What does your company do?
Alliance Boots is a health and beauty group working in close partnership with manufacturers and pharmacists. Our focus is on developing our two core business activities: pharmacy-led health and beauty retailing and pharmaceutical wholesaling and distribution.
How many employees, locations and annual turnover?
We have a presence in more than 25 countries and employ more than 116,000 people. In 2011/12, the revenue was £25.4 billion, including share of associates and joint ventures.
When did you join and why?
I started at the company in October 2011 after a number of years in the banking industry. I wanted a fresh challenge and a change of pace, and saw a real opportunity to join a business that has many interesting layers, strong trusted brands, innovation at the heart of its values, and a growth strategy that would ensure HR was an exciting place to work for the foreseeable future. The extent of the M&A activity across the group means that HR plays an important role in partnering with the business to drive employee engagement and a consistent culture.
What are your responsibilities? What do you enjoy?
I was hired to manage the resourcing and development function. This includes recruiting executive and senior managers globally across all functions, strategy development for resourcing innovation, project leadership across various HR work streams and the design and delivery of training programmes. My role is continuously developing and I’m now increasingly involved in organisational design for our new and expanding markets, as well as regional HR business partnering.
Two things immediately spring to mind: the international ‘feel’ of the business, and the speed at which we operate. It’s refreshing to work at the heart of a growing, dynamic organisation. Our teams are lean and our senior management population maintains a healthy balance between strategic and operational leadership. Most of our senior managers speak at least two languages, which means that we often move foreign talent to the UK. Our company has a true entrepreneurial spirit, and our people are passionate about achieving our mission to become the world’s leading pharmacy-led health and beauty group.
What recruitment challenges did you face?
As our business has grown so quickly over the past few decades, there is perhaps less structure than one would expect at a company of this size. This presents challenges for our recruitment processes because we haven’t had the chance to step back and review our ways of working and implement new, efficient methods of recruiting. A year ago we were almost fully reliant on headhunters, and had no system to build a valuable candidate database. As a small group HR function we support the 25 or more countries with their senior management recruitment, so there was a real opportunity for us to become smarter in our recruiting approach.
We have nearly 20 people in the group HR function and all are located in the UK. Our team supports each country with driving the centralised HR agenda. Every country has a leadership team which includes an HR director, and below that sits an HR team which varies in numbers depending on the size of the business in the country. As a group HR function we flex our support to these teams depending on the requirements of the country.
Another challenge we continue to face is finding multilingual candidates willing to work in the UK. We have worked hard over the last year to collaborate internally across countries to share candidate information, and to build knowledge in key markets relevant to our business.
Tell us about the strategy you implemented...
Our resourcing and development function is only three years old, so there was a good opportunity to create solid foundations to enhance our current practices. We wanted to find a system that could support and link both our internal talent agenda and our external recruitment strategy. Finding a system that could work across different business units and multiple countries in various ways was really important to us.
How has technology helped you?
What I really like is the simplicity. The system is easy to navigate and uses various searching methods. Its control ensures tracking of the end-to-end process with candidates, external suppliers and internal stakeholders. Internally, we can quickly run reports on volume/functions of recruitment, and savings. We can answer questions such as: What return on investment has this achieved in terms of quality of candidates, building future talent pipeline, identifying new talent, reducing long-term recruitment spend, speeding up time to hire and overall cost savings? And we can quantify in stats and figures.
It is really early days for us since going live with the system. We only need to make one senior management placement through it to start seeing the ROI. Being able to track and build our internal talent pool is really valuable, and having this in the same place as our external candidate database means we can quickly compare our talent to the market.
What impact has this had on your employer brand?
We expect to see a shift in our employer brand engagement through linking the system to our external company websites.
What lessons have you learnt along the way?
I’ve learned the value of taking time to initially input relevant data. The information you put in to the system (for example coding of candidates’ attributes) should be as detailed as possible to enhance the system for future ‘searching’ of candidates.
What advice would you give?
Use terminology relevant to your business. First Choice is flexible in its approach and happy to rename most ‘fields’ in the system so that it is easy for internal stakeholders and users to understand.
We are considering expanding the usage of the First Choice system throughout a number of business units within our group, globally. The flexibility of the system allows for it to work well for both niche and volume recruitment, depending on the user’s needs.