Throughout her career in human resources, Judith Lamb has transformed her genuine interest in people and personalities into a valuable, layered understanding of their needs and motivations. Now in her second year at CloudPay, she’s using that understanding to help grow and maintain a global workforce that’s dedicated to empowering their customers and each other. Here, she sits down with me to discuss the recent evolution of the HR function, explain why successful organizations are giving HR a seat at the board, and share her perspective on the importance of real communication between leadership and employees.
David Barak: From your experience in HR and having just recently implemented a global HCM system at CloudPay, how would you describe the role of HCM at global companies, and how has that changed over the last five years?
Judith Lamb: HCM has been changing consistently for many years now, although there certainly has been a significant increase recently in the impact of technology on HCM. We're very much in a digital space now, and there are more and more technology platforms out there assisting and aiding HCM activities. There is a lot of opportunity for HCM, but we have to think about the expectations of the workforce in the digital age. Social media, how people learn, how they engage—all those things are changing how we manage our human resources across organizations.
Introducing an HCM system is almost inevitable in a company of any scale, because to engage with our employee base, we will need to think about how they engage and how they work today, especially in a global context. In order to meet those needs efficiently and effectively, we have to do things differently. We have to think about using the technology around us to support working in an efficient and effective manner.
DB: With regard to where the HR function is today and its involvement in organizations, what can global companies do to provide more alignment between the various HR programs and the overall organizational strategy?
JL: I think HR can make the most impact to organizational strategy when it isn't siloed or treated as a separate function. HR is coming on leaps and bounds in many companies, but it can still be seen as that tactical, reactive function. Where it’s siloed, HR leaders are almost doing HR strategy for the sake of HR strategy, as opposed to aligning it to organizational goals and needs.
If HR is going to have a real impact, the business needs to remember that its people are, more often than not, its most expensive resource. They are certainly a company’s most important resource. Organizations can’t construct an effective HR strategy reactively once the business goals have been put together. They should be working on those strategies arm in arm, and ensuring that they have sound people values that are embedded within the business.
Now, the way to achieve synergy between organizational strategy and HR programs is to give HR a seat at the board. And to succeed there, HR leaders must have a commercial acumen, a commercial viewpoint, to ensure that when we are aligning the programs and strategies designed to have a positive impact on the business, we're doing it in a sensible and commercial way.
DB: Can you share any examples of where you’ve seen good alignment between the HR function and organizational strategy?
JL: I’ve seen this working well when I’ve seen HR at the board level. There’s a somewhat intangible aspect of HR programs when they’re working in line with the business—it’s difficult to measure, but it flows very well. You see HR working hand in glove with other business leaders within the organization. The work that comes out flows with the work that goes in.
At that level, the HR leaders understand the organization. They can speak the technical language of the company and answer strategic questions. They’re not carved off and just talking about the HR strategy.
I worked at one company in which the learning development function was award-winning. People regarded it very well, and the programs received good feedback from all parts of the organization, including from seemingly unrelated departments like support and engineering. It was seen as credible, and in conversations with people across the business, HR was considered an intrinsic part of the organization.
In that company, HR were true business partners. They were part of the management team, and leaders within the organization looked to HR to coach them, to support them. And that advice and guidance always held people as the focus—so the people agenda was right there at the heart of the organization.
JL: Globalization is a challenge for HR leaders. It’s become such a buzzword, but it’s an ongoing phenomenon that’s changing how we work and interact. For companies operating in many different countries, the world is feeling smaller because of all the wonderful technologies that allow the world to act smaller. When we're looking at talent attraction in a globalized society, our candidate pool is quite broad. We have the opportunity to find the best talent in the world.
However, in the political landscape, we're seeing local governments taking a look at that and asking all these global companies to think locally and ensure that we are hiring the local talent. And we have to meet a number of criteria in order to hire global talent. So it is difficult to find a balance between attracting and finding the talent that we want and navigating local environments, regulations, and procedures. That's quite challenging for global leaders at the moment.
DB: When your talent pool is that large and has that kind of flexibility, you’re no longer competing with the salaries or opportunities within your post code, right? The person who worked for you last week can today be working for a company 700 miles away without having to move at all. So you're competing on a global scale. How can organizations encourage employees to choose to continue to work for them versus going somewhere else?
JL: That is a really good question because it is very competitive out there. Finding your talent is just the first step. After that you have to attract them to the organization and retain them.
Branding has become quite important to companies. A really, really strong employer brand helps to keep employees attracted and engaged, and gives employees an answer to any questions around staying.
For example, I was talking to an employee of a very large, very well known technology business, and it was a joy to speak to him because of how he spoke about the company. He talked about the employee voice being of value, with an employee suggestion scheme that was taken seriously and really used as a method of communication for employees. He had moved around within the organization, and he spoke about how the company recognizes a job well done and recognizes even service within the company.
He was completely bought into the brand of the company. He had been there for ten years, and I could see in him and in his enthusiasm for the company, that he could easily stay for another ten years. Not because he couldn’t get a job somewhere else, but because he was that engaged with the company itself.
From a HR perspective, it’s very interesting to hear employees who are so openly enthusiastic about their companies. Because that’s the goal, isn’t it? The purpose of engagement strategies, stretch opportunities, taking values seriously, and really listening to your employees is to maintain a happy, committed workforce.
DB: A lot of those things you just mentioned—like engagement strategies and values—seem to be new ideas sprung of the digital age. It’s not that employees weren’t talking and offering feedback, right? Is the difference that now there are platforms for it? Why is it now so important for a company to listen to their employees?
JL: I don’t want to say that it’s everything, but it’s a lot. Even if big companies could get by not listening to employees in the past, they can’t now. The market for talent is so competitive, as we’ve said, and people can look beyond traditional boundaries to find work that suits them.
The reason we now speak of an employer “brand” is because that identity is easily accessible outside of the organization, with review sites and even social media, so it has become formalized somewhat. If someone is interested in a job, they investigate the company online to see if it’s somewhere they want to commit to based on information and feedback they find from others who have worked there.
It has always been important to listen to employees and show them that their concerns, suggestions, and feedback are taken seriously. We want them to buy into the employer brand because it makes the organization stronger. It shouldn't be a top-down company where we have the CEO or other business leaders designing everything to do with the organization. It's about empowering employees to feel like they have a say in how a company operates. That’s equally important for attracting and retaining talent in today’s competitive environment.
And this isn’t just the remit of HR. As we’ve said, HR shouldn’t be a siloed function but rather part of the business and part of those conversations about how to communicate with and engage employees, whether that’s through engagement surveys, regular one-to-ones, team discussions, or town halls where people can openly put their hand up and ask questions without any form of retribution. The reviews posted online or passed by word of mouth are a reflection of the entire company. Likewise, ensuring that feedback is positive is the responsibility of the entire company.
DB: You mentioned the recent impact of technology on the role of HR and how the function is changing. There seem to be industries in which people push the technology, and others where technology pushes the people. Which do you think HR is?
JL: I think there’s a balance of the two in HR. On one hand, the technology has developed to satisfy a need. It’s not that someone developed an HR system and then HR thought, “Oh, that’s great, let’s use an HR system.” Many core HR practices have existed for a long time. They were done manually, then we used Excel, then the technology came along that enabled us to automate a lot of key, repetitive tasks.
The development of HR systems was very much driven by the activities that needed to be done. Recruitment, for example. Recruitment platforms have been around for a while, beginning with the early online job boards. It was great: we loaded vacancies online and candidates looked online, but then they still applied by attaching a CV to an email. And someone in HR had to manually enter the CV into the system. So there was a lot of opportunity in there for technology and automation, which of course has happened and now the entire process of finding candidates and processing applications has been forever changed.
Initially there were HRIS systems designed to hold employee information, and those were separate from recruitment platforms. There were other systems for managing benefits. And all of those were kept separate from payroll and other functions. Today, we use HR systems that will do everything for you. They will hold your employee data. They will handle your candidate information. They will hold your reward information, your recognition information, your succession planning information. And now those platforms are becoming more and more integrated with the systems used by related functions. Each technological step forward is making the process quicker, easier and more accurate.
As I said, though, there is a balance. While I think the technology was developed to meet a need, it has also created opportunities. The revolution in software and aspects like the cloud and mobile technology have dramatically expanded our capabilities and enabled us to manage HR activities on the go and at our fingertips.
Most HR departments are involved in salary reviews every year. We’ve always done them, and they were always a big deal—the difference now is that we work in programs where all that salary data and review data is online and instantly available through a platform, which reduces the rate of error. It's accessible directly to the line manager. It will work hand in glove with the information that the HR system drives.
This enables us to work more efficiently and effectively. It eliminates the hours HR teams always spent working out the cost of improvement manually or working out attrition manually—all these critical activities that used to take a lot of time and resources are now done in seconds. That reality is what’s now supporting the development of the HR function into a more strategic one. I think the existence of the technology has opened HR's eyes to what else is available and what else is out there.
DB: Would you say that technology has given HR a broader mandate in your organization?
JL: It's given HR the time to be more effective and work on the needs of the modern workforce, which is looking at engagement activities, looking at how we develop people, looking at how we manage our talent. Before, that time was spent performing all these manual tasks. All the administrative items that used to be done are still done, they're just not administered to anymore. They’re automated.
DB: How is HR taking on a more strategic role in global companies? What kinds of insights are HR leaders able to bring to that senior-level table?
JL: This is where all that data comes into play. Besides understanding people, there’s a metric side to HR that can be of tremendous value to organizations. The data available to HR teams today thanks to all this technology can be applied to various business needs and used to evaluate how the company is performing at many levels.
These information metrics include normal measurable fields such as attrition, how we’re doing by country, by region, by function, the success of recruitment efforts, cost of recruitment, time of recruitment, where we’re recruiting. That's invaluable information for leaders to consider. For example, if we’re able to recruit the people we want in this environment or this country, maybe we should look at investing more in that location.
You can make more strategic business decisions based on the data and metrics tracked in HR. Additionally you can look at performance metrics, information about how the company and how the people in the organization are doing. Do we have a key number of talent in a particular area? Are we making the most of that talent? How long does it take for people to move through their career in the organization? Or do we see an issue with people who've been with us for two year suddenly leaving our office in Italy, or wherever it may be? So that kind of information is invaluable to the business, to make real decisions about where the organization is going.
DB: Jumping to something completely different but equally interesting: companies are getting really innovative about how they lay out their workspace, and there’s been a lot of discussion and research done around how different environments support different types of personalities. When you add in the factor of being a global company, needing to account for and fit within a variety of cultures, how does that affect the recent trend toward more open and flexible workspaces?
JL: With any collection of individuals, one size won’t fit all. So while you can think about it globally, any plan would have to be able to be amended on a location-by-location basis. There are cultural differences, norms, and expectations that can be very specific and significant, so you can’t expect the same ideas to necessarily work everywhere.
The workspace is there to support and facilitate the work, and as such, it is an extension of the brand. The look and feel of that space can be very important and even a source of pride for employees. While being considerate of specific cultural requirements, the workplace should reflect the company, its values, and its goals. I'm a big supporter of innovative and interesting workspaces, but we must always be conscientious of the environment in which we are working, and the comfort levels of those various cultures, norms, and beliefs, and adjust any plans accordingly.
DB: You’ve been with CloudPay for a while now. What keeps you excited about your role and glad to be working in global payroll?
JL: The impact that HR is having in the organization is what keeps me excited about working at CloudPay. There are a number of HR activities that we are slowly working through which are having a positive impact on the people—the leaders that work here and the people that work here. Rolling out our new values, for example. Now it’s to the point where people are talking about the values, and they're referencing them as they're having conversations, they're using them when they're talking about making decisions on recruiting people or promoting people or how they're embedding into the culture.
So, just on a personal level, I can see there's really positive culture change happening in the organization. There's a lot of growth happening as well, which is tremendously exciting, because it's having new people join the company from different backgrounds and different cultures and making their own mark on the business and expanding our diversity.
I really enjoy the people I work with at CloudPay. As sentimental as that may sound, there is a real sense of collaboration and teamwork here. And, particularly within the HR team, they really are striving to help the company do well. All of these are very personal to me and keep me excited and motivated about working here.