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Turning Travelex HR upside down with technology

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Two years ago foreign exchange business Travelex embarked on an ambitious HR transformation programme to shift the organisation into the digital age. Global HR director Gareth Williams is pioneering the change, and so far has nearly trebled anticipated cost savings to more than £1.1 million.

Transforming HR at Travelex

When Gareth Williams became global HR director for Travelex in August 2012, CEO Peter Jackson gave him a clear mandate: to transform the HR function through technology.

Williams knew he wanted Travelex to become a globalised business with agility at its core. And as a digital native, he knew there was only one route – technology.

“I inherited an HR team that was essentially an admin/payroll function, providing basic transactional services,” reveals Williams. “We needed to challenge the norms around every part of the organisation – how we hire, retain, develop and incentivise talent. Being empowered to take the business on the journey to digitise its employee proposition was hugely exciting.”

The changing nature of work

Travelex was founded in London in 1976 and today employs 9,000 people across 30 countries, with revenue of £1.2 billion. In the past three years, a significant portion of its EBITDA has come from customers interacting with the brand online and via mobile, which for Williams is a sign of the need for a digitised strategy – for customers and staff.

 Top of his HR agenda is to ensure the Travelex employee experience is hosted in the Cloud, driven by his belief that the convergence of work and personal life will characterise the future world of work.

“If you believe consumer behaviour depends on online and mobile, it follows that employee behaviour will start to rely on it too,” he explains. “Whether it’s the ability to book time off or participate in performance management processes, people want to do this at a time of their choosing.”

 And with the impact of globalisation and the need for organisations to be agile and achieve scale advantage through seamless operations, failure to respond to this paradigm shift is not an option for Williams.

 Travelex began the journey by deploying various SaaS systems (Workday, Peoplefluent and Cornerstone) for talent development, HCM (human capital management) and workforce scheduling – a move that, according to Williams, “no other business has done yet”. Next for Travelex is payroll, rostering and workforce scheduling into the Cloud.

“We recognise the power of predictive analytics. If your data tells you how much someone earns and how well they are performing, you can build out scenarios. How can I get my highest-performing person on the right shift in the most profitable location at the cheapest time?”

This hypothesis has helped Travelex think differently about its workforce strategy and ask questions such as: ‘What contracts should people be on?’ and: ‘What scheduling should we put people in?’

“We’re a way off, but the vision is to have employee data overlaid with business data on customers, products and financials – and build scenarios,” says Williams. 

The implementation stage

Travelex mobilised 3% of the workforce to be early adopters by offering incentives and recognition for participation in UAT (user acceptance testing). Working sessions were held with sales consultants and managers in key hubs.

Because the technology is hosted in the Cloud, changes could be effected globally in seconds. For Williams, this is a powerful change management hook. “It shows employees their voices are heard – we listened and made changes,” he says.

Global yet local

With workers across 30 countries, Williams knew one size wouldn’t fit all when it came to a technology-led strategy, and getting operational buy-in was critical. He adopted a 70/20/10 model of implementation with 70% of content standardised, and empowered in-country HR teams to deliver 20% customised and 10% bespoke.

Implementation was split into three waves – firstly Middle East and India, then UK and AsiaPac, followed by North America and Continental Europe.

“The implementation methodology was ‘bend the business, not the technology’. If you start changing technology for every market, you drive cost, complexity and upgrade challenges. We started with the Middle East but were surprised by the uptake.”

Although Williams admits it’s hard to get people excited about an HR system, the platform [Workday] was regarded as the ‘Facebook of Travelex’, and achieved 93% adoption within three weeks of launching. And for an organisation where the average employee is aged over 50, Williams was surprised by the uptake among this demographic. 

Game-changing benefits

And results are impressive. Cost savings are at £1.1 million – nearly treble the initial aim of £400,000. “It’s game-changing,” he says. “Once you can demonstrate effectiveness in one area, then you can apply that across other functions and change cost factors across the business.”

HR processes have reduced from 2,112 to 180 and 26 systems were replaced by one. Recruitment processes are more agile – in AsiaPacific, cost per hire has fallen by more than 50%.

Feedback has been hugely positive. “People love being able to access [the platform] on mobile. Line managers can get dynamic analytics on their tablets. Software is upgraded every six months – people like to be part of something that’s evolving.” 

Building HR’s credibility

Williams believes the transformation signals Travelex’s commitment to employees. “It’s saying – we recognise you want agility in how you engage with us. Your career is important, so we want to give you as much opportunity to participate as possible.”

Planning, building and testing thousands of workforce scenarios has forced Williams’ team to understand the business and vice-versa, building HR’s credibility. “That relationship wasn’t there before, we were seen as transactional,” he says.

“There’s this notion that digital is Google, digital is Facebook...no, digital is everything!” says Williams. “And HR has gone digital as we know we can get optimisation, efficiency and better service by doing it. That has been an education for the business. Who would have thought the archaic ways of working for HR have been propelled into the 21st century?”

However, he is sensitive to ‘hype’ around technology, and says the core purpose underpinning this whole transformation gives employees a better experience.

“If a sales consultant in Qatar, for example, in a store that never gets visited, uses this technology to participate in things like talent review strategies, it’s great.” 

Investment in future talent

Commitment to the employee proposition is key, and Williams is passionate about positioning Travelex as an employer of choice for future talent. To that end, he wants to re-invest the cost savings from the transformation into talent development, and plans to launch two programmes in 2015. Firstly, helping line managers understand how to read data and drive trend analysis.

For senior management, Williams wants a ‘partnership’ approach to development. He anticipates a process that blends technical, behavioural and potential indicators, including technical capability, having a globalised mindset, developing self-awareness and situation sensing.

Participants will have the chance to partake in self-learning in the Cloud, classroom-based learning, access a coach and take on an international assignment – and be assessed.

“We will invest in your development but expect you to grow. If you keep failing we will question if you’re right for the business,” he says. 

New era of leadership

Travelex wants to leverage its position as a trusted brand to drive new digital platforms, products and services for customers, and recently hired its first chief digital officer.

Williams is adamant the digital ambition must feed into the future talent strategy, and believes that, soon, the total employee experience will differentiate the employment proposition.

“If you don’t have progressive technology in your business, talent will judge you, and you’ll lose out,” he says.

He argues there is an emergence of a ‘new leader’ characterised by emotional intelligence, who wants to know: ‘As an employer, what mark will you leave on me and the wider world?’

“You can only develop emotional intelligence among your people if you create conditions for meaning to exist, so it’s about understanding their drivers and motivations,” he continues.

Talent rules are changing

Williams hopes the steps Travelex takes to digitise the workforce will help futureproof the organisation and is proud of the part HR plays. He believes any HR director not thinking about mobile, Cloud or data in the context of their workforce is missing a trick.

Beyond this, Williams is motivated by the potential of HR as a function and the advent of a new, courageous HR leader – one that is business-focused, has a blend of skills, and gets things done. “It’s unbelievably exciting in HR at the moment,” he says. “There are progressive HR directors emerging who have an opportunity to raise the profile of the function and challenge every stereotype about HR.”

About Gareth Williams

Gareth Williams, TravelexGareth Williams, global HR director, Travelex

Gareth's background includes Goldman Sachs, Sainsbury's and BT where he has held a variety of HR and business transformation roles. He holds an MBA from London Business School. 

Mary Appleton

By Mary Appleton

Changeboard

Mary is Changeboard's editor in chief.

Changeboard

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