Jacky Simmonds joined Experian in July 2020 as Chief People Officer and immediately set about preparing for the changes and global opportunities that will follow the pandemic. Here, she shares some of her observations from 2020 and plans for 2021.
At Experian, Jacky is responsible for the Global HR Strategy across the Group including Board and executive remuneration, reward strategy, succession planning, talent management, and organizational design. She was formerly Chief People Officer for VEON, a global connectivity, and digital services provider listed on Nasdaq and Euronext, and has also held the role of Chief HR Officer for easyJet plc and TUI Travel Group.
Here are the edited excerpts.
What key trends do you think will accelerate in the long term in terms of work? What gaps have COVID-19 brought to the fore?
Digital transformation has been hugely accelerated by necessity. This is a journey we were already heavily invested in but, for obvious reasons, we’ve needed to find new ways to do things. Things like video conferencing have just become the norm and before, it may have been unthinkable that you would offer someone a job without having physically met them!
Clearly, the question of where we work in the future is a big one. Home has become the workplace for most of our people over the past few months. We’ve been so proud of how everyone has adapted and enabled us to come through the pandemic, and we know that people have appreciated and benefited from the additional flexibility working remotely has given them—especially where people have had long commutes to the office.
As we look to the future, we’re excited to re-open offices but we believe the purpose they serve will be quite different; a place to collaborate, to connect, and to socialize as well as a place to work. This will give people more choice and ultimately, work location will be a blend of home and office, designed to work well for our people as well as our business.
How do you see the larger HR landscape evolving in 2021? How should talent leaders reimagine workforce management?
I think the game has changed in so many areas that most leaders, like myself, will be engaged in adapting to it. We have to answer big questions like how different ways of working might affect culture and how we should maximize the benefits and mitigate the challenges. Then we have to consider more tactical realities like how employee benefits, recruitment processes, and workforce planning are impacted.
In the past when we have thought about the workforce, we have tended to think in terms of our geographies; the talent available in that market. The view now becomes much broader with less reliance on offices so we think more in terms of the skills and capabilities we need, which could be applied globally.
I also see companies playing a much larger role in the physical and mental health of their people than we have previously experienced.
A lot of firms are talking about how they enhanced employee productivity and engagement amid this crisis. How are you ensuring this?
We’ve experienced this too. Measures of employee productivity have increased through COVID and our people have reported feeling more productive—in part due to lack of commute, giving them more time to work and spend with families as well. While we are obviously pleased by the increased productivity, we’re aware that in some cases, that’s coming from people struggling to switch off and delineate their work and home lives, so we’re working to help our people find ways to manage this better over the long term. In terms of engagement, we are seeing increases in this too and we’ve pinned that down to two things.
Firstly, our commitment to put people first through the pandemic has made them feel truly valued. Secondly, our efforts to do our part to help individuals, companies and even governments navigate through the crisis has given people a sense of pride in being part of a company that is focused on doing good in their communities and in the world more broadly.
What role are top leaders playing in boosting the employee experience at their workplace? What is Experian doing differently to enhance the employee experience for their virtual workforce?
Leaders and managers are, of course, critical in this. A company may set the tone, but people’s experiences are lived through their day to day interactions and that is largely defined by managers.
We’re running a new program aimed at equipping our managers to maintain our fantastic culture, ensure high performance and also, really importantly, to keep themselves strong through the current situation. We are also listening keenly to our people—we have increased the frequency of our ‘check-ins’ with our people through regular pulse surveys; it’s so important that we stay firmly tuned in to what our people are thinking about the big questions and what they need from us to be well in themselves and to work effectively. We’ve focused keenly on our people’s mental health and have run an array of group mindfulness and yoga sessions and even virtual escape rooms to keep the fun in place. We’ve also found ways to replicate some of the unintended benefits of the office that we were missing, such as ‘Connect 4’ which organizes for 4 randomly selected colleagues to meet virtually; re-creating the random encounters you may make in the office, such as at the coffee machine.
The pandemic will be an impetus for innovation in times to come, as many experts say. What have been the biggest lessons this pandemic has highlighted in terms of the culture of innovation?
The pandemic has forced innovation in terms of solving problems that were created by having to work differently, but we have also seen innovation increase in unexpected ways.
We run Hackathons quite regularly where employees get together to generate new ideas and solutions. These are often done by co-located people physically getting together—but in taking these virtually we have been able to make these much broader. We ran our first ever global Hackathon with 1,000 of our people participating in cross-regional teams and given we know that diverse perspectives lead to better outcomes, this was a huge win. We are currently running a larger portfolio of new innovation projects than we were pre-pandemic.
What would be your key priorities in 2021 as a talent leader?
We will be continuing our focus on building the skills we need to ensure our ongoing growth and success—we’ve got some big ambitions as a company and we need world-class talent on our side to achieve them. We are also looking at how we can better prepare our organization to seize global opportunities quickly; with offices in 45 countries, we are well-placed to do this. We will also be focused on continuing to make Experian a great place for our employees to work but also to learn and to grow their careers.
What's one lesson you have learned from this pandemic?
People are much more adaptable than we often give them credit for. If you have great people on your side, even when you are thrown a huge curveball you can come through it not only OK but stronger!