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Spotlight on Ruth Smyth, Global Director of People Capital at Alexander Mann Solutions
by Ruth SmythGlobal Director of People Capital 23rd Feb 2017
As a leading global talent acquisition and management provider, Alexander Mann Solutions has a front row seat to the changes sweeping across workforces worldwide. With operations on every continent, a large proportion of its global workforce based on client sites, and a rapidly growing global customer base, it is imperative Alexander Mann Solutions has the technology capable of supporting its culture as it moves into new territories.
Alexander Mann Solutions’ Global Director of People Capital, Ruth Smyth, spoke with us about the growth of the organization and how the business incorporated Workday to meet these evolving needs.
Throughout your career you’ve seen HR from both the client and agency sides of the fence. Could you tell us a little bit more about your background and experience?
I’ve been with Alexander Mann Solutions for nine years. Prior to that I worked client-side with PwC as part of its consulting practice. I was working with clients on aspects of HR delivery, such as the way their HR teams are organized, opportunities for shared services, and improving efficiencies. I took my first operational position with Alexander Mann Solutions in 2007 and my role has evolved across the HR function, starting with employee relations and then moving into business partnering. More recently, I have been focused on the entire people portfolio, which includes talent development, talent acquisition, business partnership, our corporate global citizenship program and, most recently, internal communications.
Can you talk us through some of the major challenges Alexander Mann Solutions faces from both a business and an HR perspective?
We have a globally dispersed workforce of more than 3,000 employees, with presence in over 80 countries. We have grown organically, and our employee populations vary depending on our presence in each country.
When you consider those two things together, against the fact that less than a third of our people sit in an Alexander Mann Solutions office and that another third are remote workers, there is a real challenge in terms of creating and maintaining our corporate culture. How do we make sure all employees feel part of the business, and are aligned to the values and strategy wherever they may be? This is one of the key features of our people strategy, and how we continually engage our people is probably the hardest challenge we face.
In today’s environment, agility is obviously a key factor. How important is agility when it comes to supporting talent acquisition and management on a global scale?
The market for talent acquisition and management can be volatile—it’s the nature of the beast. We need to respond to upturns and downturns our clients face within their own organizations and sectors. A good example would be the recent downturn in the energy sector, where we have a number of global clients—something like that really impacts a company’s ability to hire. We need to be able to realign our resources and respond quickly to changes in hiring volumes, or where demands for products or services fluctuate across geographies. We’re continuously asking ourselves, what else? Can we be even more agile? Are we enabling our colleagues to work flexibly? Have we appropriately tapped into our contingent labor workforce? Armed with insights and data to answer these questions, we can make better decisions about how we support colleagues in different environments to service our growing business.
Alexander Mann Solutions has to contend with its own rapid growth and business change as well as respond to those trends of your customers. What is HR’s role in facilitating that growth?
When you consider the scale of our growth over the last eight or nine years, HR has had a front-and-center role. HR takes part in business planning exercises on a quarterly basis, but we’re not just thinking about anticipated headcount fluctuations; we are thinking about skills we need to support global growth. How are we responding to industry trends and challenges? Which regions are we building out our products and services? And how might that impact the skills and talent profiles of the people we need to bring in or to develop from within our business?
We market our brand to prospective candidates in a way that’s reflective of our corporate values, so we’re not simply attracting candidates who have the skills to fill a role, but who best “fit” the organization and have the potential to grow into any number of global roles. We particularly pride ourselves on building foundational skills in our business and putting employees on long-term structured career development plans.
Perhaps the most important part is for HR to be central to business and scenario planning. For example, if we expanded into the Americas by 30 percent against the current business plan, what would that mean in terms of people and skill requirements? And how do we organize our priorities around those different scenarios?
Can you walk us through the decision to transform Alexander Mann Solutions’ HR systems, and how you went about building the business case?
When we look back at the system that we had, and map that against the challenge of growing rapidly and having leaders with teams across multiple geographies, it clearly would not let us scale or support the business as it changed. The system had been heavily customized over the years, as we added new pieces to perform particular tasks. The data was spread across a multitude of systems and spreadsheets, and knitting that data back together was a complex task. From a management perspective, having numerous systems with customizations also meant we had to rely on particular individuals from our provider with a specific knowledge of how the product was developed, which was a huge risk.
Essentially, we were spending too long managing the system and creating data and not enough time answering the “so what?“ questions. That’s incredibly frustrating for a team that wanted to quickly answer the bigger business questions.
And once you had implemented Workday, where were the areas you saw improvements?
I think having the ability to streamline and standardize processes globally had a huge impact on our productivity and general efficiency across the business. Also, being able to provide managers with deeper insights and visibility into their teams —regardless of where they may be based—meant we were able to improve how we measure employee performance and the way we recognize our top talent. Then, of course, empowering employees by giving them the ability to access important HR functions via mobile devices was another benefit.Click here to view the article on Workday.