Heather Cracknell, Head of People Development at Serocor Group talks to Bond Williams about opening minds, automation, untapped talent and opportunities…
Heather, how did you get into HR?
I have worked in HR for about 15 years now, I was working in the Public Sector when I gained my Post Graduate Diploma in People Management, it was a very policy driven environment and I found it quite restrictive. From there I moved to a standalone role at Portsmouth Football Club in 2008.
I’m now at Serocor Group which is predominantly a recruitment company, it’s a very different environment but I like to keep myself motivated through challenging myself in different ways. Under our company ZYX Associates I work alongside the MD to provide HR consultancy, talks and brand development, working with clients using profiling tools and automated analytics. Some HR Professionals are concerned about the future of automation but for me it’s all about constantly growing and learning, we are still discovering all of the great tools out there and just how much we can get out of them.
There seems to be some fear around AI because we don’t understand exactly what the impacts will be, what do you think it means for HR?
I think there are a lot of theories, people think it means job losses and that lower paid jobs will become obsolete but that’s not how it works. I think it will mean we will be able to work smarter, more systematically and ultimately get better outcomes.
Have you seen evidence of more automated processes working within Serocor Group?
Yes, gone are the days where you had to input into many different systems, everything’s app based now. We have found that some of our recruitment processes are being automated within Serocor Group which enables our Consultants to spend more time talking to candidates, and clients. It’s improved our service offering and allowed us to work smarter.
Do you think businesses should spend more time re-evaluating their customer service as a result?
Yes definitely, it’s about being that differentiator, it’s that people piece that makes you different to some of your competitors, whatever industry you are in. People do still like to hear a voice at the end of the phone or have a conversation, rather than just an automated email.
What’s your vision of the future of AI?
My long-term vision, certainly at Serocor is to have systems in place for a new employee, from day one. Everything from their induction to e-learning would be automated. Of course we would still have a face to face induction process, but there’s always that back up of intelligence that they can go back to.
Could issues such as pay queries, parental leave, paternity pay and grievances, all become automated?
No. I think some of the system and processes absolutely can be automated but there’s only so far it can go. Drawn out processes such as changing address or bank details are already there, employees can do it themselves. Some parts of the recruitment process such as onboarding again come back to that people piece; it’s people that you buy into and you’re never going to be able to automate that, not yet.
What are you working on at the moment that’s different?
I’ve done so much psychometric testing and profiling over the years but now we use a tool with ZYX where you can touch words on an app to carry out the test. It then creates a profile and also a shape of their team. We’re using it across our whole business here to define who our top performers are, how we can get them and what their motivators are. Many companies focus on their poor performers, but we have developed a model that focuses on our top performers, and from there we can start to replicate that model.
Do you think there’s an untapped talent pool out there?
There is a lot of untapped people out there and I think as HR professionals, we need to broaden what we’re doing. For example, something we have done here is to stop giving our Hiring Managers CVs to eliminate any unconscious bias. We held an apprentice academy last year and we found that some of the candidates that may not have had recruitment experience or a relevant background did have great communication and great people to people skills. By preventing the Hiring Manager from knowing anything about them, prior to the assessment day we have really different results.
Do you think we need to open our minds more as HR professionals?
Finding different people and different skill sets requires us to be flexible and look at working in different ways. We work with Mothers who have gone on Maternity leave and lay expectations out very early on, we are creative about how we harness our workforce and we’ve got 100% success rate of Mothers returning to work because of this.
Do you think what comes out of Brexit will challenge the success of SMEs?
Yes and that’s the whole issue of Brexit, there’s so much uncertainty for companies, and certainly entrepreneurs. If we don’t get trade agreements or if the Pound to Euro changes again, that will have a massive impact but I think it can also be exciting. It’s that whole resistance to change, let’s stop always focusing on the negative and look at what opportunities are out there as well.
What about potential changes to Employment Law?
There may very well be changes to Employment Law and Legislation, companies will have to be prepared to move quickly and adapt if and when that happens. The processes are very robust and here for a purpose as they do impact on some SMEs, we need to be careful we don’t go back to taking advantage of people, I think that’s wrong.
Does this create an opportunity for you as an HR Consultant?
I find it really exciting because there is Law and Legislation but there’s also a lot of grey areas and that’s where some SMEs struggle. In most cases when an HR issue arises, it’s about having open, honest conversations around how you can adapt, how you can change and how you can look at things differently.
Potentially there will be new, skilled people globally, that we could now have access to. Are you hearing this in the market?
I think at the moment there is a lot of negative connotations, there’s that degree of uncertainty about those populations coming to the UK and that’s creating barriers. We have got at least two years of uncertainty and need to be prepared and willing to adapt to those changes rather than trying to sit tight and ride out the storm. Thinking about how you can flex and change your workforce is the biggest message.
How have other’s views of the HR profession changed over the last few years?
I think as HR professionals we are sometimes seen as the people that write the rules, restrictions and policies, but we don’t need to be. We should be fundamentally working with the boards on how we can adapt the business and I think that’s been the biggest change in my HR role. Years ago it was more about welfare but now we play a huge part in business, whatever size. Being valued influencers over a business is what makes HR so important.
Our HR Market Insights interview aims to discuss key economic challenges from an HR perspective and is a great opportunity to be involved in a collaborative thought leadership space. If you would like to contribute and feature in our quarterlypublication please dont hesitate to get in contact with Claire Bond or Adam Rich from the Bond Williams HR Recruitment team: 01202 233777.