Portrait of an HR head caught up in digital revolution

Converting a traditional company to an e-business is a major operation, not least for the HR director who has new and evolving roles to deal with and often a whole new culture to instil. Ralph Tribe, vice-president of HR at picture agency Getty Images doesn’t just have this to contend with, though, he is also part of a company that is spearheading an entire industry’s move to digitisation.

“All analogue businesses will have to face such a transition sooner or later,” he says, believing the key is to make sure you communicate both the strategy and the progress to the workforce. “Internet start-ups are used to dealing with ambiguity but most workforces are used to traditional, strategic planning. The on-line world is full of uncharted territory, and you’ve got to communicate what the company is going to be doing differently.”

In the past five years, Getty, set up by Mark Getty (grandson of tycoon J Paul Getty) and Jonathan Klein, has acquired 25 rival or related companies and now operates in 50 countries.

Getty’s business is providing pictures to magazines, newspapers and advertising agencies – in fact, any business that wants them. Traditionally, the industry works by a client calling the picture agency and requesting a picture, which is then sent out as a transparency or print in the post or via a courier. The Internet, however, means that clients can choose the picture they want on-line, request it, and download it to their computer within minutes.

To deal with such change, Tribe explains they must recruit people who can adapt and who see the value in such change. “We check they can deal with ambiguity and we’ve put in place a new values set, which includes things like agility, openness, fun and ‘bodacious thinking'”.

Any thoughts that computerisation will diminish the skills of the job or lessen the human interaction with the client are quickly squashed by Tribe. He admits that by using the Web, the actual picture searching is no longer a human role but it does allow the researcher more time and scope to respond to a brief and in the process elevates his or her role to a more “creative” one.

As part of Getty’s bid to understand the workforce (and vice versa), it recently undertook one of the world’s biggest Web-based employee attitude surveys, quizzing 2,000 people in 20 countries. The survey, which had an 80 per cent response rate, was used to help Getty build action plans in each department to address weaker feedback issues, with a view to reassessment every six to eight months to ensure continuous improvement. Getty incentivised the survey by giving $5 to charity for each entry.

Getty’s biggest on-line initiative is due to go live at the end of this month and is the development of a portal, gettylife.com, which forms the key arm of its future recruitment strategy. “We’ve created a recruitment environment where potential staff can find out what it’s like to work here and what opportunities we are offering. Over time, we will build a ‘talent community’, allowing us to contact people who have expressed interest in working for Getty via gettylife.com as and when the right opportunity arises,” explains Tribe.

“It is intended to be much more precise and candidate-centric than others which are really just CV dumping sites. We won’t ask people to leave their CV in the site unless there is a specific job they are applying for. We will ask people to leave their e-mail address, though, if they are interested in hearing more about opportunities at Getty.”

Getty will still use on-line recruiters and traditional media to advertise jobs but adverts will carry the gettylife.com address. “We intend to reduce our spend on print media by advertising Getty first as an employer [in the press, job boards etc] and then specific jobs second [on the site],” adds Tribe.


Profile Ralph Tribe, 32, vice-president of HR, Getty Images

1992 Recruitment & training officer, British Rail (Trainload Freight Division)

1994 HR manager, Railtrack (South Zone)

1997 Principal consultant, Qtab (HR Consultancy)

1999 Head of HR, Europe, DACG

1999 Vice-president, HR, Getty Images


Getty Images: the HR set-up

Getty Images’ HR function based in Seattle and London is made up of three main teams: the HR operations group – which forms the largest part of the function and is made up of regionally based teams of generalists; organisational and employee development; and resourcing. The latter two are specialist units. OED develops and introduces new programmes which are then delivered to the business by the operations group, while resourcing focuses on recruitment strategies, manpower planning, and global recruitment initiatives (ie gettylife.com) and the new programmes are, again, implemented by the operations group.

Many of Getty’s administrative HR functions are outsourced: payroll is dealt with by ADT; employment law firm Eversheds dispenses specialist legal advice (Europe-wide), and employee benefits are handled by Church’s Financial Advisers which has installed terminals in all UK Getty offices allowing staff to check their personal benefits on-line via CFA’s web site.

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