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Jamie Lawrence


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Travelex HR Director: “I would not have a strategic capability without technology.”


It’s a very exciting time at Travelex as they transform from a traditional retail business into a lean technology company. Gareth Williams, Group HRD at the currency company, is leading the transformation. He tells us about his strategy, technology choices, and why he’s put his faith in the power of data.

Embracing cultural change through technology

According to technology company Kronos, the majority of shift workers check the rotas for the week ahead between 11pm and 2am on the previous Friday night. This is symptomatic of changing workforce behaviour. People want access to data when they want it, how they want it, and on the device they use.

Failing to adapt to these enormous shifts in worker expectations is not an option for Williams.

A digital native in the HR driving seat

"In the grand scheme of HRDs I’ve just turned 35, so that does make a difference, because I’ve grown up being comfortable with technology.

That’s really important, and we can disguise that and pretend it’s not important but it really is.

I think my MBA really helped me understand that when you’re trying to deliver best-in-class, whatever function and whatever business, there’s process efficiency, a technology-efficiency and a people-related efficiency.

Triangulating these three is important. And so is getting a mandate from the CEO – he’s 36 and a digital native too – to basically ‘go after it and go after it hard, and here’s the money.’ That’s pretty rare.

All those things have helped me create this vision and deliver this ambition. I would be lying if I said that as a leader I don’t naturally want to do and be something that no one else has ever has, so I want to be disruptive, I want to think outside the box, I want to do things that I’m going to be known for, and I think that’s helped me get to where I am.

And as with all of these things, it’s painful but it really is working, and if you talk to our business they’ll tell you that this is working really well."

“I believe that for us to be agile, we have to embrace cloud-based mobile technology, otherwise we’ll get left behind,” he said.

Betting on the cloud

To cope with these shifts, Travelex is undergoing massive change.

By the end of the year, the entire end-to-end employee experience will be hosted in the cloud, across five different SaaS systems – Workday (core HCM, core data, talent performance, compensation), Cornerstone (LMS), Kronos (rostering, time and attendance), Peoplefluent (talent development and application tracking) and Cloudpay (payroll).

The scale of the transformation is unprecedented.

“No other business has implemented total SaaS for the entire end-to-end employee experience. It’s a very exciting time for us.”

"This isn’t, to use the chairman’s words, 'about HR.'”

The transformation is not just about implementing technology. That’s one pillar of the process that will turn Travelex into an adaptable, lean, strategic business.

The others are:

-reforming organisational structure to fit in with the technology-led vision
-the creation of a shared service centre in Mumbai to act as an aggregator
-the creation of a centre of HR excellence.

“I made a deliberate decision on this. If you develop a hypothesis that says, ‘Standardisation and simplification of processes will allow you to standardise and simplify your HR proposition to the global business,’ then you need to ensure you have a centre of excellence that brings all those elements together.

“Ours is progressive centre of excellence, highly skilled, high in cost, but fewer people. And every one of those people – I’ve got five strands in the centre of excellence, talent and leadership, learning, technology, employee relations and workforce management – and all these are underpinned by technology.

“I would not have a strategic capability without a technology enabler. I’ve made sure the strategic capabilities are underpinned by technology enablers, that’s how you drive best-in-class cost and best-in-class speed.”

“This feeds into our overall strategy, which is focused on what the target operating model should be for both the business and for the supporting functions."

“[This is] about a business that’s on a journey from being a traditional retail business to a thin, tech business over the next three to five years."

Much of the discussion about technology transformation focuses on building the business case for senior leaders. For Gareth, senior leader buy-in was fundamental to the long-term viability of the project.

“I managed to influence and get the Group board to sign up to a technology strategy for HR that was predominantly focused around cost-out for HR and then, as a byproduct, allowing us to move faster, move cheaper and do everything else associated with core HR processes. That might be cycle time to recruit, cost to recruit, or develop and grow people through mobile technology.

“If I didn’t have the CEO and CFO and chairman behind me, this wouldn’t be happening.”

“They are 100% behind me, my ambition, what I’m trying to do, and that lends itself to the culture of the business, which is very entrepreneurial, risk-taking and agile. I’ve been in organisations where getting emotional leadership engagement from the executive team has been very difficult. I’ve dealt with terrorists, passive resisters, early adopters.

"And we’ve sent very clear signals to our organisation and the talent that want to join us that we take digital seriously, and we’ve told employees that we will give them access to anything they want, when they want it, how they want it, and that sounds great, and it is great, because it’s working.”

“The legacy of Travelex was HR admin payroll and we’ve managed to bring those 2,500 processes and 26 systems into one and what I’ve learnt as a leader is having the vision, having the ambition, having the sponsorship of the CEO and chairman and board has been instrumental, and then setting our sights on where we want to go and going there and getting there.

“Don’t get me wrong, it’s been incredibly painful, incredibly painful, but we are coming out the other side."

“Our biggest controllable cost is labour, at £285m a year. We have never, believe it or not, known accurate head count numbers, or optimisation strategies, or analytics."

Gareth is through-a-through a believer in the power of data and its ability to help Travelex optimise its costs and workforce across all territories.

“I’ve just hired two really good analysts in my Mumbai team from American Express to bring some disruption to us as a business as it relates to data and people. That might not necessarily be pure HR metrics. It may be how many passengers get served by one of our flight consultants at one time, it might be core HR analytics, it might be looking at all sorts of data as it relates to our core business, and then developing some core analytics tools.”

In terms of the analytics journey, Gareth says the company is still in its infancy, but the long-term plan is ambitious.

“Ultimately we want to develop a workforce optimisation strategy driven by data. So how do we have the right people at the right cost in the right place at the right time?

“But this isn’t just about how much they cost. It’s about imagining a world where you have your cheapest employee who is also your strongest performer operating in your most profitable location. When you start to model that and play around with it, that’s where the talent interventions and the learning and the rostering all comes from. It all goes together.”

The line manager

Part of the transformation at Travelex is a renewed focus on the importance of the line manager as a gatekeeper of data-led decision-making. Increase the availability of data to line managers, and help improve the efficiency of processes they deal with often, and you increase the overall health of your business. They are a company’s connective tissue.

Failing to recognise the importance of line managers in companies moving fast with HR technology can be extremely damaging. For Gareth, any potential problems were mitigated head-on in the beginning.

“Some of the challenges we’ve had are more targeted towards line managers getting comfortable with having this device in their pocket giving them access to everything they have that relates to their team. That’s a cultural mind set shift when you’ve traditionally had sales managers sitting behind laptops and desks. What we’ve done for our line managers and sales managers is to give them iPhones, iPads or Android devices. So we are investing in the hardware as it relates to the technology we are implementing.”

This is, of course, all linked to the data-driven strategy. Give line managers easy access to the data they need, ensure the quality of the data, train them to interpret and act on the data, and you are embedding strategic capabilities across the line manager level throughout the organisation.

The global compliance headache

Shiny HR technology looks great but one of the biggest challenges for multinationals is ensuring that the technology in each territory can deal with local compliance issues that may be starkly different. Any business that wants to implement a technology-led strategy across multiple territories must deal with this issue. The challenges are often focused around payroll compliance.

“What we called Statutory Requirements Bottom Up was a huge learning for us and the cost was more than we’d anticipated. We built and handled a lot of this ourselves internally. I built a team with testers, business analysts, contractors (which created challenges on how to retain tacit knowledge).

“One of the initial frustrations we had with our core HCM system Workday was that they didn’t have this templated out of the box for us i.e. what are the statutory requirements in the Netherlands or France or Germany? So we had to work with our implementation partner Kainos in doing a lot of the workshopping with either the local payroll team or the local HR team or the local business teams to do all the requirement gathering.

“There is a clear distinction I’ve learnt between local payroll requirements and local core HCM requirements. And that’s why we’ve got a lot of knowledge and information around each of those markets. We estimated 40 absence plans globally and it turned out to be over 700, with 92 alone in the Netherlands.”

“The ability to configure and plug and play and be agile and fast is mind-blowing. And it’s only when you see it and participate in it and take part in it do you understand it.”

Compliance and legislation changes all the time, of course, so while Gareth has been through the workshopping process for each country he also needs a strategy in place to ensure that the system can be updated when local compliance changes.

Where there’s a local statutory change, the changes will go to the SaaS aggregation team in Mumbai. They will then own the process of updating, managing and configuring these changes.

“That leads into another interesting point. We had a problem with our absence plans in the UK. Ordinarily with PeopleSoft and Oracle it would have taken weeks to get it changed, but we made the change in just under two minutes globally.”

What do the results show?

Even though the systems aren't 100% live across the globe, Gareth has seen some very promising results.

"I’ll give you some cycle times. In the Middle East, average cycle time from the point of having a vacancy, to the point of an offer, was 45 days. We’ve got that down to eight days, and that gives you an example of how agile the organisation is starting to become."

“Approvals that would have been on paper/email and would have taken days are now happening in seconds."

Gareth's technology-enabled HR vision

"It’s about disruption and it’s about fully optimised, fully integrated, cloud-based platforms that allows my line managers and global HR team to do all the value-adding activities by having good data, reliable technology on mobile devices.

Imagine a world where you have a cloud payroll solution and you build this SaaS capability with expertise in an aggregator and it changes the rules of the game because you then have local countries providing the changes directly to Cloudpay."

"In isolation a reduction in cycle time is great, but when you’ve got an average of 22,000 transactions a week going through our system, it becomes pretty incredible how fast you go.”

What does the future hold?

For Gareth, the transformation has taken many months and the attention to detail at the granular level has been incredible and necessary.

But to develop strategic capability with an HR technology enabler, attention to detail at the basic level is fundamental.

Data quality is key. If you put bad data in, you get bad data out. And that data refers to everything from local payroll rules to pay to holiday allowance and performance metrics.

A lot of hard work has happened already, but there’s a lot to go as Gareth looks to optimise data collection, distribution and decision-making, and ensure that each system provides and will continue to provide the capability and cost-savings that were part of the initial business plan. 

One Response

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Jamie Lawrence

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