A Fully Virtual RPO Implementation

Interested in learning how Allegis Global Solutions evolved its approach to implementing recruitment process outsourcing (RPO) programs amid a pandemic? In this episode of Subject to Talent, AGS’ APAC Vice President Sarah Wong and Global Director of Operations Belinda Walker share a successful implementation with personal care corporation Kimberly-Clark that took place completely virtually across 12 countries in 15 weeks. Check it out!

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F:Welcome to Subject To Talent, brought to you by Allegis Global Solutions. Similar to you, we're always trying to learn more. On this podcast, we speak to talent experts around the world, covering workforce management, market trends, technology, and our forever evolving dynamic industry.

Thank you for joining us on this episode of Subject To Talent. I’m your host, Frank EdgeWe are very excited to welcome AGS’ very own APAC Vice President, Sarah Wong and Global Director of Operations, Belinda Walker.  Today they will discuss the process of a 100% virtual implementation for a recruitment process outsourcing program for Kimberly-Clark across 12 countries in just 15 weeks. You’ll hear stories about the planning, roadblocks, and lessons learned along the way.

Let’s listen in….

S: Thanks for coming in today. Look, we like to start all our episodes by learning about how you got into this industry. So tell me, how did you get into this industry?

BYeah. Thanks, Sarah. Good question. So look, to be honest, I fell into this industry. So having started my career in the UK as an analytical chemist, I moved to Asia in 2000 on what was meant to be just a two-year assignment for my husband. During which time, I was actually taking a career break to focus on the children. But four years later, I was still in Asia and in need of a job. So I wanted to do something different and more people-focused. So I joined a relocation firm. I ended up moving some of the leadership team of a global recruitment agency, and they obviously saw something in me that they liked. They spent the next six months convincing me to join them. So I ended up spending four years in agency recruitment before joining AGS back in 2011. So I feel I've been really lucky. My move to Asia enabled me to change up my career, and I've actually found something that I'm really passionate about. I love the fast-paced environment. I love that each day is different. For me, it's never boring, and I still get to use my analytical brain, solutioning, and driving, best-in-class recruitment operations, which I really love. But how about you, Sarah? How did you get into the industry?

SWow, it's a great story. And thank you for sharing that with us. I, in a way, it was a little bit more planned. I mean, I think most people fall into recruitment. They don't necessarily planned to be a recruiter when they're at uni. I was working in London, actually in an investment bank, and I started recruiting a lot of people for that bank while I was doing another role. And then I realized that actually, I preferred recruitment than I did banking. So I left the bank, and at the time, outsourcing was just commencing in London. It was great time in the industry. I joined an RPO firm then, and that's been it really for the last 25-years. So anyway, B, there's been huge challenges this year in our business. A lot of different things impacting our business this year. So can you share with me at a high level what some of those things are?

BYeah, sure. Look it has been very challenging, hasn't it? I mean, as you know, many of the Asia-Pac countries have been hit particularly hard. We were the first region to go into the pandemic. So we went in very early in the year and we've had some of the longest and stringent lockdowns in the world. The majority of our key markets with the exception of China are all still in various stages of lockdown. It's just been ongoing. And this has obviously had a huge impact on our clients and their need to hire permanent talent. So we've seen several key shifts, not only in the way we do business but also, what our clients value from us. Our clients have looked to redeploy and re-skill their internal talent first where at all possible, which is great, but that has meant we've had to adapt our teams and the business to enable that. We've had to be really flexible and agile. We downsized our teams, and then we've had to grow them back up again at speed. We've had to repurpose our teams on client sites. Turning them to assist with redeployment within their customer organizations. And in some cases with some outplacement services as well. We've had to show real agility in training our teams to recruit different skillsets for customers. And we've had to manage scalability through our global recruitment delivery centers as well. Now on top of that, we've also seen a significant shift to digital recruitment and an entire online process. I mean, we could never have imagined last year a scenario where we would hire a senior executive into one of our customer organizations without a single face-to-face interaction. And then also onboard them digitally so that they could work from home. We just couldn't have imagined that, could we? And this is now our everyday world. And there's been a real need to partner with our clients to restructure their processes and to introduce technology to enable that. This is across the end-to-end process from sourcing and selection right through to assessment and onboarding of the talent. So, our customers have had to spend more time focusing on this, but they've had less cash to do it. So we, as an organization, have had to be quite innovative around what we will bring that will offer them the most value and return on investment. And then I think another change we're seeing this year is that our customers are becoming more localized again. There are a number of key drivers for that. Part government-directed with regulatory bodies in some of the countries really advocating hard to ensure that local talent is considered first. And that's a good thing, but it has had a big impact on some of our markets, such as Hong Kong, Malaysia, and Singapore. For us, this narrows our talent pools and means we need to look at complementary skillsets to fill roles locally in many instances. Okay, Sarah, I'm sure you've seen other challenges and changes in the way we've had to do business this year. Do you want to share your insights?

SYeah, B, I just think, as you said, there are just so many, I mean, even one of the biggest impacts, and I was talking to Leanne about this this morning. It's just all those Zoom and video calls you do. And this now research around how exhausting that is. It causes cognitive dissonance within our brains. And what it means is that people just get worn out by being on videos all day long. I must've been moaning to her about how tired I felt this morning. And she was telling me about this psychological research that's been done. So that in itself was one of the biggest changes for us to do that... all our work virtually. And I guess that brings me to my next question. Amongst all the challenges that we've had, and you've just pointed out. It's actually no wonder you've had any sleep at all this year. But we were really fortunate to land a new client. So, could you share with us what was it like to complete a full virtual implementation?

BYeah, you're right. I haven't had much sleep this year. Let me share a little bit of background with you to start with. So the client I'd like to talk about is Kimberly-Clark (KC) and our journey with them in Asia-Pac. So it was an incredibly long sales cycle. And it was a really huge achievement for AGS to get this across the line at the end of July this year. KC's business has remained really strong during the COVID pandemic. I still don't understand why toilet paper was in such demand. But anyway, it was good for their business. And KC wanted to move into implementation ASAP to ensure that our team are fully embedded and up and running to meet their demands in 2021. And given the travel restrictions, we had to change up the way we would normally implement and switch to 100% virtual delivery. So in partnership with KC, we agree to five-phased approach with phase one going live just six weeks after kickoff, so very aggressive. And the last phase actually went live on Monday this week. So all-in-all, a 15-week implementation timeline. And we're now entering what we call our hyper care phase, as all the markets have a four to eight-week post go-live support to ensure operationally we're delivering what we've promised.

SWow. That's just amazing. Cannot underestimate the amount of work that goes into trying to engage stakeholders?

BYeah, I mean, it was hard, but really it was just about just changing up slightly our mindset to approach this. And if I'm really honest on reflection, it wasn't a significant mind shift that was required because our teams have always been set up to work virtually to support their travel. And there's always been a flexibility from management within AGS to work from home as needed. As you know, given our geographical spread and the different time zones we support, implementation has never been a nine to five role, has it. And for selected implementations in the past where predicted hiring volumes were quite low, so less than a hundred roles. We would often conduct discovery remotely as it didn't make sense from a time or expense perspective to travel. So really, we just needed to rethink our approach. So what we did, we scheduled shorter meetings spread over multiple days for key deliverables. So they would be discovery and future state validation. It was easier for Kimberly-Clark stakeholders to commit to two to three hours every day for three or four days instead of an entire day or more in a room face-to-face where they would normally have little time to focus on their core role. So they actually found that easier. We insisted on video calls to help build the personal relationship and sense of partnership. Now, this did take some persuasion at times. But the fact that the entire AGS team always had their videos on, and you're right, it is tiring. But it did help encourage all participants to do the same, at least for the initial introductions. We also had to have an increased frequency of touchpoints within the AGS team and with key stakeholders at Kimberly-Clark. And a focus on communication and change management has been really critical. We had to be very flexible in call scheduling. Understanding that right now, there are no standard business hours due to family commitments with everyone at home due to lockdowns. It really has been a case of whatever whenever. And in addition to having that flexible approach, we also produced individual one-page introduction summaries for all team members. We've conducted numerous virtual town halls or workshop discussions for hiring managers and HRBPs. We've coordinated numerous stakeholder recruiter one-on-one introduction meetings to support relationship building and really ensuring that our recruiters have a good understanding of the lines of business they would be supporting. Another element has been training that we had to rethink about. So training modules were all completed virtually. So we had to get creative to ensure engagement and participation. So we had frequent role-plays, knowledge quizzes, and also frequent breaks to get everyone up and around moving around. We even did some exercises during some of the sessions just to move it up a bit. So yeah, it was good. It was challenging, but good and quite positive, actually. I would say.

SYeah. And I've only heard positive things back from our customers, so that's amazing. B, when I think back to when we were looking at the beginning about how we would do this virtually and how are we going to build those relationships with stakeholders. It certainly appears that you were able to do that. Well, what are some of the other ones that you've had in the virtual implementation, do you feel?

BYou've touched on it. The great feedback. We have received really great feedback from a number of the client stakeholders, especially following the initial discovery. They felt very comfortable from the get-go with how well those initial meetings went. I have to say engagement and outcomes have not been impacted despite the virtual approach. So that's a key win. And something else for me that's a key win is Kimberly-Clark have already offered to give us a testimonial, which is excellent. And then another win, well, look from a climate perspective, we've reduced our carbon footprint. So I guess that has to be a win. And that's something that's dear to Kimberly-Clark's heart as well. So that was good all around.

SPerfect. And congratulations, because I know this hasn't been easy. And speaking of which, we make it sound like it's all a bed of roses here, and it's all been great, but there must've been some sides of it that weren't so good or some challenges there. And can you talk us through what those would be?

BYeah. There were some challenges. One thing we found we had to do that we needed a number of backups with regard to technology or communication channels. We were running everything. We had teams going, Skype going, WhatsApp, WebEx, WeChat groups. We had everything because things would not work. People would drop off Wi-Fi. So we had multiple channels going all the time, which was, it was fun in the end. We laughed an awful lot about it. One of the other challenges or roadblocks I've mentioned, the use of cameras. For us, it was so important to help make that personal connection. We really did need to influence and encourage the use of cameras for many, so that was quite a journey. One thing that I found really interesting actually from a resourcing perspective where we, as an organization, needed to hire new team members. This actually took longer than I expected. What I found was there was definitely a reluctance or nervousness around good candidates making a move at this time because of the uncertainty in a lot of the markets and region. So that initially surprised me, but on reflection, it shouldn't have done actually. And then, one of the other key challenges was the provisioning of assets and IT for our team. As you can imagine, we've been working in cities and entire countries that are in lockdown or where the situations have been changing day to day, quite rapidly. So we needed to ensure that we were couriering out the assets well ahead of time to the new team members and ensuring that Kimberly-Clark IT were available to remotely set up as needed. So we had to be very flexible and agile with that aspect as well.

SYes. I don't think people think about all those really small details that go into making something successful. And it just been a disaster if they turned up the first day on the team and they had no assets. And, of course, it is very difficult to do these things when offices aren't open when there's floods in Manila when there's all manner of things going on around the world. So again, fantastic job. B, is there any other lessons that you feel that you've learned through this?

BYeah. A few, I guess. I mean, we're always well planned, and we always prepare. But I would say that pre-planning and initiation prior to implementation kickoff is even more critical when delivering remotely. It is really key to set expectations as well as coordinate and confirm required meetings and activities well in advance. I also found there was a need to add a buffer into selected activities to allow for rescheduling. It was often unavoidable. We really needed to do that. I guess that's not just relevant to virtual implementation, but it does link to the next point where, as I said earlier, standard working hours no longer apply, and there was definitely a greater need to be more disciplined and respectful of stakeholders personal time, and even during the working hours. There was a need to be more accepting of people needing to take a break, of them being interrupted or background noise. We had many dogs and children making their meeting debut. So it was funny at times, but it did mean we needed to add extra time to things. Also, we needed to schedule additional breaks. And that was really, really important, not just during discovery, but the team training, the hiring manager workshops. And we had to ensure we were mixing up the presentation style to keep everyone engaged and energized. So they would probably be the key lessons.

SRight. Yeah. And that's some really good insight. There's some basic stuff there that is just so critical to keep people's engagement up and not just for our customers and stakeholders, but for our teams as well, because the last thing we want to do is be burning out our people. So given all those experiences that you've had, how do you think that's going to influence the world of work going forward, both for us and our customers?

BYeah. I think there's going to be a need for a more balanced approach to work. From an implementation perspective, we've most definitely proved that we can successfully do this virtually. But I still maintain that you can't totally replace the human touch. The in-person face-to-face interaction is so important. We did find that there was no time to have that casual chat as you would normally do when you're face-to-face. And this really does help to build relationships and the trust and really embed the partnership between two organizations. So we had to work really hard to establish this. So I do think we'll need to balance what can be achieved virtually with some in-person interaction in the future. Definitely, virtual is more efficient and flexible and will continue to need to be very flexible and agile moving forward. But more generally, I think we've totally shown that we can deliver effectively whilst working from home. Moving forward, companies need to accommodate this. So at the end of the day, we'll reduce on-costs. We won't be needing these huge office blocks with a workstation for every headcount. So the world will change after this pandemic. What do you think, though, Sarah?

SYeah, I totally agree with all the points that you make. And I think that for me, relationships is obviously the key to everything we do. And building that trust through human contact is important to me. And I think that it also gives people energy. People feed off each other. They get engaged. So while I think that flexibility is important going forward, I also feel there's a great need for us to come together as teams to come together with our clients and not to be 100% virtual as we've needed to be at times this year.

BYeah, definitely. I agree.

SSo I guess just closing out then B, what do you sort of anticipate the high-level changes in the industry over the next few years will be?

BYeah, so look, I think 2020 has been the catalyst for business transformation. Companies are definitely rethinking about the way they get work done. So from our perspective, we need to be very agile. The industry will demand scalable, flexible, and customized solutions to support their talent acquisition with a continued focus on digital transformation as well. And I also believe that there will be a greater focus on contingent workers. Companies will look to further mitigate risk and reduce their cost. So from an industry perspective, especially in Asia-Pac, I see a rise in demand for MSP services out there.

SYeah, that's an interesting point. And I do agree that I think we will see the workforce made up different going forward. There will be a lot more casual workers or project-based work or contractors where we haven't historically seen so much of that in APAC. And I agree that there'll be a downsizing of premises. There'll be much more uptake in digitalization. And I also feel that, as you said earlier, this localization piece will continue. I think that the last eight months has really made the world rethink how casually we used to travel all over the world and do different things all the time. So I do think there's going to be a little bit of a return to a more back to basics lifestyle, which I don't think is a bad thing. As you say, it helps us save the world and hopefully stop the Antarctic melting so quickly.

BVery true. But I look forward to getting back on a plane.

SSo do I. Okay. Thanks, B. I really appreciate those insights today. And thank you very much for coming in and talking to me.

BThank you. It's been great.

F:  Thank you for joining us today. A special thank you to Sarah and Belinda for spending time to share their experiences. If you would like to learn more about AGS please check us out at Allegisglobalsolutions.com. If you have any questions for Sarah and Belinda feel free to tweet us @allegisglobal with the #SubjectToTalent. Also, you can email us at SubjectToTalent@allegisglobalsolutions.com If you enjoyed our podcast today please subscribe, rate us, and leave a review. Until next time! Cheers!