“HR must be client centric”. Anne Boucher (SNCF)

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Anne Boucher
Among my favorite HR matters when it comes to digital, there are client orientation and simplification. In many businesses we can see pioneers following this path. Today I’m sharing a transcript of my interview with Anne Boucher, International HR Manager at  SNCF (french railroads).
Bertrand Duperrin :Hello Anne. Could you tell us more about your mission at SNCF ?
 
Anne Boucher : I’m in charge of international human resources. It’s a department I built in 2011. It started very small and eventually grew up fast because, now, 30% of the company’s revenue comes from international activities.

HR must start with their internal customer’s needs

We had to implement more and more things over time. At the beginning it was only about packages and today we’re asked to establish the HR programs that will support the growth of our business outside of France.
BD : What’s been your guiding principle so far ?
 
AB : I took a marketing perspective. I’m an engineer so I’m rather cartesian and like to find rational responses to issues but I started my career in sales/marketing activities where I learned customer centricity.
So I started from our internal problems and needs. For our international activities, the first is to quickly identify talents. We poorly know them, we’ve been mainly relying on cooptation so I had to make our approach broader and more scalable.
BD : Is it about internal or external talents ?
AB : Mainly internal. Business is carried through the subsidiaries of SNCF Group (Eurostar, Keolis, Thalys…) and they need skilled people for the core-activities of our rail business. One can develop these skills only at SNCF or at our international competitors, so it limits our playground for sourcing.
BD : So, what are your international internal clients special  ?
AB : Compared to France, planning and pace are quite different. In France we know our workforce and if someone leaves for any reason have have time to work on a replacement plan. Our international operations are based on responses to RFPs. We never know when they will be issued, they can be delayed, the decision can be delayed…but if we win we must be able to staff quickly.
So the international nature of our operation forces us to work as “firemen”.
At the beginning we relied on a forward planning of employment and skills…and after 4 months we realized that our figures were 90% wrong. The methods we used to apply in France did not work in our international context so we had to innovate.
BD : What did you do ?
AB : I  wanted to create in internal candidates pool. I was told it was not going to work but I decided to try. I started from our project directors’ needs abroad and worked with them to define the business skills they needed. Then we created a tool making it easy to query based on business and behavioral skills that are required to work abroad.

Mobility must be a proactive approach

Among the skills required to work abroad there is autonomy, so applying for a job abroad must a voluntary and autonomous action. We don’t register anyone in the pool, those who want to join must voluntarily apply. People must be willing to work abroad so we won’t contact people who may have the skills but did not apply to this international candidates pool.

A candidates community and network makes staffing faster

We did that in 2013. The tool works well and is still used. We have 3000 CVs that can be searched easily. Nothing is mandatory except providing one’s CV and mobile phone number. As a matter of fact I sometimes get a request on a friday afternoon tio identify candidates for the next monday so I must be able to go fast and contact them anytime.

 

BD : Did the way you’re managing the pool changed over time ?
AB : Yes…I started to use it more and more like a a network. I contact candidates from the pool to ask them if they know someone who could ba interested by offers I have and it works pretty well.

I also do a specific community management job on some segments like profiles that do no have the required experience to go abroad yet but will be good candidates tomorrow. We’re helping them, advising them, making them meet with business people to help become good international candidates in the future.

BD : A pragmatic and client centric approach…
AB : Anything I do is done to help my clients. I have to clients : the business and the employees.

“HR have two clients : the business and the employees”

BD : A client centric approach is not the norm in HR…
AB : At the very beginning it was  not easy. “Client” is not a word I was supposed to use in an HR context. But today everybody finds it normal since it works.  Moreover, international activities is a great playground to try things than can be implemented in France afterwards.
BD : Isn’t it too difficult to do in France what you made in the international department with a startup approach ?
AB : In my field it’s working pretty well and we have many returns of experience that inspire France.
BD : Back to client centricity…how does it actually work ?
AB : Let’s start with employees.
Being client-centric means not lying to the client. No false promise : when we see that someone won’t be able to go international we don’t leave him or her with unrealistic expectations. Frustration is bad for engagement so making people believe they’ll have international opportunities while we know they won’t is useless. There are profiles and functions we don’t need, that’s how things are. We expatriate those who are essential and that we can’t find on the local market.

HR must be transparent and honest towards the “employee” client

Then, for those who fit in the scope, being client centric means nurturing the relationship. The opportunity may not come right now or at a moment when they’re not looking for a new position. So, regarding to candidates ready for expatriation, we must build a long term relationship. Moreover, I’m responsible of their contract, package, bringing them to destination, bringing them back. It must be a close, relational and long-term relationship.
There’s a major difference between France and international when it comes to staffing ? Recruiters hire then “pass” the employee to a manager and a career manager that manage the relationship over time. For international activities, the same department is in charge of all these actions so it gives her a greater responsibility. Moreover, we’re also helping their family to move so it goes beyond work and becomes much moe personal. We have an huma responsibility. We can’t lie on the promise, we must keep it.
Expatriation is not a job, it’s an experience.
BD : And what’s about client centricity regarding to the business ?
AB : It’s simple : business must be done and it’s up to us to find the right people to join the teams responding to RFPs and then to deliver if we’re selected.
BD : How this client centricity is translated into initiatives ?
AB : For example, regarding to internal mobility, we have HR solutions and processes that make that not all offers are available to everyone at the same time. It does not meet my responsiveness requirements so I created a Twitter account that publishes these offers.

Il helps to go much faster. With Twitter my record is two candidates found in two hours. That’s quite disruptive regarding to our mobility processes.

BD : So you’re using external tools to make offers bounce-back inside ?
AB : External tools help to get rid of some barriers, IT for instance, and give us an agility internal solutions don’t provide. IT is there to manage security, I need responsiveness. Tools allowing to go fast are outside, not inside.
I also use SMSs a lot to ask people to help me find candidates.

In fact I turned employees and candidates into partners.

I’m also networking a lot. I regulary invite expatriates to video conferences because they’re far and may feel lonely, disconected with thr HQ. So I make people meet with their counterparts in other countries to have discussions just like they would have in a dinner.

HR’s jobs is to fix its clients ‘ problems

Either employees or the business, my clients have a problem.. My job is to fix it.
Another example : many people at SNCF are highly skilled but don’t have an engineering degree because they learned everything on the job in the company. Since many foreign countries require engineering degrees I’ve partnered with engineering schools to help them graduate based on their experience faster that the usual 18 months process used for experienced professionals. This kind of approach solves my two clients problems at the same time.
BD : Let’s change topics. A lot is being said about HR Digitization. What does it mean to you.
AB : What I’ve been trying to do so far is to prove through small and concrete initiatives that digital helps to make things easier and faster.

HR digitization : make things easier and faster

I don’t believe in the future of career managers or people planning others’ career. People are living in a world where everything is possible in a self-service mode. Things should be the same at work.
Even if I don’t meet the criteria, I think that I have a lot in common with Gen Y because it’s rather a matter of moment than of age. People will want more and more self-service. I believe in the liberalisation of internal jobs markets. What exists today to manage internal offers and mobility is to cumbersome, complicated.

HR solutions should be designed to help employees, not only HR

Today, HR tools are designed to make HR work easier but I believe that HR digitization is about inventing tools what make employee’s life easier. No tool has been designed for employees so far.
Thanks a lot for your time…

You can also follow Anne on Twitter