Laura Farrelly, Barclays’ Head of Culture & Engagement, came into HR after starting out in corporate banking and program management. Like many people, she had the preconception that HR just did payroll and hiring – but she quickly saw how much she could achieve in a forward-looking function that impacted upon every other part of the business.

In this profile, she explains her start in HR, the value of a customer-centric viewpoint in HR, and how to make allies all across the business.

On her start in HR

“Maybe I had a misconception HR was just about paying and hiring people – but it’s about so much more”

Honestly, I never set out to be in HR – but through a series of fortunate events, and opportunities to learn about everything HR does, I landed in this fantastic role.

My background is in corporate banking, then large-scale program management. It was in program management that I became more involved with HR and leadership development.

Like many people, I had a misconception that HR was about payroll and recruitment. But it’s so much more extensive – everything we do impacts everyone in the bank.

And for me I love the fact HR isn’t backward-looking. We’re always thinking about how we improve the business in the future and help people improve.

On the value of being an HR ‘outsider’

“I bring a customer-centric mindset from my banking past – only now my customers are employees”

When I graduated there was no talk of ‘employee experience’ and the ‘employee lifecycle’ – it just didn’t exist. But my different background, and the fact I’m a bit of an HR outsider, makes me perfectly suited to delivering on the promise of looking at employee experience more holistically.

With my banking background, I approach it with a customer mindset. In banking, the question was always how do you serve the client better? How do you help them achieve their objectives? How do they interact with us at every touchpoint?

I apply that same customer focus in HR, only now my customers are Barclays employees.

On finding the root cause of issues

“It’s easy to think that new, exciting employee perks will solve everything – but are your employees’ basic requirements being met?”

Qualtrics’ last survey of financial services employees showed that ⅓ were stressed by work ‘most of the time’ or ‘all of the time’. And with stress so prevalent in our sector, it’s something we’re definitely trying to address in Barclays.

But for us, it’s about identifying the real root causes of stress. Because it’s easy to be sidetracked by new, exciting employee perks or more faddy approaches to employee wellbeing. The reality might be that employees’ basic requirements aren’t being met.

Do people have time to take lunch? Are they leaving work on time? What’s their commute to work like?

We’re identifying employee expectations across the entire lifecycle, and seeing where we’re lagging behind as a brand. Because offering fantastic perks doesn’t make up for basic failures in employee experience.

On HR getting more comfortable with data

“My advice to newcomers in the HR world? Be curious and don’t be scared of data”

The future success of your HR team depends on how comfortable they are with data and new tech. The industry is moving from gut feelings to data-led insights at a faster pace than ever before.

And while HR has always been comfortable with data, and an early adopter of new tech, things are now going to a whole new level. It’s about understanding how millions of data points correlate, and drawing connections between insights gathered at every point in the employee lifecycle. It’s about making more of the data we already have and will collect in the future.

So if I was to give any advice to HR newcomers, I’d say: “Be curious and don’t be scared of data”. There are so many different things you can do within HR – from benefits and payroll to people analytics – but a good understanding of data and how you utilize it will help you navigate this world successfully.

On HR acting as an in-house thought leader

“We’re telling a story about how employee data ought to be interpreted and acted upon”

It used to be that employee engagement was reported on annually and separate to customer outcomes or overall business performance. But that reactive model means that a business is far too slow at reacting to insights from employees’ day-to-day working life.

I’m proud of the way we’ve been able to shift the mindset from HR being a cost centre, to HR being a data thought leader. We do this by providing the business with a set of stories about how they look at data, helping them solve their biggest challenges. It means we’re more effective at helping the bank make data-informed decisions, not rely on gut feelings.

Our success has meant we’ve fundamentally changed the conversation at an executive level. Now, culture and employee experience are on the executive agenda.

On making friends around the business

“HR is so crucial to every department in a company – but to get them onside, you need to understand their different needs”

There isn’t a single department not impacted by HR’s work. Whether it’s recruitment, payroll or benefits, we’re such a crucial part in building and enabling a fantastic employee experience.

But each of our stakeholders have different needs. For example we work a lot with compliance and audit teams, to ensure employees have the right training, meet our regulatory requirements, and know how to raise issues. So those teams are interested in very different data to our client-facing teams.

One of the things I’m most proud of is how we’ve taken a step back to think about how we’re surveying employees across the lifecycle and ensuring we’re solving for the right questions. While always ensuring we don’t over-survey our people.

Take exit surveys for example – if stakeholders want to know why people are leaving the company, we could ask them at the point they’re walking out of the door. But we’re looking at how you can ask the right questions earlier in the lifecycle to generate the same insights and take action earlier.

Want to learn more about creating great employee experiences?

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