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People-first approach starts at recruitment

10 August, 2017

This article  was originally published on Shortlist.

The recruitment practices of an online educator majority-owned by Seek are key to maintaining the company’s high levels of staff engagement, its HR director says.

Online Education Services (OES) recently received Aon Hewitt Best Employer accreditation for the fourth consecutive year, and was recognised as ‘Best of the Best’ in this year’s awards.

OES, which is 80% owned by Seek and 20% owned by Swinburne University, has grown from a team of four staff in 2011 to an organisation with 200 in-house employees and 300 tutors based remotely. Its employee engagement score of 88% is 20 points above the industry standard.

Putting people first starts with recruitment, says executive director of human resources, Shanyn Payne. Immediately following the second-round interview, candidates are taken for coffee with prospective team members for a peer interview.

“The peers of that new potential person actually interview the candidate and if they’re going into a people manager role, the direct reports interview that person,” she says, adding it’s very much a two-way process.

“We want [the candidate] to ask just as many questions of us: what are we like to work for, what’s this manager really like – and those peers know they have to answer openly and honestly so the candidate can make the right decision that we’re the right business for them too.”

Although it can be tempting to settle for someone who is 80 per cent right for the role in order to make a faster hire, Payne says getting the right cultural fit is more important. “We’ve never succumbed to that temptation and always played with that long game in mind, which I think is definitely one of the reasons we’ve been so successful,” she says, adding the company has an 85 per cent retention rate with new hires.

It’s made clear during recruitment that employees are also encouraged to bring their “full selves” to work, she adds.

“When we’re talking to an employee, we know that they’re going to bring their outside personal life to work,” Payne says. “As much as you try to leave it at home, it’s not going to happen. People have ups and down in their life and if they come to work and something is really concerning them or bothering them, we talk to them about it.”

Being who you are at work makes for a more engaged person overall, Payne says. “If we make work a great place to be and people are happy at work, then they go home and are happier at home too.”

Recruiting for agility and innovation

OES also recruits for agility and conducts psychometric testing to find candidates who are comfortable with change, who are agile and innovative, Payne says. This ensures greater collaboration, which is fostered by weekly all-staff meetings where employees learn about major projects in the business and can opt to get involved.

“At any point someone can say, ‘I’m really interested in that, can I be involved?’ or, ‘that project really affects my area, I really think you and I need to talk about that’,” says Payne, adding it’s part of acknowledging that the next big idea can come from anywhere.

Another key part of OES’s employer value proposition is flexibility, Payne says, noting that for a company that offers online education, it would be remiss if OES did not let its own employees work remotely.

Managers are encouraged to ask, ‘why not?’ to any work-from-home request and then look for a solution. “Our degrees are 100 per cent online and are just as good as an on-campus qualification so we try to relate that back to the workforce as well. If we are doing that for our students and have this great online capability, we should also be able to do that with our work environment.”

Payne says CEO Denice Pitt plays an important role in maintaining the company’s employer brand, ensuring there is consistency between what it says and what it does. For example, when OES grew big enough for staff to occupy two floors, it made sure to spread the executives out across the two levels. “We talk about how everyone’s as important as each other and there’s no hierarchy here, so we scrutinise every decision to make sure what we’re doing is in line with our values at all times.”