Unity across the globe
In October 2006, Experian was demerged from the British company GUS plc and listed on the London Stock Exchange. But the acquisition of various businesses after the demerger created difficulties in getting everyone aligned under one business identity.
So in April 2012, Experian launched an initiative dubbed ‘Heart of Experian.’ “We wanted to signal to employees that, whatever business you have come from, whatever business you are in, you are part of one global organisation,” explains Wells.
Creating one collective identity
A first step for the global leadership team was to identify what was good about the business, what traits it wanted to keep, and where it wanted to get to. “Our entrepreneurial spirit, enthusiasm, and collegiate nature of our people were elements we wanted to stay,” says Wells. “We wanted a collective identity to link people globally so they feel an attachment to the brand. We came up with three words: connect, protect and create.”
For Wells, whatever part of the organisation you operate in, you are connecting – whether externally with clients or internally in the business. ‘Protect’ is around data – being a good steward of information and helping people protect their identity; ‘create’ is about helping clients create new opportunities for revenue. “We asked everyone to ensure they understood what these words meant for them in their area of operation, and that resonated with the business,” he adds.
Echoing across cultures
Heart of Experian was launched to the group in April 2012 by the then CEO, Don Robert. To ensure it resonated with every team across all 40 countries of operation, an ambassador network was launched. It has been hugely helpful.
“We have so many cultures here, we knew there’s not one thing you can say that will apply to everyone unless you let them work in a framework of their own. So we identified key ambassadors to work with local leaders on initiatives to help people engage with it.”
Examples of initiatives run at local level include competitions to write a song, create a video and tell a story under themes like ‘a day in the life of’ or ‘the difference a day can make’ and link this to local communities. People are invited to upload their entries to the global intranet and can vote for their favourite.
For Wells, initiatives like this help generate enthusiasm, particularly in disparate regions such as EMEA, which with Experian comprises 20 countries and “small pockets” of people. “People are given permission to do what’s right for them in their environment and they love it,” he says. And connecting Heart of Experian to the social responsibility agenda helps to further embed this.
Rather than imposing ‘corporate propaganda’, Wells believes giving people the space to create their ideas drives engagement. “We want you to bring the whole of you to work. What matters is the people you work next to and for – your boss and team will have more effect than anything we do in head office,” he says.
To take the organisation’s temperature and find out how the Heart of Experian change has been perceived, Experian rolled out its regular global people survey with an additional question asking people about the initiative; it received 6,000 responses.
Of those, Wells says around 65% felt the change was fantastic, 21% said it was great but there’s not enough traction, and 14% said it was ‘not making a difference’. So the recent focus has been to turn that 14% and 21% into advocates.
“We’ve done roadshows and focus groups to get feedback. We’ve also gone back to the roots of the business, interviewed some of the first employees to find out what it was like to work here and how the company developed – in the hope of bringing some of that back,” he explains.
Wells plans to conduct a global people survey every 18 months with ‘pulse surveys’ in between, and is clear that, after each study, tangible action will be taken – globally, regionally and locally.
Focus on leadership
Wells thinks that, when things go wrong, it’s usually down to local leadership, so Experian has invested heavily in developing leaders in the organisation. Launched in 2014, ‘Engaging Minds’ is a programme to help Experian’s 3,200 leaders and line managers better engage and motivate people. It is being rolled out and so far 1,000 managers have taken part in the workshop.
The ‘Experian Business Network’ is a six-day programme that aims to “identify junior talent and pull it through”. As part of this, participants attend sessions on how to present themselves, talk to the board and career progression etc.
They are also given exposure to senior leaders and gain access to a mentor who is usually “one of the top 100 connected people in the business”, says Wells.
A ‘CEO Forum’ programme brings together more senior leaders who share their challenges in a peer-to-peer-style roundtable format, together with the CEO; allowing them to gain insight from colleagues outside their functional area.
Underpinning these leadership activities is a belief on Wells’ part that the organisation needs to ensure talent is coming through. In turn, this has resulted in positive action on diversity. “When we started we had 11% females in the top 100 but now we have 25%,” he adds.
Reinventing the employee proposition
With 45% of Experian’s 16,000 staff characterised as Generation Y, Wells acknowledges the need for the organisation to be “short and sharp” when it comes to future talent.
“Most of our workforce are knowledge workers and in huge demand, so we have to respond to the ever-changing needs of the workforce to keep them,” he says.
As such, Experian has put a lot of thought into “constantly reinventing” its employee proposition. “Generation Y is more entrepreneurial, they don’t want to work for big corporates.
“Their work and home life need to be merging much more than a traditional career so we have to respond by giving them freedom,” Wells says.
He has also observed the power of employee referrals in gleaning new talent. “We’ve got a huge range of businesses, from consumer, credit services, marketing services to decision analytics – all driven by technology, which means this is a really exciting place to work.”
And for Wells, continued efforts around the culture of Experian help to distinguish it as an employer of choice. “If you look after people, it pays off as everyone else sees how you treat them and they want to join you,” he adds.
Poised for growth
Since the demerger, Experian has doubled its growth and Wells highlights the importance of getting the right people to continue this.
Ultimately, he wants Experian to be a “high-performing business that’s loaded with high-performing people”, and hopes HR can drive premium growth by creating a great place to work. Wells believes the key to success has been a consistent strategy and “low-ego” approach. “There are no superstars here, it’s about the team,” he says.
“It’s about everyone doing their bit, which means everybody is respectful of each other’s contribution and this is reflected in our incentives – if the business does well, everyone does well. It’s a great philosophy, and makes everyone feel part of a community – and that’s great to be part of,” he concludes.