If you want to learn about successful initiatives leveraging WeChat to tap into new talent pools or the use of chatbots as an engagement strategy to support recruitment then you should definitely read this piece.
If that wasn’t enough here you have more: get a glimpse of how the recruitment function is evolving and the role technology plays in such evolution at Henkel.
Finally, Anne-Marie tells us what good management means for her and very openly shares a list of tips and tricks to stay ahead of the curve, both as a manager and as a subject matter expert, to constantly keep adding value to the business and supporting her team’s growth.
WeChat: Referral Program & Chatbots
JUANJO: Anne-Marie, as I was preparing for this interview the kind of things that came up more often with regards what you do at Henkel evolved around the need to nurture your talent pipeline and accelerating the recruitment process. And to tackle those you turned to WeChat, where you deployed a couple of initiatives in 2017.
The first initiative was the revamp of your referral program. You started with a pilot program at your Dragon plant in Shanghai, focused on the recruitment of blue collar professionals. Can you tell us a little more about it?
ANNE-MARIE: When I came on board (at Henkel) I kept hearing a lot about the Dragon plant. I understood they were eager to tap into new channels for talent recruitment. The Dragon plant is Henkel’s biggest adhesive plant on a global basis so if they were experiencing recruiting challenges we could feel how much that implied for our other plants. So I thought we might as well start there.
What we first did was to put ourselves in the firing line, on site. I don’t believe in remote recruiting engines that do not engage with stakeholders. I have seen this two or three times in my professional life: recruiters locked-up in a room that is so far removed from the actual business that it is not possible for them to really engage with the hiring managers. I told my team we are going to give them extra TLC (tender loving care) because at the plant they have already had a rough recruiting experience. I told them you need to love your customers until they die. What’s that song from Selena Gomez? “Kill Em With Kindness”, that one! I just kept playing my team that song. So we were there, at the plant, looking at what was happening and trying to solve the problem. We were all engaged in addressing the issue.
Now, how to address it? We wanted to use technology but blue collar workers don’t usually have desktops. So it was clear that we needed to use mobile if we wanted to have a successful referral strategy. We posted the job opportunities in the WeChat platform, and they shared them within their circles. In turn, individuals from those circles could share those opportunities with their respective private circles.
It was the first referral program where we used this crowdsourcing, involving not only Henkel employees. The WeChat platform allowed for some micro-rewards also for non-employees.
Overall it was a success (see Figure I). We got engagement from employees, people would make a little money on the side and we quickly put together a talent pool, got about seven offers within the first month and in a very short span of time hiring managers got some big roles filled. I mean, obviously this can’t fix all the issues, but it did make a big, direct, impact. It was felt straight away.
Having tested that methodology I think we could extend it to all strategic business units (SBU). Here we have three: industrial, beauty care, and then we’ve got functions. We have been building what I would call an SBU focused approach, where recruiters are responsible for using tools such as the one for the Dragon plant. If they have a talent pipeline problem of candidates coming in from the normal sources they can leverage a campaign like this one.
In a bigger picture, what we are aiming at is for recruiters to create talent pools using these tools. This requires a whole cultural shift in terms of how recruiters do their job: from a reactive position, doing resume research, screenings, calls, etc., to a much more proactive role where they can utilize these tools to create immediate talent.
JUANJO: What was that it surprised you the most when rolling this out?
ANNE-MARIE: Just how well it was received. I didn’t expect that. I thought it would be a bit of business unit usual activity for the recruiting team, but what surprised me the most is how supportive the managers were, the business was, and how engaged they were. The level of enthusiasm surprised me.
JUANJO: The other initiative I wanted to bring up is this interesting character, a chatbot, called Henke. What is it Henke about?
ANNE-MARIE: It’s an engagement strategy. If you think about what WeChat really is, it is just like a magazine. There’s no mystery to it: it’s an online magazine where you can broadcast information. Although we can post a piece about how great it is to work here and upload pictures to convey an authentic view of us, the audience still cannot engage.
Henke introduces the ability to convert some of that traffic into (job) applicants. I’m totally driven by improving the ways on how it does impact our talent pool and get us the right candidates that apply for jobs, getting to a faster hiring time which in turns has a positive impact in our results.
“Our chatbot is an engagement strategy. It introduces the ability to convert traffic into applicants”
JUANJO: Is it supportive of the recruitment function as of today?
ANNE-MARIE: Yes, totally supportive. We got an average of eight applicants a month in the past three months. My idea this year is to have him to engage more with people to apply for a job.
We have learned a lot since we launched but we want to innovate further. We run it off our WeChat platform but he is still too invisible: he is at the bottom of the bottoms. He still gets chats, but we are going to redesign the site (the WeChat interface) to make him more visible.
We are also working on 20 topics for him from an employee perspective. For each topic we will have 50 questions and 50 answers so that makes 1.000 answers that we are going to design. We are still working on the topics. Some of them are campus recruitment, hot jobs, APAC roles, or mobility. But I found them still a little bit traditional, a little flat. Not sexy!! I think they are a good first draft but still needs work.
Another thing I would like to do is to have the ability to deal with what’s happening in a given month with the business, because this changes quite often, so we want the topics to remain relevant at all times.
JUANJO: So you script the topics for the chatbot? Is that it? This is how he learns?
ANNE-MARIE: Well, there is a very basic script to start with. Simple things like what to reply when someone says “Hello”, recognize dates, countries, etc. Then we have specific topics with initial questions and answers. But once the bot is online he learns by interacting with visitors. Chatbots use machine learning technology: based on previous engagements they remember names, interests, or the jobs the visitor might have applied for previously.
The team monitors the answers, signaling in the backend if the responses were accurate. They also add variations to a series of questions so there’s an on-going maintenance and “training” which allow the bot to become smarter at a faster pace. Bugs and language are monitored on a regular base to fine tune the responses and reorienting conversations back to relevant topics.
JUANJO: Any funny questions that you recall?
ANNE-MARIE: I was expecting more, to be honest. I think they used to ask him about a girlfriend. He is developing a style of communication that is mildly humorous, a bit Confucius from a philosophical perspective, and so if you ask him like how old he is he’ll say: “Oh! Age is just a number” or just a response like this. Is quite amusing.
Lightning Rods, On-demand Candidates
JUANJO: Ok, so we have reviewed some of the things you worked on last year. What is it that you have in stock for 2018?
ANNE-MARIE: From an organizational perspective, we have a digitalization agenda we are all working with at Henkel.
In this sense, when it comes to recruitment, we have several digital assets. There is an applicant tracking system ATS (Taleo, which is web-based only), our mobile integrator and then we have our go-to-market systems (LinkedIn, WeChat in China and other social media platforms in the APAC region). And we also have email, of course. Now, the issue is that all these systems do not integrate smoothly. They are separate.
“It can be incredibly simple to do our job if we integrate our digital assets”
I believe in efficiency, in not wasting time, and operating from the source. I think it can be incredibly simple to do our job if we manage to integrate those digital assets. It is a bit ironic because I am not too technical but I am reasonably good at understanding how all the systems work together.
At the moment the ATS is almost like a DropBox, so we are a bit lost in there. We get resumes coming in and we process them. Lots of time and resources go in there: navigating through the resumes, looking for the candidates, screening, etc. This is all administrative work and I feel it could be automated to some degree. Now, the ATS can broadcast to all our job boards across the region. But with the mobile integrator we will be able to broadcast from the ATS to social networks as well: WeChat in China, Whatsapp in South East Asia, others in Japan and Korea, and maybe Twitter as well.
This will mean the candidate will get the employer branding message at the social network level and, from each of these platforms, she can quickly apply for a job with her application going straight into our ATS. All the information exchanges back and forth between the ATS and the respective social networks will be really smooth. In a nutshell, we will have new roots in the way we get candidates.
On the other hand, it will be a great opportunity to increase our followers and increase their engagement via advertising in these social networks.
At the moment we haven’t got our message boards very far and we are not rewarding external market for referrals, except in China. Here we have deployed a crowdsourcing feature from Ajinga utilizing fully tax compliant WeChat regards for both employees and non-employees, where different rewards and micro-rewards are established to motivate them at each stage of the application process. Because that has proved effective we want to introduce rewards in the other APAC regions, which I believe is a clear winner strategy.
Additionally, there might be better ways to do it. We need to tap into communities, closed circles, where the candidate is active as of today. I think of this idea of having talent communities that are in the right space where you know specialists in a specific area that can broadcast your jobs efficiently via those communities.
JUANJO: From the ATS to the different social networks is this a massive broadcast or is there any kind of profiling embedded?
ANNE-MARIE: No, it is not massive (see Figure II). The broadcast will be directed to those profiles that have been already identified in the ATS from a skill, demographic, location and salary perspective. These individuals might be quite dormant – as candidates – but very active in their WeChat circles or networking circles (old employer relationships, professor-alumni relationships, etc.). There are a lot of those closed circles where you can find the candidate and others like her. But still, we need to invest more time in this space, in understanding who the influencers are in those closed circles, have access to them, and incentivize them to help convey our job openings. The way I see it is like lightning rods. You want a lightning rod to go through your industry vertical (i.e. beauty and care, or industrial adhesives, to mention two that are relevant to us) via the closed circles and social groups where you know your candidates should be. And then incentivize them to spread your job into other closed circles that you are currently not aware of.
JUANJO: To make sure that I follow, you are then talking about a synchronization between the ATS system and the different social networks?
ANNE-MARIE: That’s right. We think we are about to get there in China with WeChat. But a lot of our investment this year is going to be all about how we keep segmenting, how we communicate. As I mentioned, we need to invest more in the space, understanding the relationships within those closed groups, spotting the influencers there so we can stand better chances. Again, I come back to this idea of on-demand, lightning rod candidates and the shift in the recruiters’ role, from reactive to proactive to create these immediate talent pools.
Get the Buy-in from the High-ups
JUANJO: Everything you are sharing seems like major undertakings. And you touch on pain points that are common to recruiters in many organizations. Can you tell us how you go about selling internally these type of projects, so others maybe can use that as well?
ANNE-MARIE: There has to be some business suffering. That helps people to change. However, in recruitment this suffering is quite a natural environment. I mean, if all was working in recruiting you probably wouldn’t need to be in recruiting really. However, you should see this pain more as an opportunity to make a difference in your organization. See things in a different light, as an opportunity for you to add value, to change things. I believe that changing your mental attitude about how these things are available to you to make an impact is also going to improve your ability to communicate to the business in an articulate way that will drive change.
And then keep it real from an investment perspective. Put together a cost-effective plan that delivers business results, have some data around that can help you support your arguments, and paint a picture of how the outcome is going to look like: a realistic outcome that addresses what is going to change as a result of all of this.
“Put together a cost-effective plan and paint a realistic outcome of what is going to change”
It also helps to work with external partners, who can show you what is the opportunity in the marketplace that makes sense in this time and in this business climate, so you don’t have to do all the research yourself. They can already provide you with a business case or success story.
We always kept the business costs realistic, it is not like we bought a Ferrari. We were trying something new – instead of going for tried and failed solutions; we had solid partners; it was very clear what the outcome could be from a business perspective. So, in the end, it was not a huge sign-off process.
And have many talks. You need to do a lot of preparation work with the people before you put together the actual internal presentation of the project. Tell them how you think things should go, and that they should act now because, otherwise, they are wasting precious time. So you get others to start buying along the way your vision of how you believe this should go. You keep testing the waters in these previous talks so, by the time you present, you know already that chances are very high you will be supported. In these prep talks, I try to make my case in a subtle way, but I am not that subtle. I am probably more like a sledgehammer, actually! I think I am reasonably assured in terms of what is right, so that enables me to be more convincing. Now, if I get the feeling that this is not a priority at this point in time then I just close it down and move onto the next thing.
The Future of Technology and Recruitment
JUANJO: How you see technology being supportive of recruitment in the years to come? From a talent perspective: are the skills, competencies or capabilities that recruiters will need to bring in fundamentally different from today’s?
ANNE-MARIE: I think speed is the biggest difference, so I think there’s a whole instantaneous element of recruiting that’s available to us now that was not available before. We have to act, respond, and hire faster. There’s always pressure on hiring that much faster, and we have to acquire this ability to make the right decision based on the key hiring criteria.
Therefore, having backed up in some sort of way that we selected the right person because we had the right profile based on current competencies or skills will become more important. I think those things will be available in some sort of reportable format, so you will be able to track the person from hiring all the way to the executive leadership, for example. How do you integrate your talent, how you identify your top performers, and how you even select your top performers in the beginning and, based on current top performer profiles, how that fits into your recruitment cycle. I believe all these things are probably more important for recruiting than they used to be.
As a recruiting (function) we serve a bigger picture, so the workforce dynamics have to be more integrated with the business. When you understand what are the current priorities from the business perspective you can break them down from skills, competencies, and personality traits angles to build them into your recruitment model. I think we should be able to see more trends in terms of what top contributors look like, the sort of endemic skills they have. What are the cultural aspects, technical skills that current high performers brought in that cause the organization to thrive, and use those to inform our recruitment process and continue the cycle.
Actually, we have started to do it with assessments. We started introducing more formal assessments, so we can track back in terms of what we think is important for that particular strategic business unit. We have also introduced video-interviews, where applicants answer a few questions. So now our entry program looks like this: the candidate applies, completes the assessment – where we benchmark her against previous profiles and against what we need; and then she inputs her video. As a result of all of that the screening exercise is a lot quicker and a lot more visual, and it has a lot more of what we call spotlights on the person. We can shortlist candidates based on the resume, assessments and the video.
JUANJO: And with this combination, besides increasing the speed, does it increase quality?
ANNE-MARIE: Yes. It’s about increasing the quality of hire. We have run this exercise twice. The quality of the candidate that we get at the end of this process is better than the quality that we got before. The candidate here is more motivated, better engaged, a better fit for the job, and just a better fit for our culture. Some people screened themselves out because they were not willing to go through the process of submitting the video.
We increased the quality of hire, we sped up the process of acquiring talent and at a lower cost. We are not doing the whole labor-intensive work that we did before. Some of the cost has moved to IT but, all in all, we have reduced cost because it is not a fixed employee cost. So I think we will continue with more video-interviewing, less resume-driven, less paper-based and more activity-based, practical interviews instead.
Also, as a consequence of using automated tools, I think we have taken bias out of the system. I think the focus is more on the candidates and we have less individual biases coming from the perceptions of the recruiters or hiring managers.
JUANJO: Well, you could argue that sometimes algorithms have certain politics embedded on them.
ANNE-MARIE: Yes. Still, we did a lot of due diligence on how we weighed the different factors.
Before introducing the assessments we put a lot of prep work into it. We spoke to thirty managers that had hired before, and ask them what was the key criteria that they were looking for in a job. On top of that, we went to previous employees who had been in those roles we were hiring for and asked them what they thought it was important for the job. With all these inputs we designed the job descriptions. Eventually, we came up with assessment criteria where we had what we call hygienic factors: aspects that the person needs to bring to be successful at Henkel, like tenacity or self-sustainability, which don’t really show in a job description. And so we looked at questions that we might ask to assess those, we designed the questionnaires and we had the right weight.
We ran this for a campus initiative, for entry-level positions. It was an opportunity for us to pilot the introduction of assessments and video-interviews. We had a lot of engagement with the HR VPs at the launch of that project, who in turn have very good relationships with the hiring managers. This meant that we could run all the interviews in just one week while double-checking that we were hiring for the right things.
We have now this amazing test case where we show the executives what happens when we introduce assessments and video, what happens when we introduce these digital tools in recruiting. Everybody is beginning to see how all this fits together, and we want to extend it to professional hiring across the board.
JUANJO: Have you seen here in China any other business case, outside Henkel, that has literally blown your mind when it comes to the intersection between recruiting and technology? Or something that not necessarily applies to your space but still you saw a way to turn it around for what you do?
ANNE-MARIE: I think I’m doing all the stuff that I want to do. Perhaps some organizations may have a better handle on having a dashboard-like view of their employment brand profile across several social media platforms in different regions, with a single employment value branding index.
The ability to obtain a predictive value for such an index and what to do to alter it, so you can create premium branding, is something we are not there yet. At the moment this is very labor intensive, very research intensive: there are multiple external platforms (i.e. Glassdoor) that have an assessment of what is it like to work here. Reviewing external perceptions across multiple social platforms, gauge whether they are truthful or not, and having the ability to influence them is at the moment quite manual. There has to be a more simplistic way to do it, and probably this will be our next big challenge.
Anne-Marie’s Secret Management Toolkit (Not So Secret Anymore)
JUANJO: How do you keep yourself up to date with regards the latest trends in recruitment? How you invest your time to stay ahead of the curve?
ANNE-MARIE: I believe you have to be implementing and facilitating change. One thing is to be book-smart in the space and it is another thing introducing video-interviews, for example. So you have to have done it. A lot of people are still on the cusp of doing things but haven’t done them yet. An interesting thing that happens is that you never really know what the opportunity is going to be until you implement it. And then it might turn out to be something completely different, and the win is definitely something different. So we all should get on the bandwagon of doing things.
Additionally, I have always liked working with partners that themselves are forward thinking. You want to be partnering with people who are continuously developing their products, continuously enhancing their own offering so their businesses remain ahead of the curve. So you are leading-edge because they are leading-edge.
“We all should get on the bandwagon of doing things. You never really know what the opportunity is going to be until you implement it”
JUANJO: How do you prioritize? How do you make sure you stay on top of what matters in the long run so you don’t fall inside rabbit holes? Do you have a system in place? What combination of urgency-importance do you use to organize your day?
ANNE-MARIE: I do think flexibility is really important in leadership roles. So competency in your area of expertise and then flexibility about what comes your way in terms of how to manage it.
Then, of course, I do use lists. I definitely write lists, and I try to write today’s list yesterday. I block things in bulks of time, so I try to deal with geographic topics at the right time, bulking them together. But then again, I need to be flexible. I come into work with an expectation on how the day might go, but I need to be able to be responsive in a given situation and, if there was a fire today, I would definitely deal with the fire. No doubt about that.
Another thing it is really important for me is to leverage on my team. I delegate. We communicate very well, so I’m not spread too thin. I have eight people working on seven or eight different projects that are really important to me that they need to get back to me at certain times, and they’ll all come in usually. I see it in my mind actually: I have this visual representation of my team moving forward with their respective projects and I see these fishing leads glittering out there, literally, waiting to be fished, waiting to come back to me. And at some subconscious level, I’m aware of when they’re supposed to come back in. And if they don’t then I chase up.
And then I’m a recruiter by background, so I think I see if people are square pegging a round hole and if they are dealing with it reasonably. I can take the sort of decisions around people being in the right roles or not. And how to get them to do things that they like.
They know they don’t need my permission to do things. They should be able to operate on the fact that they have permission already. I’m not here to double check, to allow them to do this or that. I’m here to make sure from an execution perspective that what they are delivering is in line with the direction we are going. I have an intricate understanding of each of the projects they are running, so I’m usually in the background and I know I can trust them. Two of my team members have worked for me before in previous professional endeavors, and I have a pretty good team. I believe in honest 360 feedback all the time, constantly. So if I see something that I believe is under par I tell them straight away.
JUANJO: Now that you are talking about your team: What does managing mean for you?
ANNE-MARIE: When I think about that I always want to be the manager that I want to have. So I guess I try to mimic my own personal style in terms of what I want to do. I try to be approachable, reasonable, responsive, supportive, challenging enough, but not too challenging.
I keep continually stretching myself to push things further, always in a continuous improvement cycle both personally and in terms of how we operate things. So as a natural result of that my team also stretches, pushes things.
Actually, I have my notes from my team. They say I’m open, curious, innovative, that I empower people, that I am a good shoulder, a supportive shoulder. I like the idea of the whole person, so I don’t just keep it to work. My team knows enough about me, in terms of who I am, and in terms of what my family does. So I don’t have this silo as much between work and home, which I think some other people do. I am transparent in terms of who I am and what’s going on in my life, and maybe that’s comfortable, maybe that’s not. But I do think it’s important that I can hear what’s going on in my team’s life. They can bring issues to me if they have. Wellbeing, let’s just call it wellbeing. I’m interested in their welfare, in terms of how they’re growing as individuals in their life. I see their career as one aspect of that. How we contribute to them feeling happy obviously contributes the rest of their life, although it’s not the sole factor of course. It is important for me and it motivates me to see them grow.
It is funny because when I asked I expected them to say I am a good project manager. But apparently, I’m not! So I get things done, I facilitate change, I am a fast starter, I’m good at persuading people, I’m good at fixing things. But I am not a good project manager! So, that’s that!
JUANJO: Do you have any morning habit or routine that helps you stay focused the rest of the day?
ANNE-MARIE: Yes, I pray and I meditate. I do something in the morning and a little in the evening as well.
JUANJO: How does it help you?
ANNE-MARIE: It is difficult to explain. Basically, I believe that we invite activities into our life to experience them to grow. So, anything that is happening in my life is a result of something that I have, in a way, predetermined that needs to happen to help me grow as an individual. Of course, to accept that is a challenge but I am on the way to acceptance. With that, as I go through my day, I have some responsibility to respond with kindness, with tolerance and at some sort of level to embrace things as they come and respect everyone else in that experience.
I try to have about ten minutes of just quiet time in the morning, to read maybe four or five little things that I have picked up over the course of last year that I like, that I find inspiring.
At the end of the day, I try to do a bit of review. Was I tolerant when engaging with others? Was I kind? Did I walk into their shoes to see things from their perspective or was it all about getting my outcome? Was I overly aggressive perhaps when presenting my case? Could I have handled it in a better way? These are the types of questions I meditate about at the end of the day. It has been a transformation for me. I used to always want to be the boss, and boss everyone around, whereas now I’m more patient.
“I believe that we invite activities into our life to experience them to grow”
JUANJO: Those morning reads, if you could print in a rug one and tell everybody to roll in because it will feel so good, which one would you choose?
ANNE-MARIE: I have this one, let me get it right because it is really deep (she searches in her phone). Here: “Whatever state of consciousness I am in affects the totality and, in turn, is, the totality”.
JUANJO: Wow. Now explain what does this mean for you in English, please.
ANNE-MARIE: Yes, so if I’m in a peaceful state of consciousness all of the time this affects everything around me: it affects the totality and, in turn, is the totality which is how is manifesting through me. Then I’m a channel! It is like the Saint Francis prayer I read in the morning: “Make me a channel of your peace”. The way in which I express myself is larger than me, it has an impact beyond me but is also over in me. That’s how I see that.
There is another sentence that at the moment sustains me quite a lot: “Nothing real can be threatened, nothing unreal exists, herein lies the peace of God” (1). Once you can really operate at this level it’s all just a laugh really, isn’t it? Which sort of brings us back to the original Shakespeare’s quote: “Here is the stage. We are in a play and we are all actors” or something like that (2). So we are all having this game show, these representations of ourselves that we create.
JUANJO: Is there a book that has most positively impacted you, personally or professionally, that you would love to give away?
ANNE-MARIE: There are so many. I can’t really pick up just one. Currently, I am reading “I am The Mind” and I quite like it. I would not give it because it is not easy, but I am quite enjoying it. It is about duality, it talks about universal intuition and how is that different from the brain as we perceive it.
I always have on the go one that I would call a heavy spiritual book. I don’t know if you read Deepak Chopra or Eckhart Tolle? Then normally I have a novel that intrigues me, maybe a Salman Rushdie novel or somebody that I like, or maybe some poetry.
Another book that I found brilliant: “Fly like a dragonfly, shine like a diamond”. As I was reading it I thought the author was genius in encapsulating really complicated topics: sentient and non-sentient existence, intuitive short term, room to grow achievement, material capital masteries. I found he is really clever.
However, what really props me up is music actually. I am big in pop, trance, indie music. I love this stuff. I listen often in my office with the earplugs on, to get through administrative duties. I definitely listen to music probably two hours a day: it is like an extra layer of motivation for me.
JUANJO: Then let’s finish with music. Anne-Marie, thank you. This has been great.
ANNE-MARIE: You are welcome. Thank you.
To stay ahead of the curve you need to start implementing. It is not enough to be book-smart in the space. You have to be doing things. You don’t know what the opportunity will be until you start implementing.
Managing is about the wellbeing of your team, to see them grow professionally.
(2) “All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players”. Jaques to Duke Senior. From As You Like It. Act II, Scene VII. William Shakespeare, 1564-1616