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Managing change and developing the future workforce

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Future talent is a central strategic concern of organisations and HR, but how are businesses ensuring they are able to entice and retain the next generation of workers? Mary Appleton asks HR directors from Microsoft, ActionAid and the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham.

Microsoft – developing new culture

theresa mchenry

Theresa McHenry is senior HR director at Microsoft UK.

Microsoft is transforming. It has recently acquired Nokia’s Devices and Services business, appointed a new CEO and is taking steps to become more agile.

“As a result of the acquisition, we have a large organisation which makes us less nimble,” explains Theresa McHenry, senior HR director in the UK. “We have streamlined the workforce and are now implementing a culture change so that we can remain innovative, responsive and dynamic and invest in talent and resources where we need them most.”

Having evolved from a software company to a devices and services company, McHenry says Microsoft is “going back to its roots” to be “the platform and productivity company, for the mobile-first, cloud-first world”. “We will continue to increase the fluidity of information and ideas by taking action to flatten the organisation and develop leaner business processes,” she adds. “We are investing in how we use our own tools and software to increase collaboration across the organisation, and across functional and geographical barriers.”

McHenry acknowledges that these changes will bring on the need for new training and experimentation. Over the next six months, she hopes to introduce new investments in the workforce, including more opportunities to test ideas and incubate projects. The company will continue to encourage employees into roles where they can have the most impact. 

Employee feedback and performance management

Microsoft has revolutionised its approach to performance management and development. “Listening to feedback through our employee surveys and recognising the cultural shifts needed to be successful in the future, we took the bold step as an HR function to remove forced distribution,” explains McHenry.

At the core of this shift is the belief that success relies on a culture where people are motivated to draw upon and contribute to each other’s work and expertise, and to innovate and work on delivering high performance together.

“We are switching focus from activities and results to actions that lead to effective, meaningful impact,” she says. “We are moving from a prescriptive approach to one of empowerment and frequent discussions. This will help us to be more agile and respond quickly to changes in direction or feedback, and to help individuals learn, grow and deliver impact.”

The company’s philosophy of ‘come as you are, do what you love’, promotes an inclusive approach to hiring that aims to recruit individuals with unique experiences, skills and passions. “We want to attract the best, assess them to ensure they share our values and culture and offer tailored programmes to initiate and train new hires,” she adds.

Moving with the pace of the constantly evolving technology market is a major priority and that includes talent. Part of Microsoft’s ethos is to hire and retain employees who are continually looking to develop and grow their skills.

While she is keen to point out that Microsoft relies on its employees to drive their own progress, she says the organisation “has a strong belief in, and makes a significant investment in, developing its people”.

For McHenry, this becomes increasingly important during times of change. The current transformation puts emphasis on equipping every employee to reach their goals. 

How to foster future talent

“Every individual at Microsoft has their own agreed personal development plan which maps out their preferred career path and how they plan to acquire the skills and knowledge they will need in the future through professional development, coaching and on-the-job learning,” she says.

So when it comes to fostering future talent, how will the business ensure that it is fit for purpose to meet the needs of the next generation? “In this new world of ubiquitous computing, there will soon be more than 3 billion people with internet-connected devices — from a farmer in a remote part of the world with a smartphone, to a professional power-user with multiple devices powered by cloud service-based apps spanning work and life,” states McHenry.

She believes that being a technology company enables Microsoft to be a leader in the evolving future workplace – where ‘the office’ will no longer be the central place of work and it will be possible to work from anywhere, at any time. “We already embrace this and our employees have great flexibility with the technology we provide and in their roles,” she says.

For McHenry, the key to attracting the next generation of talent is simply to talk to them and understand them, before hiring and promoting them.

“No matter how small your organisation, the insight brought by a graduate, intern or apprentice brings untold benefit,” she says. As the future workforce grows up natives of the digital world, McHenry argues that they have an instinctive understanding of how to manipulate technology to drive the results they need.

“They will see opportunities to work more productively and efficiently using technology which will continue to become more integrated into our homes, work and lives,” she says. “They are constantly connected through social networks. They crowd-source through immediate connections or a wider social network that they may never have met. They’re looking for flexibility and adaptability and won’t see the value in commuting when they know they have technology which can enable them to work effectively with their global peers.”

To develop a positive brand, McHenry acknowledges the importance of having a strategy to attract the Generation Z population, which she considers essential for future ideageneration and innovation. However, she also points out that you still need to develop initiatives for all employees because a company is only as successful as its ability to make products that appeal to all customers and markets. The best way to do this is to make sure your company is as representative of the global population as possible. “We hear about diversity initiatives and the business case but the reality is simple.

Diversity of thought and ideas breeds innovation which gives growth – what company wouldn’t want that?” she asks. 

ActionAid – finding value for employees

graham salisbury

Graham Salisbury is head of HR at ActionAid.

International development agency ActionAid UK has 180 employees in the UK, mainly based in central London. They are supported by a team of five including two HR business partners.

A major challenge facing the organisation is staff turnover, which stands at 30%. It is taking a number of steps to address this, explains head of HR Graham Salisbury.

“We have recently undertaken a major review of our reward framework to ensure that we have a sustainable yet attractive salary structure, supported by a range of non-financial reward mechanisms,” he says.

This has included a programme of internal communications to highlight the benefits available to staff, and implementing ActionAid in Action – a scheme which each year enables four employees who wouldn’t normally travel to visit an operational programme overseas.

The organisation has also launched an apprenticeship programme. “We’re collaborating with Plan UK and Christian Aid in this initiative as we all believe in providing a wide range of pathways into employment in the international development sector,” explains Salisbury. “It’s not always easy for those without university qualifications to gain entry, so we hope this will be a positive initiative.”

ActionAid has also committed to paying the London Living Wage to new apprentices and is aiming to employ people who live in the area close to its London head office. “We want to have a positive effect on the lives of people living in poverty, including the lowest-paid Londoners, not just those in developing countries. We take our responsibilities as an ethical employer very seriously,” he says.

According to Salisbury, ActionAid has gone through significant organisational change over the past few years, and while the HR team has not been exempt from this, the past 12 months in particular have seen investment in the development of the HR team to ensure that there is the internal capability to support business challenges.

“We’ve rolled out a comprehensive programme of employee development modules covering areas such as influencing and presentation skills, and managing difficult conversations,” he says. The company also launched a management development scheme and is focusing on developing coaching skills among all line managers. A priority for 2014 is identifying people in critical positions and ensuring that succession and development plans are in place for them.

To help potential candidates see the full range of career development opportunities available, ActionAid has added employee profiles to its website. “We are very proud of what our employees do, so we’ve allowed them to tell their own stories (from a secondment in Israel and occupied Palestinian territories to the role of interim head of policy in London). These demonstrate what a position at ActionAid mightmean,” adds Salisbury.

On attracting the next generation of talent, Salisbury highlights the need to respond to the changing profile of those entering employment, and consider whether the traditional pathways into organisations are still valid for the 21st century.

London Borough of Barking and Dagenham

Martin Rayson

Martin Rayson is division director of HR and OD at the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham.

“Since 2010, government grants (which comprise the majority of our funding) have reduced by 30%,” explains Martin Rayson, divisional director of HR & OD at the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham (LBBD). “By April 2017, that funding will fall by a further 30% while the demand for services is increasing.”

To date, LBBD has achieved savings by becoming more efficient and closing some marginal services, says Rayson. “There have been redundancies, both voluntary and compulsory, as staff costs comprise the largest part of the budget,” he explains. “Further efficiencies can be found, but these will not fill the funding gap. We need to look at what we do and how we do it. Our council remains ambitious to assist those in most need, to bring our communities together and to deliver economic growth. It is through growth and the creation of jobs that other problems in the borough will be addressed.”

Rayson believes that LBBD needs to change its organisational model, helping the community to help itself, pushing demand through lower-cost channels and significantly increasing income streams. With fewer resources and a growing demand for services, LBBD must maximise productivity and bring in talent to help it develop new solutions.

“Further staff reductions will be necessary to reduce costs, so sustaining levels of engagement during this period of change is difficult,” admits Rayson. In order to address this, LBBD is implementing a comprehensive programme of staff support, which is promoted as ‘Supporting Staff in Tough Times’ and which incorporates redeployment (in partnership with other London councils), outplacement support, and guidance to managers in supporting the change process. It has been working closely with trade union colleagues to develop and implement this programme.

Creating pragmatic values

Alongside this, LBBD has developed new organisational values. Rayson explains: “It has been difficult to articulate a clear strategic narrative on the shape of the organisation and the services we will provide after the period of cuts. Instead, we have focused on our values as an anchor point to help us develop new organisational models. Values such as ‘achieving excellence’ have been challenged by staff and a new set of aspirational but pragmatic values is emerging.”

“We know that our future success depends on having talented, productive people at all levels. We have specific talent issues in areas such as social work, where we are taking targeted action to build up the permanent workforce,” says Rayson.

“More broadly we are implementing learning and development programmes to equip people to develop and then work within new operating models.” This, he says, is focused initially on the management community, with interventions around awareness of commercial opportunities; fostering innovation; building commissioning skills and ‘digital by design’ opportunities. Provision for other staff will follow.

For Rayson, one of the challenges experienced by local government is in projecting a positive brand that encourages people to develop their careers. “Our employee profile is older than employers of equivalent size and we need to attract younger people,” he admits. “[In the public sector] we are often perceived as being inefficient, offering poor levels of reward and lacking in innovation and dynamism.”

Creating balance during period of change

However, he is keen to point out that during this period of change, local government provides an exciting place for talented people to build their careers. As individual councils reduce in size, he believes they need to work collaboratively to create entry-level opportunities and career pathways that give talented people the confidence that they can be successful. “While levels of reward will never be as high as in other sectors, we can offer a flexible working environment and work that is interesting and has a social purpose – this is increasingly important to younger generations,” he says.

Alongside greater working flexibility, LBBD is looking at issues of “agility” in the workforce. “We need to be able to shift employees between different priorities. To enable this, we need to look at more generic roles and job families, helping people with talent to see the range of potential career paths in the council,” adds Rayson.

He also acknowledges that if LBBD is to effectively provide services to the increasingly multicultural communities of Barking and Dagenham and empower them, the workforce needs to reflect that community. It is focusing on breaking down any barriers that exist to attracting and employing talented people from any background.

In future, he would like to see local government working together to promote a brand that helps to attract and keep talent. “As a society we need to sell careers in public service as worthwhile and rewarding, but also not be afraid to reward talented people in public service with what they deserve,” Rayson concludes.

There is a focus on defining a new employee value proposition to help sustain engagement and retain talent. “We determined the need to articulate a new employment deal and undertook survey work to identify the pressures on the current one. We also determined what people thought would be important components of any new deal,” explains Rayson.

Mary Appleton

By Mary Appleton

Changeboard

Mary is Changeboard's editor in chief.

Changeboard

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