Podcast | Does HR Need To Say No More? Shared Services And Being Bold – Emma Leonis

April 7, 2021
June 26, 2023

If HR just said no a little more often, could they prioritise better? What if they shared the workload by collaborating with other departments? And how can they convince business leaders to take the journey with them?

Emma not only talked us through these key stakeholder questions, but explained where HR is now, where it’s headed and what it can do in the meantime. Including the role of HR shared services and the employee HR experience.

Emma Leonis is HR Transformation Executive Director at LACE Partners, helping companies transform their HR function, drive adoption and initiate change.

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Running order

1:40 > Is HR trying too hard to be everything to all people?
3:26 > How can other departments share the HR load?
5:37 > The current HR shared services model.
6:53 > Key drivers of the model’s disruption.
8:05 > How do you change the structure of HR?
10:07 > How this changes skill requirements in the people function.
11:41 > Lessons from other shared services.
13:51 > Contact your way and self-service approach: The push and pull balance.
16:46 > Lean and agile principles – application in the people function.
18:50 > How do you bring leaders on that journey?
20:49 > How people functions can better measure employee experiences.
23:00 > What is ‘people purpose’?
26:10 > Quickfire questions.

Five lessons learnt from this episode

Prioritising HR and sharing the workload with other departments

HR can let its desire to care for and help internal customers do the right thing become a case of getting into the weeds of something that somebody else is responsible for. That might prevent them doing other things to the best of their ability and prioritise the right tasks and projects. However, the pandemic forced a lot of teams to be more ruthless and the challenge will be in resisting old habits when normality resumes.

What might help is becoming a better partner to the rest of the business and understanding if they’re doing the things we’re expecting them to do. If not, why? When we’re asking them do things or collaborate on projects, we need to find the balance.

Emma also discussed ideas like gaining marketing help in attracting talent, given their skill set and understanding of the brand values or identity. There’s plenty we can learn from other departments and in this case, HR can understand branding principles and align better with company goals and values.

Experience is driving the disruption of the HR shared services model

It’s about considering how people want to contact you: where do they go when they have a query or issue? How can they find information for themselves? But it’s important not to forget the human in HR when you support people through a shared services model. Think about their capabilities and preferences, but keep the human touch in there as you automate and go digital.

Changing the structure of HR

It’s not really about roles and structures of the department but how you create networks and conversations across the business. That helps you drive a culture of listening and continuous improvement activity. It also breaks down the walls of those silos that you find HR pros, business partners and Chief Operating Executives working in. Business connectivity is the name of the game, especially as the traditional roles and setups evolve to automate more and more.  

Similarly, a listening culture needs good listeners! People with emotional intelligence, and that’s one skill change that’s being driven in the people function. Employees need to feel like you get them, and that you demonstrate the integrity to do the right thing for them.

Striking the balance between push and pull in your content

You can push out loads of content, but it might not get traction. This isn’t the moment to mope, it’s the time to ask why because sometimes less really is more. Once you send out content, remember to collect feedback around how helpful it was and how easy it was to access. Sometimes you’ll have amazing resources that people can’t find, meaning you’re not pushing it out through a mechanism that works. By the same token, if you’re not asking questions then you won’t truly understand the pull.

Avoid the temptation to put something out there and move right onto the next thing. And even if you do collect the metrics, go deeper than the KPIs and ask questions around whether people liked it and how often it was used. This will paint a clearer picture of the why, not just how content is used.

How do you bring leaders on an HR journey?

With success stories. Which stories do you already have that will show value and can be easily shared with leaders? You have to help them understand what’s in it for themand these help! Creating advocates is another great way, you might find some lower down the chain who influence people further up. You might also win over somebody who’s resistant to change and if you can convince them, you’ll have a very strong player in your corner.

Resources and how to connect

Find Emma on LinkedIn.

Find LACE Partners and their Future of HR Shared Services Whitepaper

Find Nelson on LinkedIn and Twitter

Find HowNow on LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram and our website.

Check out Emma’s recommended book: People Not Paperclips: Putting the human back into Human Resources

Where to subscribe

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Episode transcript

[00:00:00] Nelson Sivalingam: [00:00:00] Work is changing. The question is, are you? Welcome to 99 Problems But Work Ain’t One, the new podcast series from HowNow that will help you prepare for the fast changing world of work. I’m your host Nelson Sivalingam, and I’ll be talking to disruptive startups, contrarian thinkers, global leaders, and real game changers and asking them the burning questions about the challenges we face at work from scaling cultures and adopting technology.

[00:00:28] To improving wellbeing and building fast learning organisations that are prepared for the future of work. We get the insights, tactics, and actionable nuggets of knowledge to put to work. Hello, and welcome to the show. In this week’s episode, I’m joined by Emma Leonis, HR transformation guru at LACE Partners. Having recently published their future of HR shared services.

[00:00:51] Whitepaper. It was ideal timing for Emma to talk to us about HR today, where it’s heading and what it can do in the meantime. We [00:01:00] discuss a whole range of topics, how HR teams can say no more often and to prevent doing too much. How they can collaborate to bring others on their journey and how to prioritise the human in human resources when creating an incredible employee experience.

[00:01:15] And that’s just scratching the surface. Here’s my absolutely fascinating conversation with Emma. Um, I’m super excited to have this. We were just talking about it before we started recording. We only ever seem to speak on a webinar or a podcast, never had a normal coffee. So we’ll have to do that when the world goes back to any kind of normality.

[00:01:34] Emma Leonis: [00:01:34] We will! Probably multiple coffees to make up for the number of virtual sessions that we’ve had.

[00:01:39] Nelson Sivalingam: [00:01:39] Right. So let’s kick off with, I know, just over a year ago, I remember reading your HR on the offensive research piece. Um, and one of the things that stood out for me is you said, HR was trying too hard to be everything for kind of all people. What did you mean by that?

[00:01:58] Emma Leonis: [00:01:58] Yeah. Um, so I guess [00:02:00] just as a people function and, you know, HR and L&D professionals loving what we do about our jobs. We care about our customers. So our internal customers, employees, line managers, business leaders, and we want by nature to do the right thing. Um, which sometimes means that we do things perhaps that we shouldn’t be doing.

[00:02:18] I.E. we get into the weeds because we want to help, but actually it’s someone else’s responsibility to do that, but we see it as the right thing to support. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I guess it poses a challenge then when you think about, can we do everything to the right standard that we want to, and what are our priorities, um, and kind of when we were looking at that and then thinking about it with the HR directors as part of that research, I guess it wasn’t really the challenge of.

[00:02:43] We don’t know what we should be doing. It was how do we prioritise that? That was the challenge. It is. When do you say no? And how do you say no in a supportive way?

[00:02:52] Nelson Sivalingam: [00:02:52] And that was like just over a year ago. Do you think things are still the same today?

[00:02:56] Emma Leonis: [00:02:56] Yeah, well, it’s a really interesting question. Um, [00:03:00] I think the past year in particular, given the pandemic has probably actually forced us to prioritise and whether we’ve done that consciously or subconsciously, I think we had no choice, but to be a little bit more ruthless, um, and selective, perhaps as HR practitioners and as businesses as a whole.

[00:03:17] But I guess my one worry with that would be. Let’s not fall back into our old norms and our old behaviours when things get a little bit more stable in the future.

[00:03:26] Nelson Sivalingam: [00:03:26] And kind of one of the other things you talk about is kind of sharing that load with other departments and other departments stepping up and taking on some of the responsibilities.

[00:03:35] So you can kind of clear out the noise and HR can focus on what matters. In what ways do you think other departments could share that HR load.

[00:03:46] Emma Leonis: [00:03:46] Yeah. Um, really, really interesting one to think about. Um, and I remember I was sort of playing devil’s advocate with myself a little bit when we were writing that report and, and thinking about it.  think one of the things I said was, you know, should operations, for [00:04:00] example, take over a lot of the admin that HR does today.

[00:04:03] So wherever possible, clearly we want to digitise and automate, but the other pieces that are pretty routine and transactional admin could ops to do it? If it’s about operational excellence, et cetera. Um, so that is an option. Um, I don’t necessarily think that’s the right model for everyone at all. Um, another thing would be what actually, you know, could we perhaps partner with, you know, the business better?

[00:04:26] The business, are they doing what we’re expecting them to do? Um, if they’re not, why is that? This isn’t a case of saying, well, you should be doing that. So I’m gonna lob this over the fence to you and giving things that way. Because that just won’t fly. Actually it will have the adverse reaction to that. Um, but it’s about, I guess, Finding the right balance when we’re asking the business to do things and maybe there’s something around marketing.

[00:04:48] Um, if we think about, um, attracting talents, you know, into the function as much as also the business as a whole, clearly HR has a big, big role to play in that from a talent attraction and an AVP [00:05:00] standpoint, but we’ve got marketeers in all of our businesses. That’s their day job to get the brand out there, get it, you know, when established, make it resonate.

[00:05:09] And then the customer lends to that. Could they perhaps play more of a support role with us in some of those things?

[00:05:14] Nelson Sivalingam: [00:05:14] I guess your more recent research into the kind of future of hatred shared services is an extension of this idea, or kind of eliminating those silos, dropping the walls and bringing more kind of collaboration across the business.

[00:05:30] And so to really kind of leverage those skills and capabilities that you all already might have in the organisation. So t to start off with, set the scene for me. What is the current HR shared services model, what does that currently look like?

[00:05:46] Emma Leonis: [00:05:46] Oh, it varies by organisation Nelson.

[00:05:48] There isn’t a one size fits all as you know. Um, but I guess kind of what really came through was that a lot of organisations have moved to ORIC. Um, so they do have a shared service model in some shape or [00:06:00] form. Be that, that they maybe have local admin teams in the business units or, or in the local markets.

[00:06:06] That are perhaps more of a virtual network. If I call it that, um, within shared services or other organisations have centralised a lot of activities. So there’s a formal one team of, of, of shared services. Sometimes that’s in one physical location or one or two, three hubs – the challenge now is actually, does it need to be.

[00:06:26] Given that we can all work remotely, that actually has opportunities for new talent. Um, and then I think, you know, what really came through as well was whilst organisations are exploring the use of digital, um, the, you know, new services that perhaps can come into shared services as well. Um, they also still need to make sure that they get the basics right.

[00:06:45] Yeah. It’s that age old dilemma of how do you balance more whilst doing the same thing really well, because you’ve only got so much capacity.

[00:06:53] Nelson Sivalingam: [00:06:53] And so that kind of leads us nicely to talking about what are the key drivers that are kind of [00:07:00] causing this model to change and be disruptive?

[00:07:03] Emma Leonis: [00:07:03] A number of them.

[00:07:04] Um, probably one of the biggest ones and we talk about it quite a lot and it is a bit of a buzz word, but it doesn’t mean it’s not important. It really is, it’s experience. Um, I know it’s something that you and I have talked about before. Um, and obviously thinking about what HowNow does, it’s all about, you know, how do you empower experience through, through learning?

[00:07:21] Um, so if you think about experience it’s well, you know, what is it, how do I want to contact someone to get an answer to my query or my issue, or just to basically do something for myself, um, and shared services, linking to tier zero tends to be the start of that journey. So definitely trends there around how do you optimise that channel strategy?

[00:07:41] What does contact your way mean? What does experience mean for you and how do you design an experience through your shared service model? That thinks about capabilities, thinks about emotion, intelligence of how you support individuals, that kind of human touch and balancing human with automation and digitisation.

[00:08:00] [00:08:00] As well, we’re seeing a lot more of that and not the getting the, the human, uh, in HR, so to speak.

[00:08:04] Nelson Sivalingam: [00:08:04] So break it down for me in terms of changing the structure of HR? We are we saying, are we splitting it in a way where we’ve gone? Kind of a HR person is sitting in every function and is kind of tailoring the requirements to that particular part of the business.

[00:08:22] I guess that’s what you tried to do with the kind of HR business partner, which is quite contentious. Some people like, but what does that actually look like in terms of a structure?

[00:08:31] Emma Leonis: [00:08:31] Yeah. So in quite a few organizations. They may have come from that legacy world. As you’ve said, having someone who is that point of contact in the business that may be doing a generalist work and some strategic work.

[00:08:45] And then all of the admin work was in, within shared services. But if you automate more and more and more, which organisations are doing, and it’s the right thing to do, um, with that balance of human, as I said, you then elevate the role that your legacy shared service, [00:09:00] kind of tier one/tier two resource  can play are your advisors so they can take on more activities, new services, maybe like health and safety, for example, in some organisations, um, it could be that they’re even, you know, looking at owning the brand element of recruitment within shared services.

[00:09:18] I’ve seen that in some organisations. So, if they’re doing that equally, there’s the question of with your business partners, that role should continue to be strategic, but therefore fewer in number. How do you keep that business line of sight and connectivity? And I think that’s one of the challenges with.

[00:09:35] The model of HR and a lot of organizations at the moment is you’ve got business partners, you’ve got shared services and you’ve got COEs and they may not all be doing brilliant things individually, but because they are individual teams, there is a propensity that they work in silos and you lose that end to end line of sight of delivering the service to the customer and maintaining that business relationship.

[00:09:56] So for me, actually, it’s not about really the roles you have in the structure of them. [00:10:00] It’s how do you create the networks and the connections and conversations? Promote that listening and continuous improvement activity.

[00:10:07] Nelson Sivalingam: [00:10:07] How do you think this changes the skill requirements for people who are working within the people function?

[00:10:13] Um, you know, because if it’s changing their roles and responsibilities, how is it changing what a HR person should know or have in terms of skills?

[00:10:22] Emma Leonis: [00:10:22] Yeah. Um, and this is a really hard one for me to answer, because I know one of the things on your quickfire questions not to preempt it necessarily. It was what was the one skill and there isn’t just one.

[00:10:31] Um, we’ve talked a lot in the past about, um, thinking particularly about business partners or people consultants, as I’d like to perhaps now reframe that role to being much more data and insights savvy. That’s still a given in my opinion. Um, actually when you think about what really matters to the majority of people in the organisation, from an experience standpoint, it’s having someone who gets them, who will listen and will do the right thing.

[00:10:57] Um, so that I guess comes down to kind of [00:11:00] that emotional intelligence kind of, um, mindset that you might have or behavior that you might have. I think there’s also elements around integrity. So doing the right thing, but also saying no. More which comes back to your first question around, are we trying to be all things to all people?

[00:11:16] Um, and the integrity is a massive one for every part of the HR function, but particularly I think for business partners, to be able to say No and, and to do that with justification and curious thinking. Yeah, that’s a really interesting one too. You know, do you need process experts or actually, do you need more curious thinkers?

[00:11:34] Nelson Sivalingam: [00:11:34] It’s a skill that’s coming up a lot, right? It’s a fundamental skill for all parts of the business, to be curious. Interestingly with this kind of shared services model, what are the kind of lessons you can learn from other shared services like finance or marketing or customer service? Are there any lessons we can take from that?

[00:11:53] Emma Leonis: [00:11:53] Yeah, I definitely think so. Nelson, I think, um, particularly from marketing and customer service, um, and an operations [00:12:00] with marketing and customer services to start with for me, that’s, you know, that back to that brand piece, that’s so clear what a great experience looks like for them. Um, I remember speaking to an organisation.

[00:12:12] As part of the research and the shared services is paper and, and asking them, so what are your five brand pillars? And they told me, they told me what they were and I said, okay. So actually, does HR know about these? And, and are they translating them? Because they were really simple, but really powerful.

[00:12:28] And therefore, why would we not be thinking about starting to align. You know, the brand pillars in marketing and customer services, into other functions, um, you know, in HR, et cetera. And then operations operations are typically, um, in shared services, really good at that operational execution.

[00:12:48] Um, but again, operational execution should never be in my opinion, at the expense of doing the right thing. Um, the person who we’re supporting. So it’s about having that balance of brilliant basics, [00:13:00] um, and kind of measures that support that, but sometimes not worrying if you miss a KPI. Because if you’ve missed a KPI, but the outcome for the end user was even better than it could have possibly been if you’d

[00:13:11] had a green KPI actually, this the right thing to do so don’t deem yourself too much in that regard.

[00:13:19] Nelson Sivalingam: [00:13:19] I definitely see that even from what we do. I mean, it seems simple to say there’s a lot, we can learn from each other, but the idea of, you know, when you’re  deploying a new bit of software into an organisation.

[00:13:31] You probably have a product marketing person, depending on the type of business you are. Who’s got great expertise on how to drive adoption and engagement and very rarely are they involved as a part of that implementation process, really kind of tapping into, again, those kind of collective skills and knowledge that you might have in the organisation.

[00:13:50] Another one, at HowNow, that we can definitely relate to is one of the points you make. And you mentioned this earlier is that whole [00:14:00] idea of contact your way and the kind of social service approach is becoming even more popular, um, within HR. How do you strike the right balance between the kind of push and pull approach

[00:14:12] Emma Leonis: [00:14:12]

[00:14:13] Yeah. Yeah. And I think that is a tough one to strike a balance on, um, because you could be pushing loads of content out there, but it’s just not getting traction. And therefore the question is why, um, and I think for me, it’s actually starting to ask that question. Well, why and listen to what people are saying.

[00:14:33] So in striking that balance, sometimes less is more. So try something, get feedback on it, like with the content that you might be pushing out in the learning space for an example, and actually have people rate that. One, how easy was it to access? Two, how relevant was it for you?

[00:14:49] You know, if you’ve got any suggestions for the future, as an example, um, the same with other content you might have. I tend to find that when I work with organisations, they have so much content and it’s not [00:15:00] that the content’s the issue, sometimes it’s just, I couldn’t find it. So you’re pushing it out there, but you’re not pushing out through a mechanism that works for someone.

[00:15:09] So that pull needs to be there, but you don’t know the pull unless you ask the questions to enable you to understand what it is someone wants. And I think that’s back to that curious and questioning mindset that we need more of, I think, in the function and not just assume.

[00:15:23] Nelson Sivalingam: [00:15:23] This might be unfair and a leading question, but you know, there are hypotheses around, this is the reason why issues like this go on for so long in terms of content.

[00:15:32] That’s not widely use, is typically because no one’s measuring the kind of effect of it. And you know, the data is completely missing. So, you know, out of sight, out of mind, I don’t know out there, I couldn’t tell you. Do you find that as a case or what are the other reasons for ending up in a situation like that?

[00:15:50] Emma Leonis: [00:15:50] I think that’s a big one. Um, because I think it’s one of those things where we do something, we put it out there. We’ll move on to the next piece and out of sight, out of mind sometimes. Um, it’s probably [00:16:00] not because we don’t want to ask the question, how effective was it, but another priority has come up and there’s only so many hours in the day.

[00:16:07] Um, and you know, in the report. I asked one of those questions. I said, so how do you measure the effectiveness of what you do? And a lot of the time it was KPIs around throughput times, contact resolution and CSAP or NPS, um, from an experience side, which is all very well and good, but go deeper than that.

[00:16:29] Just ask the basic question of, did you like it thumbs up, thumbs down, um, you know, look at the volumes. How often was it used? When was it last updated? Um, Yeah, I think the measurement is a big piece and not having the time to do it. Um, we can’t make excuses though.

[00:16:46] Nelson Sivalingam: [00:16:46] And why don’t you think, you know, I can see there’s a growing conversation around applying lean and agile principles to the way you do things within the people function yet.

[00:16:56] you know, typically we still see organisations [00:17:00] who. You might talk about lean and our job, but actually it’s still the big bang. Let’s roll this out. You know, where is that gap? And what’s kind of fueling that gap between where we are of these principles. And we’re probably applying it effectively in other parts of the business, but what’s stopping us from applying it within the people  function.

[00:17:17] Emma Leonis: [00:17:17] [00:17:18] I think some of that mindset, I really do think it is. Um, now HR, and again, this is me generalising and not everyone will agree with me, but I do think there are elements of HR. The practitioners can tend to revert to their comfort zone of process compliance and by its nature that doesn’t encourage, you know, creative thinking.

[00:17:39] So there’s something around the mindset and therefore the people that we have in HR and that, you know, the backgrounds they come from and how open they are to that kind of thing. Um, I also think sometimes we have inertia. It’s like, it’s not that we don’t want to do small things, but we just think, Oh, if I do that, what if it fails?

[00:17:58] If I chunk this thing up and I say there’s five [00:18:00] parts to it, and I’m going to do one by one versus wait till the end to do the big bang thing. If part, one fails with my stakeholder group, the culture and our organisation is a blame culture. So. That might not work. And again, it’s a generaliaation, but I do think there’s something in that.

[00:18:13] And again, it comes back to the behaviour of being bold sometimes to not be afraid to do something, or don’t even ask for permission, just do it by stealth. If it’s a small, incremental piece. Do it by stealth. The likelihood is that it’ll probably get good feedback if it doesn’t, you can manage it as long as it’s not something that’s really going to cause problems like no one gets paid, then I think there’s something in there.

[00:18:37] But to me, it’s the mindset, piece, mindset behaviours. And therefore that comes down to the right people in the teams and where we’ve got them from.

[00:18:44] Nelson Sivalingam: [00:18:44] I’m really going off schedule here, Emma. So apologies, but I’m interested to find out how do you bring your kind of senior stakeholders on that journey? Right. Like, um, incredible people leaders who really want to change the way they do things, incredible [00:19:00] ideas.

[00:19:00] Um, but they need to convince the powers above and bring them on this journey. You know, what, what have you seen obviously, as a part of. Your day to day is working in kind of HR transformation, digital transformation, best ways of bringing new senior stakeholders on the journey with you.

[00:19:18] Emma Leonis: [00:19:18] Yeah, I think it’s a couple of things that spring to mind.

[00:19:20] Um, one of the first ones is we’ve probably already got some really great success stories. That we have and that we could share. We just might not know about them. So go and find those success stories and really kind of be bold and, and communicate those outs. I think also then there’s something around, um, helping people, particularly on the business side, kind of understand what’s in it for them.

[00:19:45] Why things are really, really important to change. Um, and again, telling that story, which is, this is what I need to do. This is why you’re not asking to change everything all in one go. Sometimes that’s going to mean having a tough conversation. Um, if you can [00:20:00] find people in that business leadership group, or maybe even two or three levels down within the organization beneath them that are change advocates.

[00:20:08] Use them to help promote what you want to do and maybe pilot something just in that particular small group to get you that success story, to then help with the more senior conversation. Again, that senior leader might not even know that you’ve done it and it was a success. And it’s like, Oh my gosh, brilliant.

[00:20:24] Let’s do more of that. Tell me more about it. Or on the flip side of that. Sometimes if you can win over someone who is extremely resistant to change. They can then become your biggest advocates, but that’s the harder move to make and probably takes a bolder leader than some of the other suggestions that I’ve asked.

[00:20:43] Nelson Sivalingam: [00:20:43] Ask for forgiveness, not permission. That’s what you’re saying.

[00:20:49] One of the other interesting data points you add, which is fascinating, which was while 76% had operational measures in place. Only 48% were collecting data [00:21:00] on the employee experience, which says a lot. Right wich says a lot about what’s happening because if you’re not measuring it, you’re not managing it.

[00:21:07] Um, so what can, um, I guess the people functions do to be better at measuring the employee experience?

[00:21:17] Emma Leonis: [00:21:17] Yeah, I think for me, what was quite interesting was when I dealt into sort of what people were doing to get feedback whilst a lot of organisations perhaps may have not had the formal measures, hence that 48%.

[00:21:33] Statistic, you know, around calculating NPS, for example, a lot of them had mechanisms in place as feedback loops to get feedback. So it’s sometimes the anecdotal data that can be as powerful as a thumbs up thumbs down, or a one star to five star rating on content. Or, um, you might have that as an overall question.

[00:21:55] How helpful was I today with, with your query? Because a one or a [00:22:00] five, they tell you a good or you’re bad, but it’s the why. So that anecdotal data, those conversations, they are probably the most powerful. Um, so use the networks that you might have, you might have. Um, an experience forum that you could set up this, you know, a handful of individuals from different parts of the business that are just passionate about changing things and then doing the right thing, get them together, ask them to become your, your voice on the ground.

[00:22:24] You’ll have business partners who will be playing that role, make sure they share that feedback in the HR leadership team meetings, meetings with their shared service teams and counterparts. Bring that feedback back to the business to say, I’ve heard this is this correlating with what you’re expecting. So for me, that was quite important actually.

[00:22:42] And, and a bit of a revelation that we have actually a lot of information there. It’s just combining volume data, um, operational measures, the formal experience measures with that anecdotal information to get that end to end view of what’s working and what’s not,.

[00:22:58] Nelson Sivalingam: [00:22:58] yeah, completely agree. [00:23:00] One of the things I wanted to touch on was I love at LACE Partners.

[00:23:03] You, you talk about people purpose and, and so you know, what is people purpose really?

[00:23:12] Emma Leonis: [00:23:12] Big, big question.

[00:23:19] I mean, that, that it means different things to different people. It, it really, really does. Um, I mean when I was thinking about this, I guess at the end of the day, it’s what does it look like and feel like to work in your organisation? You know, we go to work because we want to feel fulfilled by what we’re doing.

[00:23:36] And we want to know that we’re giving value, which through what we’re doing, and everybody has different ways as to what that means for them. No one person is the same. So that purpose piece, um, comes down to, I think, an element of, you know, what are your values as well. So if you’re saying that you are authentic, that you’re open, that you care and care is one of our values at LACE. That sounds sort of fluffy.

[00:23:59] Um, [00:24:00] in some respects it is, but it’s really integral because it means. We listen to people, that we act on what you said, that we want to do the right thing. Um, and integrity for us is part of that care element, um, and defining people purpose is kind of easy. You know, you could just come up with, with anything that sort of sounds sensible, but living it.

[00:24:21] And really delivering it, I think is more of the challenge. Like walking the walk, talking the talk, so to speak. Um, so it’s less about kind of, what is people purpose for me? I think it is. How do you deliver that people purpose, which goes back to that, listening, the acting, that engaging piece.

[00:24:37] Nelson Sivalingam: [00:24:37] Have you come across organisations that you’ve worked at or examples where you think, you know, they’ve really come up with great people purpose and really executed it well.

[00:24:46] Do you have examples of what that, what good looks like.

[00:24:50] Emma Leonis: [00:24:50] Yeah, like, um, I can’t give you kind of precise example because it, I can’t think of it specifically top of my head in terms of the quote, but I’ve worked with a number of pharmaceutical [00:25:00] organisations, for example, um, the same as healthcare providers.

[00:25:04] Now, they, what they do is all about making people healthier, improving people’s lives. Um, and that is such a clear purpose as a business that then it’s so translatable back into the organisations like we want to make the way that you work really powerful and engaging, be the best that you can be so that we can help our people that we serve.

[00:25:25] So customers, you know, in the care homes or, or be that, that you’re working again to create, you know, drugs for people. That we can then make that better for them. Um, so they tend to be really, really strong in that and have very clear employee value propositions. That aren’t just about how this is a branding kind of effort, because there is an element of that sometimes I think, and it’s important because your value proposition should be linked to your brand, but it’s more than just that.

[00:25:49] It’s about what can you get from working here? What can you expect? And then what do we expect from you? And what’s that exchange, I guess if those values together.

[00:25:57] Nelson Sivalingam: [00:25:57] Yeah, I think it’s a good way of [00:26:00] almost giving the people function, focus, and, and it helps them probably come up with the North star metrics that they should be looking at delivering that value prop.

[00:26:08] Yeah, definitely see that. All right. Now we go to, my favorite part where I’m going to fire some questions at you relatively quickly, and you’re going to give me answers, relatively quickly. And so, as I mentioned earlier, um, let’s start with what’s the most important skill a HR manager needs.

[00:26:29] Emma Leonis: [00:26:29] Can I have more than one because I can’t possibly just choose one.

[00:26:34] Um, so I would say integrity because that’s for every role in HR. Um, and I would also probably say curious thinker, so I’ll be a bit different to the norm. I’m not going to say data insights, that kind of stuff. To me, that’s a given. curious thinker and an innovator and integrity.

[00:26:51] Nelson Sivalingam: [00:26:51] You’ve obviously got a lot of experience in seeing through HR and transformation projects.

[00:26:57] Um, what are the top reasons [00:27:00] why these transformation projects fail?

[00:27:03] Emma Leonis: [00:27:03] I think you hit the nail on the head earlier, actually Nelson with one or two of your questions, which was about that business engagement. So, you know, HR sometimes thinks. This is what we need to do. This is why, and just full steam ahead roll, you know, railroads and, and goes through that process.

[00:27:18] But you’ve got to keep checking back with the business because you’re ultimately trying to do something to help with outcomes they’re looking to achieve. Business engagement is one, I’d say also employee engagement linked to that too. So the leadership piece and then the lower levels in the organisation and trying to do too much.

[00:27:34] So yeah, that big bang element versus incremental change.

[00:27:38] Nelson Sivalingam: [00:27:38] Just getting off schedule again, do you find in some of these transformative projects, they might even get the senior stakeholders engaged, but you often don’t get, um, the end users that involved. Do you find that in your experience as well?

[00:27:53] Emma Leonis: [00:27:53] Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I’m seeing more and more now a recognition that there needs to be that, you know, proper voice [00:28:00] of the customer input into the design of an HR transformation program. Um, which I guess she could kind of frame as experience set design and transformation which is brilliant to see, but it’s all very well again, doing that in design.

[00:28:13] For me, it’s about constantly going back to those groups that you’ve formed to input design and stress testing, as you go through, you know, again, back to that kind of point of don’t wait till the very end to make sure it’s right. Let’s use this agile iterative approach and those groups that we had keep going back to them, use them post, go live as part of continuous improvement.

[00:28:33] And so definitely seeing more recognition of that, which is really powerful to see.

[00:28:39] Nelson Sivalingam: [00:28:39] I work in the people function. I’m listening to this podcast. Tell me one tactic. I can apply tomorrow when I go in and to improve the employee experience at my company.

[00:28:53] Emma Leonis: [00:28:53] Ooh, let’s a quick fire question. I feel like I should give you a quick fire answer. Um, probably goes back to that curiosity point, [00:29:00] which is actually, I’ve got two, one is to ask, why are we doing something? Do we have a clear outcome we’re looking to achieve for someone asked for it and what are we trying to do?

[00:29:11] And then also the second one would be to listen. So just to stop and actually listen, go and speak to someone you’ve not spoken to you before. Might just be you just decide to put a random catch-up in with someone, ask them, then just listen to them, ask them a simple question and just listen to that.

[00:29:28] Nelson Sivalingam: [00:29:28] Yeah. It’s one of our values. Emma. We have two ears and one mouth for a reason. It’s to listen more than we speak. So then what’s one HR trend that you really think is going to blow up over the kind of next year or two.

[00:29:42] Emma Leonis: [00:29:42] Yeah, I think, um, and given, I’m talking to you, some people might say I’m a little bit biased here, but I definitely think there’s something in the learning and talent space for sure.

[00:29:52] Um, that there’s two lenses of it. To me. There’s, we’ve talked quite a lot about the need for new skills. In, in businesses, [00:30:00] digital being one of those, but there’s loads of different new skills that we’re going to need in the next year, as much as the next five years from now. So it’s, you know, where do you get those skills from and, and how do you develop them?

[00:30:10] Um, I think, you know, Gartner in the 2021 HR party survey, I think said that. Maybe 70% of HR professionals said for them that actually enhancing critical skills and competencies was a big priority this year. So that definitely, for me, is part of that talent and development piece, which leads on to the learning element of that, which is you can’t keep buying talent from everywhere.

[00:30:31] Because there’s only a finite skills pool from which to source talent. So I think, yes, last year, a lot of organizations had to move their onboarding, their learning, their development to digital because of the pandemic, but we’re going to have to focus much more, I think, on what is the right learning strategy?

[00:30:49] What are the right ways of delivering that? Um, from a digital standpoint, what does that mean in terms of how we curate content, how we continuously improve it? So I really think in that learning space, [00:31:00] we’ll probably see. More and more over the next year or so,

[00:31:06] Nelson Sivalingam: [00:31:06] It’s great to see. I mean, especially I think COVID has expedited the conversation where we’re making skills, the currency that kind of fuels the entire employee experience. And how can you use this currency in different ways for different touch points in the employee experience. And I think that that is a conversation for another day and we can probably spend an hour just on that.

[00:31:26] And in terms of. You know, how can HR team show that they care about people? You know, it’s not just about the HR admin and compliance. And this varies from early stage companies who are just getting their first HR person to sort out the admin stuff to larger companies. You might still just be using them from kind of predominantly admin tasks.

[00:31:50] How can HR teams show they really care about people?

[00:31:54] Emma Leonis: [00:31:54] I think again, it goes back to just that listening and that empathy. So, you know, if you are there and [00:32:00] you’re responding over email or on the phone or on chat, whatever channel it might be to someone who has a need, be it a simple need of, out of, I want to roll over some holiday.

[00:32:09] How do I do that? Because then you. Um, or better, more complex needs such as I’m a line manager and I’m dealing with a really, really stressful situation right now. I’ve got a wellbeing issue in my team and it, you know, it’s potentially quite a serious one. I need, I need help just being, you know, being empathetic listening.

[00:32:27] And, but also I think then acting on that in the right way. Um, and otherwise show how they care again. I think it’s so with the acting piece, thinking about what really is important. What are people saying? Um, you know, are you living the values that you were espousing? Um, and if you’re not, how can you perhaps do more in that space?

[00:32:50] Um, and also celebrating those successes? That’s part of showing that you care. I mean, even within the own HR function, because there’s an element of, do we show our own [00:33:00] teams that we value them enough as much as also showing the business that we value the business and employees in our overall organisations.

[00:33:08] So again, sharing those successes, saying thank you, the small things that we would normally do with any team, but there’s elements of that thing for me, I think we can do more of within the function itself.

[00:33:21] Nelson Sivalingam: [00:33:21] The book you recommend the most to people leaders and why?

[00:33:31] Emma Leonis: [00:33:31] I was really hoping you wouldn’t ask me this question because I feel like I should have some super high brow answer to this.

[00:33:33] Um, you know, that kind of reading XYZ by ABC. Um, I do, you know, I do read Harvard Business Review that kind of stuff. You know, some of the articles in there, um, I guess. I know, I read a couple of books, um, recently they’re fiction ones. Um, and like, you know, this is completely not in the HR space, but if you just read some of those books, it just makes you think and you think, Oh my Lord, I’m reading a murder mystery.

[00:33:57] Hey, what if I just ask why [00:34:00] more. And you know, when you’ve played Cluedo in this, um, which goes back to that curiosity point. Um, but no, on a serious note, I have just bought a book called, um, people not paperclips. Um, I can’t remember the author, unfortunately, as it is upstairs, not in front of me. Um, but it’s about employee experience and about organisational design.

[00:34:17] Um, it’s relatively short. It’s come highly recommended by a couple of different colleagues of mine. And I like the X and then like continuous improvement and sort of thinking about that. So maybe try that one.

[00:34:31] Nelson Sivalingam: [00:34:31] We’ll add a link in the show notes. And what do you say when someone asks you what’s your job?

[00:34:39] Emma Leonis: [00:34:39] Oh, um, really good question. So I don’t know, it’s not, I’m a management consultant because that’s really boring and really drawing, um, That I work with, you know, HR leaders to make their people experience better for their organisations. Um, [00:35:00] and part of that for me, as part of my job is I do project delivery and I love doing that with clients and being hands-on.

[00:35:08] But I also love just talking about what’s going on and, and kind of that challenge question. Like we are now, Nelson, you know, all the things we’ve talked about now. So I wouldn’t say I’m an academic or anything like that. Because I’m definitely not, I’m not a researcher, but I, yeah, in my job, I’m a bit of a curious thinker, a challenger, asking provocative questions.

[00:35:31] Nelson Sivalingam: [00:35:31] Last one for you. Emma is one skill you’d like to develop more?

[00:35:40] Emma Leonis: [00:35:40] well on a personal note. Um, Saying no more, however ironic is that given what we’ve just, um, but that’s because I’m so passionate about, about what I do and, and, and what we do at LACE and my job and everything. Um, but definitely say no more, um, personal skills. In [00:36:00] general. Um, Oh, I would love to get back into writing my music that I used to do lots and lots of.

[00:36:07] So this is a really personal thing. Um, so yeah, so I play violin and piano. I haven’t played my piano for a very long time. It’s at my parents, I haven’t played it properly for 13 odd years. Um, but I used to just love sitting and composing effectively film score. So not classical, I don’t know, not a defined genre, just what comes into your head and kind of going with the flow of that.

[00:36:29] Um, so that would be a skill I would love to pick back up again and develop more.

[00:36:33] Nelson Sivalingam: [00:36:33] Hey, next podcast we could try with you playing music in the background.

[00:36:39] Emma Leonis: [00:36:39] I could play music in response to questions when you say so what do we do? The tone of the music is the answer.

[00:36:45] Nelson Sivalingam: [00:36:45] Emma, it’s been an absolute pleasure.

[00:36:47] Thank you very much for taking the time out and coming on the show and always enjoy our conversations and until the next recording with both of us on, uh, you know, catch up soon.

[00:36:56] Emma Leonis: [00:36:56] Thank you very much. Thank you very much, Nelson, great to speak to you.

[00:37:00] [00:37:00] Nelson Sivalingam: [00:37:00] And there you have it. Thanks for checking out my conversation with Emma.

[00:37:03] If you want to know more about LACE Partners and the work they do, plus their future of HR shared services white paper, then check out the links in the show notes. And of course we love feedback at HowNow. So if you’ve got any feedback or even questions, or you just want to say hello, then do get in touch via our social channels.

[00:37:22] Where you will find those in the show notes as well. We hope you’ve enjoyed the episode. Please do think about subscribing, sharing, leaving us a review or telling a friend. It goes a long way in helping us and the show grow. Thanks and see you next time.