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BP: Proactive HR, fit for the future

Posted on by from Changeboard

At the 2016 Future Talent Conference, BP’s group HR director Helmut Schuster urged organisations to embrace change and implement proactive people solutions.

Understand the context of your organisation

HR spends a lot of time being reactive and there may be little opportunity to pause and reflect. However, it is vital for HR teams to understand what the future will bring, what this means for our companies and how we can help them recruit the right people for the right jobs at the right time. 

At BP, we experiment with a process I call “workforce shaping”, liaising closely with our finance function to understand where our capital investment goes and how that will impact our people needs in 5-10 years’ time. Through this, we can map out a profile of the workers we will require, the number of graduates we should hire, the language skills, nationalities and so on, in a strategic way.

Define what 'best in class' talent looks like

It’s important to define upfront what makes a good recruit, and what we need from particular roles and their incumbents. We are continuing to focus on mechanical and technical skills, in a world in which many of the technical jobs will soon be done by robots or machines. Going forward, it’s more valuable to scrutinise people’s values, behaviours and attitudes.

The next generation of employees needs to be assessed not only according to experience and technical skills, but also on their IQ, EQ (emotional intelligence) and drive. IQ is how well people can connect the dots and create a coherent narrative around what’s going on. EQ refers to how well people can build trust, connection and long-term relationships. Those with drive are the stewards of the company, intrinsically motivated, who make company performance and contribution their priority. These three elements are difficult to find in a single candidate, but HR cannot compromise.

"Going forward, it’s more valuable to
scrutinise people’s values,
​ behaviours and attitudes"

Simplify and modernise processes

Information, content and regulation overload is an ongoing challenge. In HR, we have an opportunity to be at the forefront of helping companies simplify how they operate. To achieve this, we must understand how humans operate, yet often common sense and pragmatism are neglected. HR can excel in creating complex processes, but it is now the responsibility of every leader and HR person to do things as simply as possible.

At corporate level, BP started to talk about simplification some years ago. Too many of our policies were long and complicated, many were US- or UK-centric. In reality, the majority of new revenue for our business will come from outside these countries in the coming years. We are basing our HR modernisation around three pillars: more global standards; simplification and digitisation.

Embrace technology

Using machines and cloud-based systems will reduce human intervention and get things done in a quick and standardised way. The people function is leading the move into the cloud – for every problem we have in HR, you can now buy a cloud-based solution. Often HR is held back by a legacy of clunky technology systems, but this is where we need to engage with our CEOs and IT directors to urge: “It’s time to invest in the future.” By integrating all the dimensions of HR, you create a seamless experience for your workforce.

At BP, we now have one interface, with all HR services accessible via one entry point. My ambition is to simplify further still, so that many tasks will become as easy as ordering a cab via Uber.

How can HR step up?

Are we comfortable doing the same things we have done for 20 years, or do we want to become a function that embraces change and introduces proactive people solutions?

To gain a seat at the table, we must invest in our own development, become better at technology, improve long-term strategising and know much more about what’s going on in the world. Consider why you want to be in HR. In the past, people would tell me it was because they ‘like people’. That’s not a good enough answer.

I want to be in HR to ensure the company has the right people at the right time, of the right quality – I want to create something better. This is not about process, it’s about understanding the problems and how to be part of the solution.

Mary Appleton

By Mary Appleton


Mary is Changeboard's editor in chief.



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