Firstsource is a business management service provider and outsourcing partner based in the UK and Northern Ireland. Established in 2001, its services include end-to-end customer management, back-office support, and tech and IT solutions. It has approximately 5,000 employees.

Operational context

In 2023, Firstsource recognised that it needed to build its talent pipeline, experience and capability within the HR team. At the same time, the organisation was going through a restructure, resulting in a lower headcount. The HR function needed to adapt and transform how it was operating to better align with the business. Joanne Carlin, Senior Vice President, HR Europe at Firstsource, explains that: “The transformation was driven by a need to refocus the team to align with our client base… at that time the HR structure felt a bit disjointed from the needs of the organisation and we needed to create roles that, from an operating model perspective, fitted the new organisation as it was going to be.” 

Drivers for transforming the HR model

The previous, traditional model, with specialist and transactional HR being managed centrally and offshore, included HR advisers, assistant managers and managers, but no true business partners. This meant that HR activity was very transactional with little focus on strategy.

Employee relations was previously handled by external specialist advisers. However, Firstsource knew that bringing this work in-house would reduce costs and build the internal employee relations capability within the team.

The people team had other capability gaps in their talent pipeline, which meant they were unable to support the wider business growth plans. There was also a lack of data-led insight to inform the people team’s thinking.

The organisational restructure and cost reduction requirements meant that the people team needed to adapt, improve efficiency and reduce HR headcount.

What they did

The new structure

A new HR operating model was built to enable more strategic work, clarify roles, address capability gaps, and ensure that the HR team was structured appropriately to align with the changing needs of the business.

It now consists of three main teams:

  1. HR operations and employee relations: This new, data-driven and operationally-focused team has responsibility for process, operations, compliance and employee relations. Within this team sits a centralised administrative function to triage administrative tasks and drive better efficiency.
  2. Employee experience: The employee experience team supports multiple regional teams across the UK through HR and engagement business partners who work within the ‘microcultures’ of each business location.
  3. Specialist teams: These teams focus on talent acquisition, compensation and benefits, and talent development.
Changes in role and skill requirements

In addition to the structural changes above, Firstsource made other significant changes to support the new HR model:

  • Competency frameworks were developed for each new role: These helped to redefine the required skills and behaviours for each role and allowed a strengths-based approach to hiring. These competency frameworks were largely based on the CIPD Profession Map.
  • A new skills development programme was rolled out across the people team: This built technical and commercial skills throughout the team and, in particular, developed employee relations capability by introducing specialist subject matter experts so that employee relations work could be brought in-house. Weekly continuing professional development (CPD) programmes were initiated to further drive knowledge transfer.

Enablers

There were several key enablers to ensure the model was implemented and embedded effectively:

  1. Having clarity on the HR ratios model: This made it clear where full-time equivalent (FTE) changes were needed, and how many HR professionals were needed in each area. Joanne Carlin explains: “We are constantly reviewing to see where we could drive more efficiencies. We have to create the efficiency now in order to be able to absorb the growth later. That doesn't (necessarily) mean stripping headcount out, although sometimes it does.”
  2. Gaining senior leader buy-in from the start: Having business leaders talk positively about the transformation has helped embed the changes. Joanne Carlin reflects: “Without them, it wouldn't have happened. I needed them to talk positively in their peer groups about the changes that were happening.”
  3. Being transparent about the transformation and changes: Being up-front about the level of disruption, outlining why the transformation was necessary and setting expectations early on has helped to win hearts and minds. 
Challenge areas

A challenge has been ensuring that the HR team has confidence in the model and new working practices. This has been alleviated by:

  • delivering ‘HR gather and grow’ workshops to help the team change mindsets and behaviours to help embed the transformation and understand how the model will adapt with future organisational growth
  • communicating a clear message to emphasise that there would be no judgement, to reduce the fear of ‘getting it wrong’
  • consistently repeating communications on new accountabilities, to avoid escalation to the wrong team and to help build strong, collaborative relationships with business leaders to demonstrate the changes and why they were needed.

Outcomes

Successes of the new model include the following:

  • Changes in the HR business partner role have allowed business partners to become more proactive, provocative, disruptive and influential, with leaders acknowledging the importance of understanding the organisational context and issues.
  • The use of people data in ‘data hotspot’ meetings has resulted in the ability to proactively predict potential issues and address them quickly.
  • Members of the people team are aligned to strength areas and have clear and comprehensive details on the skills and behaviours required for each role.
  • Employee relations capability has developed by bringing this work in-house and having CPD focus time.
  • Administrative tasks are more effectively managed through the creation of a small, centralised triage team.
Continuous review and improvement 

The leadership team will review the model once a year to align with revenue plans and business strategy and assess whether the HR model is fit for purpose to support the organisational goals. As Joanne Carlin explains, operating models need to align to the changing needs of the business: “The model will change - I think you have to go into your organisation and ask what it needs, where it's trying to get to, where the growth trajectory is and where that growth is coming from. You have to build your model as such and therefore I never stick to one model.”

In terms of early success measures, Firstsource has seen a 30% reduction in attrition rates since the implementation of the new HR structure. Other metrics will be considered upon the annual review of the model. 

Top tips for a successful transformation

  1. Advocate the longer-term vision: Show that the HR transformation aligns with the organisation’s direction.
  2. Invest in ongoing communication to both the people team and business leaders throughout the transformation: This helps to reduce ambiguity and uncertainty for all HR team members. Organising meetings or workshops to walk through the changes and practical implications will help manage expectations, provide clarity on handoff points and build awareness of the upcoming changes.
  3. Use competency frameworks to set out the skills required in each role within the new model: Build on existing skills and strengths held within the people team.
  4. Create a psychologically safe environment and adopt a growth mindset: There will be mistakes along the way, but the people team should feel able to make mistakes, test ideas and adapt accordingly. This will help build confidence around the new ways of working.
  5. Share development and career opportunities with the people team: The transformation will likely open up different career paths and opportunities. 

 

 

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