6,000 brand advocates
When I ask Kevin Hough how many people make up the recruitment team at insurance company LV=, his answer is simple: 6,000.
As group head of resourcing, Hough is clear that every single one of LV=’s employees is a brand advocate and it is this mindset that he is keen to promote within the business. “The whole of LV= should be advocates and assist with our talent acquisition,” he says. “That’s what we want to leverage.”
Since the company transformed itself from Liverpool Victoria to LV=, Hough and his team have been working tirelessly to ensure the employer brand is aligned to the consumer brand; together with highlighting that LV= isn’t a “run of the mill” financial services organisation. This has been achieved with a consistent set of messages, with ‘real’ LV= people as the face of the brand, and making sure that the employer brand story lives up to reality. “It’s sometimes tough to get people to understand why an employer brand is so critical,” admits Hough. “But it underpins everything that we do and is just as essential as a product brand.”
Local branding owning the town
Today, LV= employs more than 6,000 staff working across 23 locations in the UK. While resourcing activity now comprises a mix of volume hire and technical/professional roles, Hough explains that, up until 2009, recruitment was focused mostly around the company’s head office in Bournemouth and was largely volume-based, hiring call-centre staff in the main with the heavy use of agencies.
When Hough took on the role of group head of resourcing in 2011 (having joined the business in 2008 and subsequently undertaken a range of project management and HR roles), a key challenge facing the team was to raise awareness of LV= as an employer in critical locations, underpinned by an ‘own the town’ mentality.
LV= began by undertaking a major overhaul of its careers site to include local content, allowing each of its locations to be showcased individually, with relevant local vacancies, stories from the local office and a welcome message from a local employee on each page.
“As a business, we don’t have subcultures but every site is different in terms of the people, the environment and what business activity takes place there, so we needed our website to reflect that,” explains Hough. “This way, LV= is showcased as a local employer, with local people owning the brand, so people are more likely to want to apply.”
Telling authentic stories
LV= also utilised more ‘traditional’ outdoor advertising methods such as bus shelter posters, and ensured ‘real’ staff members were featured on these to “give a face to the brand”. These have now largely been replaced with social media campaigns, which Hough believes are more powerful and flexible than outdoor advertising.
“It’s not just about promoting a vacancy on social media, it’s an opportunity for us to authentically articulate what it’s like to work here,” says Hough. “As the economy improves, we need to be able to flex our employer brand, demonstrating why people should come and join us – it’s not about offering individuals more money to tempt them.
“We’re proud to tell our people’s stories, and it’s really taken off. Recently we’ve even had some great posts from our employees’ families, saying how much they enjoy working for us and what a difference we’ve made. That’s real authenticity coming through,” enthuses Hough.
Most recently, LV= has introduced ‘poaching cards’ to further leverage the power of current employees as brand advocates. “If you experience great service, and think someone would make a great addition to LV=, you can give them a card to let them know they’ve been spotted and to encourage them to get in touch,” explains Hough.
Moving to direct sourcing
LV= hires around 1,800 people annually, and since 2008 the 18-strong team of in-house resourcers has transformed the function from an 82% reliance on agency recruitment to 96% direct.
Many of the current recruitment team are former customer service reps who have come up through the business and know the organisation inside out. For Hough, building a team of great recruiters, getting them passionate about direct sourcing and embedding a sense of ownership was a key objective when he came into the role. “The team work extremely hard and all team members have a significant input into what we do and how we do it; our shared goal is to be a best-in-class recruitment function. That’s the only way we can be successful in my mind.”
And while he is extremely proud of the team and its achievements, Hough is clear that there is still more to do. “We’re pretty critical of what we do as a team, we’re always looking for ways to take our proposition to the next level,” he states.
Last year alone, the team saved the business a further £0.5 million in direct hiring activity purely by leveraging Linkedin. However, Hough is wary of placing too much reliance on one channel and points out the importance of innovation in recruitment. “Linkedin is just one of the tools. Getting the business engaged in finding different ways to uncover talent is crucial. Not everyone is on Linkedin,” he points out.
Ultimately, Hough is clear that LV= must remain self-critical about the people it recruits, and part of this is identifying what areas of talent the business needs to consider for the future. “There will be talent gaps we don’t know we will have yet,” he adds.
The past year has seen a particular focus on hard to fill, business-critical roles. “If we don’t fill these roles, the business could be impacted. Actuaries are hard to recruit, for example, and it’s an industry-wide challenge. We looked closely at how we were attracting these individuals, and found that there was only one line on our careers site that mentioned actuaries, so we developed an attraction strategy which included a dynamic careers page on Linkedin and an actuarial hub on our careers website.”
While for many organisations a demonstrator of ROI in recruitment is simply focused on cost saving, Hough argues this is just one step on the journey and wants to ensure that LV= moves beyond this by measuring true quality of hire.
“We are fortunate that our executive team recognises that talent and recruitment are critical to the business. It’s not just about bringing people in but developing our people internally. Talent acquisition has got to be joined up with L&D and internal progression,” says Hough.
Career development opportunities
While there will always be a demand for external talent, Hough is now turning part of his focus towards leveraging internal talent. “We’re mostly reliant on our people seeing internal vacancies and applying for them, so we’re looking at how we can better facilitate cross-skilling and horizontal moves within the business and building and linking internal talent teams,” he says.
When it comes to external hires, Hough emphasises the importance of making sure potential candidates understand the available progression opportunities and using this to inform the employer branding process.
“Everyone knows a successful approach to a candidate is not just the pitch of the role in question, it’s what that individual could become,” he says.
While creating an attractive employer brand proposition for potential candidates is fundamental for Hough, he acknowledges the need to ensure you follow through on your employer brand message. And he believes this all comes down to behaviours and values. “Our values and behaviours are prevalent throughout our recruitment, assessment
and performance management processes and used in the communications language across the business – it’s consistent. People have got to feel the culture right from the word go. I couldn’t be an ambassador for LV= if I didn’t think it was a great place to work,” he adds.
It is clear that Hough is extremely proud of the LV= culture, which he admits is hard to articulate but is fundamentally based on attitude. “We want people who are forward thinking, hard working and understand the right way to engage and get things done. “It’s not about bums on seats, and I’m clear about that,” he says. “We’d rather have empty seats than the wrong people.”
To that end, Hough reveals that his central recruitment team plays a key role in taking the time to understand
what line managers are looking for. “We work really closely with the business and line managers. You can’t understand the business challenge if you’re getting it third hand,” he says. “I believe we have a seat at the table, but you have to work hard constantly to make sure you understand what the business needs.”
For example, to give its customer service reps a better lifestyle, LV= has worked hard to improve its shift patterns for full and part-time workers.
Hough explains: “The business wanted us to help develop their part-time strategy in our Huddersfield office. We did some research to understand what local people were interested in [in terms of the proposition, e.g. hours and salary expectations]; especially from a part-time perspective. We used this research to identify our part-time target market; predominantly students, working mums, and retirees.
“It was from this that we developed our new part-time proposition. This was so successful when piloted in our Huddersfield office, and this was then rolled out at other core locations. It means that, when considering shift patterns, we don’t make fundamental mistakes of start times that may conflict with bad traffic/childcare arrangements, for example.”
For Hough, this approach has been “transformational” in helping to improve employees’ quality of life and how the business operates. “As technology improves we know that people expect to work in a different way, in different working environments, potentially with split shifts etc. and we will need to think about what people want, how we use office, our space, and so on – then take it from there.”
The rise of technology
As such, technology is playing an increasing role in LV=’s talent acquisition strategy, and Hough recognises the importance it can play in gaining insights about the business, engaging with stakeholders at all levels and building future talent pools.
From a recruitment perspective, a key priority for 2015 is improving the LV= careers website offering and mobile application process. And while Hough acknowledges the benefits of assessment and selection tools which can help to predict the success of a candidate once in role, he is also keen to retain the face-to-face proposition, which he says LV= has become known for. “I wouldn’t want someone to go through a faceless interview, that’s just not what we’re about,” he says.
The company has produced a leaflet using Aurasma technology to hand out at careers fairs. “The leaflets are specific to each of our business areas, so when you hover over the static image with your phone and it immediately plays a video from the relevant executive member within the business area. It helped us take our offline media online, which is great,” he explains.
Another big project for Hough in 2015 is re-defining the employee value proposition. Key to this is using the data LV= already has available, through its employee engagement surveys, joiner/leaver surveys, market mapping and additional tools such as Linkedin, to work out how the brand is currently being perceived.
This will be followed up by testing the outputs with current LV= people. For Hough, this ensures the “go to market” recruitment proposition is clear, but segmented by the differing audiences they’re looking to attract. “It’s how we can demonstrate the LV= difference.”
Hough is also keen to develop LV=’s social media channels to further move them from a broadcast mechanism to more interactive channels that “create conversations and showcase thought leadership” from senior leaders within the business.
Looking to the future
For now, what exercises Hough is his belief that the employer branding box will never be completely ticked and he is keen to ensure his team remains self-critical on the agenda. “You have to keep evolving constantly with this,” he says.
“I’m not interested in leading a re-active recruitment function, alongside my team I want to continue to be a fundamental part and driver of what the business aspires to achieve over the coming years.”
When it comes to strengthening your employer brand, Hough believes you have to be very clear from the outset on what you are trying to do. “Getting senior leadership buy-in is key. Your stakeholders need to see the journey you are going on and understand why it is so fundamental,” he says. “Then, as you are progressing, keep a record of MI to demonstrate what you have achieved – tracking the end-to-end journey helps the business see the progress you have made and the value you have added.” As for LV=, Hough is pleased with the progress the business has made so far and the next stage of the journey is to continue to differentiate LV=’s message depending on who it wants to attract, while keeping a consistent feel.
“A customer service representative dealing with a motor policy, for example, is very different to a representative working in our life and pension business, and as different again to an actuary. We need to engage differently with candidates for each of these roles, as the proposition is unique.
“Getting that balance right will really put us on the map, and it all starts with our existing people. Our people are the best ambassadors for the LV= employer brand and they are key to helping us achieve further success in the talent acquisition world,” Hough concludes.
Kevin Hough has been group head of resourcing at LV= since 2011, having previously worked for Zurich, the British Army and the police.