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The Capgemini Research Institute spoke with Elaine Arden, Group Chief Human Resources Officer, HSBC.

Elaine Arden joined HSBC in 2017 as its Chief Human Resources Officer. Prior to that, she was Group HR Director at RBS (now NatWest) and Direct Line. With over 25 years of experience, Elaine has been responsible for various aspects of HR across several business verticals, including IT, Credit Cards and Asset Finance. She is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Banking in Scotland (CIBOS) and a member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD).
The Capgemini Research Institute spoke to Elaine about managing talent across geographies, closing skills gaps, and building an inclusive and collaborative culture to improve business outcomes.


What are the key elements driving the people agenda at HSBC?

I think it’s useful to divide the people agenda into two areas of focus. The first comprises reskilling, restructuring, and growing. Reskilling is essential for delivering on our strategic plan. HSBC is constantly restructuring – for a momentous recent example, we radically downsized our operations in Europe and the US to support the shift in capital to Asia in 2020. To support growth, we have big hiring plans to build robust capabilities in our Hong Kong and London bases.

The second area focuses on cultural change: fostering diversity and inclusion with our global reach and footprint; future-proofing the workplace culture and strengthening leadership to set the strategic direction of the organization.


How does HSBC encourage dynamic talent allocation and skills development?

At HSBC, we support our employees in developing the digital, data, and sustainability skills that will be central pillars of the future work structure. We partnered with Degreed, a learning and upskilling platform, to launch the HSBC university. This gives us a framework for skill-building at scale. By enrolling in the university, employees are able to train, upskill, and attain qualifications in a way that is both integrated with and tailored to benefit their professional trajectories. We have set a core curriculum for learning that helps employees to develop structured educational journeys that focus on the development of in-demand skills. For instance, the Sustainability Academy offers programs that are accredited by external bodies, supported by sector-specific workshops, and that instill graduates with a high-level understanding of current sustainability imperatives. These platforms are designed to ease the transition from the roles of today to those of tomorrow.

“About 140,000 employees at HSBC use the Gloat platform, our internal talent marketplace, which is a game-changer.”

Gloat breaks down silos and redistributes talent and skills, at scale, across the business. It empowers people and democratizes access to work by disrupting traditional internal hierarchies. We are also committed to redeploying employees affected by our restructuring programs; almost a quarter of employees affected in this way found new roles within HSBC in 2021, up from 14% in 2020.

How does HSBC use its internal talent marketplace to overcome cultural and geographical barriers and support collaboration?

We selected around 10,000 employees from the technology team based in India to introduce the [Gloat] platform, as, by the nature of their training, they were already acquainted with this agile way of working. Following the success of the pilot program, we were able to go live with the talent marketplace for around another 90,000 employees across four countries. We are continuing to expand the reach of the program gradually and will make it available to all our employees worldwide by Q1 2023. Anecdotally, I have heard a lot of good things, but we will also look at quantitative data and see how the system is working in terms of measurable outputs. But, overall, we are keen to keep it loosely structured, giving people freedom to explore new roles. We will examine outcomes across market cultures and verticals as we scale, considering the opinions of employees from across the functional spectrum.


How can organizations improve productivity in the hybrid era?

Organizations rely on their people to connect with customers; consequently, they need to make sure that their people are happy with their choice of employer and work environment. We try not to enforce too many traditional targets, like days spent in the office; productivity should be measured in terms of customer outcomes, team cohesion, and social capital and not by superficial metrics such as presenteeism. The best way to improve both organizational health and individual well-being is to support employees in working how they want to work. Our employees decide whether and how often they want to commute to the office, for instance. We have learned that one size doesn’t fit all; different personality types require different roles and work environments. If we ask flexibility of our workforce, we must be willing to reciprocate.

Organizations need to elevate workplace experience by equipping managers to implement the initiatives they know will support their teams.

“We had to trust people through the lockdown, and they delivered. So, why suddenly take that trust away?”

Some managers and leaders focus on the extremes, pointing to the few employees who did not respond positively to the crisis. But it’s never a good idea to design your communications for the lowest common denominator.

We have 220,000 people in 64 countries; that’s a lot of different markets and business cultures to consider! Instead of trying to enforce a common framework, we decided to allow managers to implement work cultures at team level, focusing on flexibility, both for the employee and the customer.

Our staff survey revealed that our employees worked flexibly even before the pandemic, and the hybrid setup has pushed this.


How can organizations nurture a sense of community among their remote workforce?

We have redesigned workplaces to build social capital, with a strong focus on new joiners. We use a ‘hybrid effectiveness index’ to track the progress and well-being of new employees by monitoring the outcomes we intend to drive: trust between employees and their managers and colleagues; culture awareness; and a sense of social belonging and well-being at work.

We have to be culturally and geographically sensitive and adapt our approach depending on where in the world our teams are based. For instance, although Hong Kong and the UK aren’t hugely different in terms of working cultures, Hong Kong is a much smaller city with shorter commute times and a higher proportion of intergenerational households. The UK workforce is geographically more dispersed and employees are less likely to live with their families. So, the work-life balance and requirements for one set of employees could be quite different from that of another, even where there are superficial similarities.

As part of our restructuring program, we adjusted our ‘leadership bands,’ redefined the seniority of roles, and developed a more straightforward leadership framework to ensure clarity on responsibility, remit, and accountability. We run an executive leadership program to align our leaders’ personal objectives with corporate goals, fostering a human connection, and offer executive education and training, using both internal and external experts. The program has helped leaders build trust and ensure employees receive equal opportunities, even when dispersed by a hybrid setup.

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