A siloed history
“When people have always operated in autonomous regions, asking them to sign up to global goals is a huge leap,” reveals Tracy Noon, global chief people officer at Hudson. “Yet the goodwill of our people along our journey of change has been staggering. They’re telling us to drive it to completion, which is really encouraging.” Together with CEO Manolo Marquez, Noon and the global leadership team have spent the last 18 months transforming the business from regional silos to one integrated global alliance.
Now located in 70 offices across the Americas (17 offices), Asia Pacific (16 offices) and Europe (37 offices), Hudson employs more than 2,000 people, and has an annual turnover close to US$ 800 million.
Hudson was born as an independent, publicly-traded company in April 2003 when parent company TMP Worldwide spun off its professional recruitment and search division to create a new professional services firm. At that time, 67 legacy recruitment/talent management companies were unified under one global brand. Yet prior to the spin off, there had been no attempt to integrate those firms, so Hudson was essentially an umbrella name for 67 boutique businesses, few of which spanned more than one geography.
Although five key regions (UK/Ireland, North America, Australia/New Zealand, Continental Europe and Asia) were created during 2003-2011, separate CEOs were appointed to run each region, with little or no crossover. “We were operating five independent regions and not leveraging our global footprint, which was very inefficient,” explains Noon.
In May 2011, Manolo Marquez was appointed global CEO. “After talking to key stakeholders, board members and employees, the key message he heard was: ‘you have really talented people, but there’s massive unrealised potential because you’re operating locally and not making the most of your global prospects’,” she says.
Marquez went about asking the global leadership team (comprising nine members, including Noon) how that perception resonated with them. Noon reveals: “We all agreed there were opportunities to operate more efficiently and reach clients and candidates more effectively by co-operating globally – there was a very strong desire for it.”
From there, the team ran a series of ‘blue sky thinking’ sessions with leaders across the business, asking: ‘Do we need to be more global?’, ‘What does that really mean?’ and ‘How can we transform from regional to global?’
Five key steps to success
From July 2011, Noon and the team began to consolidate ideas with the board. A hundred employees from all levels across the organisation were then called on to help put the finishing touches to the strategy. An action plan was approved by the board in September, based on five areas of focus:
- People – how to acquire, retain, develop and leverage the right people globally
- Brand – how to differentiate a global brand, delivery and capability based on expertise and quality
- Clients and services – how to work selectively with clients to add value through talent solutions
- Digital presence – how to use technology and social media to manage client and candidate intelligence
- Global footprint – how to learn from the parts of the business already collaborating globally and how to replicate that across regions
“Four months into Manolo’s leadership, we had sign-off on a vision, strategy and tactics. We began to understand the path to becoming truly global,” enthuses Noon.
There are two main aims underpinning the strategy: to create ‘one Hudson’, uniting the business on a global level, and to ensure Hudson’s employees are regarded as ‘trusted advisors’ externally. “We want to equip people to be experts and help their clients in a meaningful way – beyond simply ‘I can do a job for you’,” she comments.
The strategic program was to be rolled out in three waves: the first in 2012, the second in 2013, and third in 2014.
Creating one Hudson strategic execution
During 2012, Noon implemented the first wave of people initiatives to ‘touch those on the front line’ and demonstrate that change was real. She explains: “We realised that if all we did was talk strategy, people wouldn’t see change, they wouldn’t feel it and would become sceptical quickly, so we might find it hard to engage their hearts and minds when we were ready to take action.”
Firstly, global key performance indicators and scorecards were implemented for all leaders. To support these, a global performance management system was introduced, so everyone now has alignment with business goals. “In our 2011 engagement survey, performance management was highlighted as one of the top four elements we needed to address to drive engagement,” says Noon. “By giving it focus and attention, setting clear KPIs and implementing the system, performance management disappeared from the top four in 2012. In fact, of 25 engagement measures, 19 showed year-on-year improvement.”
Next, a ‘global standard’ internal hiring process was agreed: how many people would interview, how many interviews would happen, the competencies being assessed and who would make the final decision on new hires. To ensure all new joiners have the same experience, a global induction program is now in place.
The global leadership team also built an internal leadership development programme which they ran in every region, to equip leaders to interpret the strategy and start to integrate it into their local roles.
Developing each initiative has involved global collaboration, which for Noon has been a significant part of signalling change. “Getting people to work together across borders who previously didn’t even know each other’s names has been great,” she says. “For example, over six months, 80 people across 20 countries contributed to developing our leadership workshops. We’ve used the initiatives as an opportunity to walk the talk on global collaboration and that’s led to relationship-building all around the world.”
Developing trusted advisors
Working towards trusted advisor positioning, every recruiter has undertaken comprehensive social media training, with accreditation status awarded on completion. “Technology’s increasingly being applied in candidate sourcing, so our people need to be experts in social media to truly add value to clients,” comments Noon.
The company website has also had an overhaul, and now includes in-depth insight and thought leadership. Client response, Noon says, has been ‘fantastic’: “Traffic has increased dramatically and the revenue coming from web leads is much greater than before.”
For tangible feedback on how the company is perceived externally, candidates and clients are surveyed using Net Promoter Score methodology after working with Hudson, regardless of whether a placement has been made. “We ask how satisfied they are with their experience, so if necessary we can make improvements to our service quickly, in line with what clients want. We’ve strengthened relationships where we were able to respond immediately to concerns surfaced in the survey, and have turned high Net Promoter Scores into references used to win new business.”
This year, Noon’s team is delivering the second wave of transformation, looking at what sits behind the change and taking a tactical approach to delivering strategy – building talent, retention and employee development programmes as well as developing the competency model and scrutinising the existing career framework. She explains that at this point in the process, ‘practical and tactical’ interventions that deliver tangible results are needed. “Our talent programmes are delivered hands-on by our leaders with a strong personal touch, demonstrating the value we place on our people,” she says.
Next, Hudson will focus its people programmes on developing high potential talent and undertaking rigorous succession planning.
The long-term aspiration is to reposition the business as the leading global provider of talent solutions, and every initiative points towards that. “Like any long-term vision, it’s a marathon. If we try to sprint, we’ll fatigue our people, so we need to pace ourselves. So far, despite difficult market conditions, we’re making good headway,” adds Noon.
Tipping point for change
Eighteen months in, Noon says the business is really into the heart of transformation. Yet she’s realistic about the journey. When it comes to change, she believes there’s a natural distribution of adoption – 20% of your people will get it and lead the way as champions, 60% will follow but 20% will fall off and won’t sign up for it.
She uses a global warming analogy. “For 20 years or so, there was overriding scepticism when scientists talked about global warming; suddenly the tipping point occurred and everyone accepted it as fact.
“It’s the same for us – we’re still ‘converting’ our people to believers through demonstrating and delivering – but I feel over the next year we’ll hit the tipping point, where there will be more that’s different about Hudson than what’s left to change. Then we won’t have to push so hard because people will drive the programme themselves, change their behaviour and change it permanently. And that’s really exciting.”