get to the end of the year, they’re clear on how they performed against what was expected of them and what they need to work on for the year ahead.

Workday, Cartwright feels, will be a good platform to support those ‘quality conversations’ in future, so that, even as they work hard for clients, employees never lose sight of their AMS identity or the expectations the company has of them. And it will also help AMS ensure that it’s building the world-class talent it needs to keep servicing those clients well. She says:

Ultimately, what we provide for our clients in terms of talent management services, we need to be doing as well internally, if not better.

Disclosure: at time of writing, Workday is a premier partner of diginomica.


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