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By helping our people, we help ourselves


By helping our people, we help ourselves

The people profession can build a bright future if it concentrates on adding real value to businesses, says Ben Gledhill, head of resourcing at delivery network Yodel

We shouldn’t be afraid to say that what we do in the people profession is about business outcomes… a successful people strategy adds commercial value

There are a multitude of misunderstandings about the gig economy. A lot of people fear or distrust the concept, which is hardly surprising given the negative press, the lack of legislation and the test cases going through the courts regarding employment status. In many ways, my organisation sits at the heart of this debate: we have a mixture of fully employed and self-employed individuals, but we also believe deeply in being transparent and honest with our employees. And it’s here where we have tried to think, and behave, a bit differently to the rest of the market.

Honesty is integral to both sides of the psychological contract, and with our model that means explaining the realities of self-employment in a language people can understand. We are up front about our culture and our working practices, and in some cases people who explored self-employment have come across our recruitment website and decided it isn’t for them. For other people, that transparency is attractive and they enter a relationship with us clearly understand how it can benefit them.

Operating in this way has helped us target our recruitment more precisely, as well as increasing engagement among new starters, positively impacting retention and reducing the level of queries being received by the HR team. But it has also increased the level of respect for the people function from the rest of the business – we have taken the time to understand how the business functions and identify where we can add value, and that brings its own rewards.

We shouldn’t be afraid to say that what we do in the people profession is about business outcomes. If you have a successful people strategy that fundamentally underpins where the business is going, it adds commercial value. It isn’t a cost centre, it’s a profit centre, and the best HR professionals know that everything they do benefits the business. At Yodel, if you’re doing something that doesn’t help the business deliver parcels to our customers effectively, you should stop doing it: looking after our people, after all, means they can look after the customers who pay all our salaries.

Making these clear and unassailable links with strategy, and understanding the human behaviours and motivations that underpin our working lives, is what will power the people profession into the future – and help decide whether we as a profession benefit from the advent of machine learning or not.

Approached properly, AI can take away mundane tasks and free HR professionals to add more value. We have launched a chatbot, for example, which deals with straightforward queries and allows us to spend more time building relationships with managers and talking to candidates.

It’s vital that as a function, we understand the potential of technology and embrace its ability to add value to what we do. But we should already be questioning every aspect of HR, because the profession of the future may not simply be an extrapolation of what has gone before. One day, we may be embedded deep within teams – or, conversely, line managers may take on some of our tasks by becoming more people-focused.

The world is going through a lot of change and as a function we need to be prepared for it. But we need to remember, too, that we are entrusted to look after the most precious and most enduring resource in the world of business – people – and that if we embrace that challenge, we have a bright future for ourselves.

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