Case Study: How HR became trusted business partners
When Merle Mendonca started at the Australian Financial Security Authority (AFSA) six years ago, she noted the talent function was seen more as a recruitment administration function than a professional advisory area of the organisation. There was a reliance on using recruitment agencies to find talent, and the churn seemed fairly high.
With her 15 years of experience working in HR across both the private and public sectors, she saw the opportunity to reinvent the organisation’s recruitment processes by positioning HR as professional talent partners.
While the business and corporate landscape AFSA operates in has changed significantly over time, the lessons learned in this process remain the same. Communication, engagement and unpacking relevant issues to tailor a response to current business needs are key and will always ensure HR partners effectively.
We sat down with Merle and her business client to learn more about this process.
Merle, what was the recruitment process like when you joined AFSA?
When I joined the organisation in 2016, the talent recruitment followed a reactive approach. This approach was – ‘A staff member has now left, let’s contact HR’.
The business was facing an above-average attrition rate, mostly in entry level positions. While the processes worked to fill vacant roles in the short term, it followed a one-size-fits-all approach and there was no partnership between the HR and the business teams.
What did you do to change this approach?
I decided to focus on the recruitment process for the Trustee Services division. This area looks after case management of complex bankruptcy and insolvency matters, so it’s quite technical. They were looking to recruit people with higher education in law or accounting, even for our entry-level positions.
However, I noticed that we weren’t questioning the underlying issue of staff turnover. Why were people leaving and why did we have such a high turnover?
We knew from the APS Census that only 40% of staff expressed satisfaction with recruitment processes at that time, with key issues being resourcing and mobility practices. This indicated some issues with recruitment practices, so we dug deeper. We did three key things:
- We commissioned a working group, with two executive sponsors. This was critical to establishing commitment to making this a success. The working group had representatives from the business and HR who interviewed staff and managers to understand the issues.
- We undertook extensive research into the existing job descriptions and capabilities required.
- We developed recruitment personas where we expanded the focus to widen the scope of suitable candidates by outlining personal attributes and experience that could compliment requirements in the roles.
We ran recruitment for roles across multiple sites and approached it as a campaign. We added value by working in true partnership with the business area. HR played a key role in shortlisting candidates by developing targeted questions during recruitment, using a comparative rating scale, and allocating a score across multiple variables such as targeted capabilities, motivation/job fit and technical competence. We partnered with the business through the entire process to build capability in resourcing and selection of talent.
What results did you see?
By keeping the recruitment process for the campaign in-house, upskilling the business area and undertaking the necessary research, we saw some tangible results. The results included a significant reduction in recruitment costs, a reduction in the ‘time to fill’ from 52 to 18 business days, enhanced manager capability, reduction in attrition rate and increased career mobility. With these results we got a commitment from senior levels to work more closely and proactively with HR, and a commitment from staff to make it a success.
The APS can’t afford to undervalue HR as business partners. It’s critical the HR business partner concept is alive and well nurtured because otherwise we’ll go back to HR as administrative support.
What do you think are the main considerations that really turned the perceptions of HR around?
Most importantly, you need to demonstrate commitment to really uncover the issues. The talent team dedicated a lot of time to understanding employees’ perspectives on different issues. It was an extremely lengthy process, getting multiple perspectives from all levels and finding a solution that would suit all stakeholders.
Previously, there was a strong reliance on recruitment agencies to fill positions quickly and the churn was quite high due to attracting the wrong candidates. By implementing the new process, we were able to reduce recruitment costs quite significantly and from a business perspective, there was more openness to work with HR after seeing the numbers. We made it clear we wanted to work with the business to address their resourcing issues and this demonstrated our value, which in turn helped build their confidence.
Once our final approach was developed, we rolled this process out across the division. SES travelled to all sites with HR to demonstrate their commitment in addressing the challenges staff faced on the ground. We were very fortunate to have a great team of business leaders who wanted to make this a success.
We decided to reach out to Merle’s business stakeholder, Dipen Mitra, Director AFSA, to get his side of the story.
When Merle joined AFSA she took a step back and looked at the bigger picture. Merle took the time to understand what was going on by conducting deep-dive sessions and created personas. This added immense value as it uncovered why we were facing these issues. For example, we were targeting the wrong candidates which impacted our staff turnover rate. She probed deeper and helped us realise recruitment is a two-way street.
The mindset across the division has significantly changed and when we’re now looking at filling positions, the first thing we look at is the skill sets we already have in the team. We don’t just pick up a generic job description. We tailor it to attract the right talent and enhance team capability. I then call HR to discuss what I think I need, and they will work with us to ensure we’re recruiting the right people, for the right jobs. It’s been a lasting legacy. With the capability that has been built, continuous recruitment process enhancements are underway.