CIPD 2013 highlights: Unilever, Facebook and HMRC

Delegates at the 2013 CIPD Annual Conference & Exhibition

Data and analytics will shape the future of the HR profession, according to Peter Cheese, chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), who spoke at its annual conference and exhibition in Manchester last week. Martin Couzins reports.

In his opening remarks at the centenary conference, Cheese said that HR teams needed to link data and insights to business value.

Data is something James Stringer, director of HR information at Unilever, has spent the past seven years looking at. The fast-moving consumer goods company, which employs 175,000 employees, has put data analytics at the heart of its global HR function.

James Stringer, director of HR Information, Unilever

James Stringer, Unilever

The company has a global HR operation underpinned by Peoplesoft technology, running 23 shared services centres worldwide. Creating consistent HR data across the entire workforce was a problem as the shared services centres were reporting data in local languages and in different ways, so Unilever created a company-wide standard.

Stringer said that clean data, strong governance and effective reporting would provide business insights: “Make sure your standards are defined – so employee attrition means the same thing all around the world, for example.” He added that the company had to find a senior executive to sponsor the work to ensure there was a “single source of truth” to prevent confusion or disagreements around data sources.

We have to make the intangible tangible so we can demonstrate the value and importance of investing in people for the future success of organisations.” Peter Cheese, CIPD chief executive


With a global data warehouse collecting and crunching the data and data visualisation tools to provide colleagues with a user-friendly dashboard, 100,000 employees can now get to the HR data they need in just five clicks.

Stringer said this data has enabled the company to start providing greater insight into the effect of HR. Unilever can now correlate employee engagement with attrition or career progression and identify factors that affect its talent pipeline.

HR transformation

Many of the conference sessions looked at transformation and change. For two public-sector organisations, change has meant doing more for less, requiring a radical rethink in how the HR teams did their work.

William Hague, chief people officer, HMRC

William Hague, chief people officer, HMRC

For HR in the civil service, this meant creating an HR centre of excellence. The service provides HR support for 415,000 civil servants working across 90 departments and agencies. The “2012 Civil Service Reform Plan” set out an agenda for the service to transform it into a smaller, flatter organisation with the aim of becoming more effective at managing and delivering projects and at lower cost.

William Hague, chief people officer at HM Revenue & Customs, said that creating centralised HR expert services has led to better HR services delivered by fewer HR people.

Of 4,200 HR employees, 18% are in business partner roles, 43% sit in civil service departments, 8% are in the expert services team and 23% are in shared services centres.

Since 2008, HR headcount and costs have been halved, Hague said: “We have credibility as a core function in the Civil Service and this is based on what we have achieved.”

According to Anthony Douglas, chief executive of the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass), the best HR model is “total alignment” with the business, which is why the organisation has transformed its HR function.

Following the death of Baby P, there was a huge increase in children in the care system – but there was no extra resource, which meant children were not getting the social worker support they required.

This precipitated a fresh look at how social workers at Cafcass, the Government agency responsible for 150,000 children in family court proceedings every year, could provide care for all children at a higher quality and with less resource. The answer was to introduce a new way of working for the organisation that would see “proportionate working” introduced to manage demand. That meant providing a certain, rather than unlimited, amount of support to all children.

The organisation involved colleagues in shifting to this new way of working, crowdsourcing ideas and providing regular feedback on progress. It also provided the technology required to manage work remotely. As a result, all staff in Cafcass are trusted to manage their own HR tasks.

Jeff Turner, Head of L&D for EMEA, Facebook

“Telling a Gen-Y person they get an annual appraisal is ridiculous. They want regular feedback.”
Jeff Turner, head of learning and development, Facebook

For the HR team, this has meant aligning HR with front-line services and responding to requests for HR support within a day. There has been an 80% turnover in the HR team since 2007 as it has moved towards a new way of working.

Cafcass HR director Jabbar Sardar said that you have to get the hygiene factors, such as reward and benefits, right across the organisation before you can start to make change.

Cutting administration is also important to enable HR to concentrate on the right work. Cafcass has gone from 42 policies to eight and none is more than 10 pages long. By letting staff select their own health plans, Cafcass has seen average sick leave drop 15% from between April and November 2013.

Managing managers

Managers are the unsung heroes of organisations, according to Jeff Turner, head of learning and development for EMEA at Facebook. The company certainly puts its money where its mouth is by providing external coaches for all its managers. Unlike many organisations, however, the social network does not treat management roles as a promotion.

Instead, it provides what it calls dual careers in which staff choose to be an “individual contributor” or a manager. The company believes that everybody deserves a great manager, but being a manager is not easy.

Managers at Facebook have to demonstrate four behaviours. They need to be able to set context for their teams so that team members are clear on what they are trying to achieve. They have to create focus by providing clarity on what is expected of each individual. They have to drive impact through coaching and building the trust and confidence of each team member, and finally they must cultivate growth by helping people play to their strengths and celebrating colleagues’ successes.

Demographics also have a big effect on how managers manage at Facebook, because 70% of employees are from generation Y (born in the mid-1980s or later).

Trust is like a muscle – you have to exercise it and test its boundaries in order to deepen it.” Dr Graham Abbey, director of executive development, school of management, Bath University

That means most of the workforce is values driven and need and expect praise. They want peer recognition and regular feedback as well as responsibility and stretching assignments.

Turner said that Facebook takes manager effectiveness very seriously because the organisation is growing so quickly and is constantly changing: “Great managers will always trump your brand, so take great care of them.”

HR “hackathon”

For the first time at the conference, HR directors shared “hacks” that they had created to help transform HR. These were fixes to HR processes, designed by HR, for HR and were developed earlier in the year as a part of the CIPD’s “hackathon” to find innovative ways of making HR more adaptable to the changing needs of business.

One of the hackers was Gemma Reucroft, HR director at Tunstall Healthcare. Reucroft said HR gets bogged down with admin and bureaucracy, which detracts from more important strategic work. Her hack, entitled “Chuck out your chintz”, aimed to reduce HR policies and administration.

The hack involved taking the “Chintz test”, which asked questions such as: “Does the HR policy help improve the culture or our people’s skills?”

The process led her company to cut the number of its HR policies by 50%, the HR team stopped writing the reports it produced that no one read and it shredded the employee handbook, which was out of date.

“You need to be brave as an HR team, as it easier to stick with doing the things you have always done,” she said.

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