The Rise of Career Experience as an HR Priority

Hosted by

Mervyn Dinnen

Analyst, Author, Commentator & Influencer

About this episode

HR Means Business 8: The Rise of Career Experience as an HR Priority

Host: Mervyn Dinnen

Guest: Nick Holmes, Global Head of Career Experience at Fishawack Health

In this episode Mervyn talks to Nick Holmes, Global Head of Career Experience at Fishawack Health, on the emergence of career experience as a specialism, what it covers, and how it helps improve engagement, wellbeing and retention.

They discuss:

– What is Career Experience and how has the thinking around it evolved?

– What internal challenges does career experience address

– The concept of ‘Talent Hotbeds’

– What should the career experience journey look like for a new recruit in the early stages of their career

– Initiatives to to help support and improve employee wellbeing



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Transcript follows:

Mervyn Dinnen 0:14
Welcome to the HR Means Business podcast on the HR Happy Hour Network. I’m your host, Mervyn Dinnen. And today I’m delighted to be talking about a topic, which to me is highly important in the world of HR for certainly this year and moving forward. I’ve constantly been interested by what are called the this the cycle of engagement, the kind of organizational culture, wellbeing, mental health, how we support our people, the kind of experience they get, how they’re able to develop the skills and knowledge they want, how engaged they are with the business, which of course all leads to improve productivity, which leads to retention, and improved business results. And it’s the Career Experience bit which interests me. And I recently was very impressed to see a speaker at a conference called Nick Holmes, who is Head of Career Experience at a company called Fishawack Health. And I’m very pleased that he’s agreed to be my guest on this podcast episode, when we talk about the whole area of career experience. What is it? What does the head of career experience do? And why every organization needs somebody to do that? Nick, good morning. Welcome to the podcast. And why don’t you introduce yourself?

Nick Holmes 1:35
Hey Mervyn, how are you? Thank you so much. And thank you for having me and allow me some time to talk about what is, you know, I guess, in essence, a hobby, which is sent to a professional mind, which is quite nice. So yeah, I’m Nick, I am the Global Head, as you mentioned, of career experience and an organization called Fishawack Health. We are a 1600, human strong commercialization partner for the healthcare industry. So we offer innovative solutions around marketing, consulting, policy, value evidence, access medical communications to the healthcare world and beyond. And I joined the organization in May 2021. And haven’t really looked back. And that’s when we started to sort of embark on what we rebranded professional development and turned into career experience, which I think sets us up for the future pretty nicely. Thanks for having me.

Mervyn Dinnen 2:31
But no, it’s a pleasure. So I suppose the first question is, the some listeners might be asking, what is career experience? How does it fit in with, you know, all the expressions we’ve been using over the years about, you know, engagement, development, retention? And, you know, what is career experience? What are the component parts of it? How I mean, how was the thinking around this, as you said, it’s kind of hobbies of yours that have turned into a full time role? So how has that evolved?

Nick Holmes 3:03
Great. Yeah, great question. And to be honest with you, this is sort of where the whole world of how we think and feel of work needs to sort of change and evolve. It’s a, it’s a design that’s been tailored for the needs and the problems of the organization that I walked into official workouts. So in terms of very simply, what does it look after the appearance team is, is the custodians of culture, they are the shapers of how we think and feel at work. And that is everything from the moment that someone stepped foot inside the organization to the moment that they become an alumni, right. So that’s everything from how they from day one, how they move through the organization, how they perform, how they develop, how they learn, how they grow, how leaders are made and shaped how behaviors are instilled in the business, how teams communicate and collaborate with one another. And we designed the whole premise around this idea that well, work is all about experience. Life is all about experiences. And if you can take a human and provide them a once in a lifetime opportunity. If you can take a human and provide them an incredible experience at work if you can provide them more experiences.

Nick Holmes 4:19
You can keep people and in an organization like ours, where we are professional services, we have incredibly talented humans who supply the healthcare industry with their knowledge, their their power in their brains and their fingertips rather than a specific products coming off a factory line. It’s really important to keep great humans in our business as most businesses, right. But then if you keep really good people, you have an energy in your organization you attract really great people to and then you deliver amazing work for your clients. So that’s kind of the reason why we exist is to make sure people will stay and when they’re here. They’re not here because they’re held against their will. But they’re here because they want to do great work and an environment that’s incredibly supportive to them, which is kind of key. But as I mentioned, so the crew experience is built because we we just there was sort of a bit of a blue ocean in the organization, not really put a stamp on traditional l&d, or professional development or growth or talent development. And when there’s an opportunity to rewrite the rulebook a little bit, which is what we’ve done.

Mervyn Dinnen 5:16
So what are the internal challenges that career experience would address? And help with?

Nick Holmes 5:25
Yep. So essentially, if you take a sort of the top line metrics organization, so engagement, how do people feel when they How engaged are they? How do we keep people post two years of tenure? How do we keep people when they’re leaving underneath 12, underneath 12 months, when you look at some of the big projects, or the big considerations we had is coming into the organization, there was no way of knowing where our people were in terms of their careers where they wanted to take their careers. No succession planning in place, no way of talking about talent in the development mindset, no way of scoping and shaping behaviors that are going to drive our leadership capability internally. To your point, which I know we’ll touch on this a little bit later. But you know, putting our arms around wellness and learning and training at every point of lifecycle, understanding about what skills exist in our critical roles, and how we develop those skills to make sure people are progressing and the right pace throughout our organization. So we can grow. And, you know, as an organization, we’ve grown from 800 to 600, people in less than two years. With that sort of rapid growth comes its own challenges around Well, now, you should be able to move people freely within your organization, that’s not quite the case, you’ve got to build the philosophy and the policy and the nuts and bolts of that to to keep people so big challenges around keeping great people making them feel sure they’re engaged growth, real large scale growth, and then also just building out an infrastructure of a department and a team. It’s a big thing.

Mervyn Dinnen 7:01
So it seems to merge in, I suppose a number of different areas, there was some kind of intelligence there. There’s obviously what I suppose historically, we’ve seen as the learning and development, performance management. How would you explain, I suppose to to the audience for this is very much for this podcast, very much the HR recruitment audience, but how would you explain to somebody outside of that? What career experiences, you know, how, how it’s evolved? And kind of in terms of a traditional organization, what are the bits that would now fall under career experience?

Nick Holmes 7:39
Yeah, great. So I mean, if you take a traditional sort of HR operating model, and you’ve taken a model where you’ve got business partners, HR operations, and you’ll see these right, so in terms of our Center of Excellence, that’s still sort of the case, within Fishawack we have a strategic business partner function. We have an amazing ops team, we have a really great talent team as well who are focused on bringing wonderful people into our business. And we have a DNI Director to where the Career Experience team plays is very much as that expertise in the room when it comes to the employee lifecycle and the entire employee experience from onboarding through to promotion, progression, performance, growth, leadership, promote, etc.

Nick Holmes 8:24
But more than that, it’s a seamlessly embedding into every single capability to understand. If you’re a consultant or project manager, how do we take your career and provide you the right progression opportunity at the right time? We are custodians of technologies, how do we use technology in a really smart way to provide people a once in, you know, an incredible employee experience from the minute they join, and that stop throughout their tenure at the organization? We also control you know, recognition, you know, because it’s a huge part of how you feel at work. And when we distill it, write it down. Our team is all about how do you think and feel about the work you do? How do you think and feel about the organization you work for? We’ve got to try and make sure hearts and minds are really lifted and elevated, whilst keeping credibility with the business by saying we are here to also meet those strategic and business goals too. So whilst we would traditionally sit in the org chart, and the people space, we are very much embedded in into the culture of all of our capabilities, or that’s where we want to go and where we try to make sure we are a partner across all of that. And that’s, and that’s where you sort of see the where there where the traditional sort of l&d side of the world sort of needs to shift and change. You know, instead of being the sort of one part of a center of excellence under a traditional ownership model. It needs to evolve into something more and different, but that of evolution is very specific to your capability or your division or your company that you’re working in and for.

Mervyn Dinnen 9:59
I like the concept of the journey, as I’ve written about it, as some listeners might know, two books. The first book, exceptional talent was about the new talent journey. And of course, the second book digital talent was about the digital talent journey. For for a new employee, maybe at the start of their career or the very early stages of their career. What does I suppose the Career Experience journey look like? To them? I mean, what what are their first touch points? And how will they be affected by it and supported by?

Nick Holmes 10:29
Yeah, so this is a really, really good question. What we strive to achieve is to create this fabulous environment where you walk in, and you’re able to grab your career and own it. And that’s enabled through really strong clear processes, but also really smart technology. So take the role of a project manager, or a junior project manager coming in from day one. So from day one, you get this nice personalized welcome message from the senior leadership team around you, you’re then flown into sort of some of the key needs to know that the nice nose of the world of work through our a new platform we’ve introduced called Connect, and then leveraging other pieces of technology, you can actually then see what skills you have today where and what skills you need to level up to take that next step from being a junior pm to a project manager. Now managers are then equipped with the right nudges at the right time throughout the employee lifecycle to say, now I’m gonna have a coaching conversation with you now we’re going to talk about your career. Now we’re talking about compensation. And now we’re going to talk about, you know, what your growth opportunities look like. And by the way, by being part of a network of 600 people, you can see loads of those different jobs in those aspects. And you can pivot any any which way. Or if you want to stay your traditional pm path that’s there, too. We introduce things like a global professional development fund, so access on day one, no criteria and tenure. So from day one, you could apply to access a pool of funds to upskill in different areas that you’re interested in exploring it. It’s about creating an environment. So no matter your role, your tenure, your level of seniority, you have the right access, you have the access to the right training, the right learning the light environment at the right time. And our team’s job is to build that environment.

Mervyn Dinnen 12:09
Okay. When we had a chat when I first met you a few weeks ago, that we spoke about the concept of talent hotbeds. And as I’ve got you on here, rather than me try to explain what they are. What are they? And how, how do they fit into the career experience journey?

Nick Holmes 12:30
Yeah, great. Great question. I so talent hotbeds are pretty fascinating, right. So if you look at sprinters out of Jamaica, or you’ve got rugby players coming out of New Zealand, and things like this, where you’ve got these little wells, where you’re like, What is this? There’s something in the water in this particular location, whether it’s a school or a country, or a place or a team? What are the things that are creating this such high output of top talent? And when you start diving into that, understand a little bit deeper? how do organizations then create their own little talent hotbeds and go on to grow? So you build a really strong succession problem, great talent coming out of specific teams, and it boils down to a number of different things, right? So the first thing is a relentless attitude towards continue. So everything is every piece of feedback is useful. That’s coming in at all angles, managers are acting like coaches, really strong coaches. And so what can you do differently? How do you get there, I’m not going to hold your hand manager here, you’re going to learn through difficulty, but I’m here every step of the way to take you through that. The other aspect is actually volume. So you’re putting content in people’s hands. And you are, like I said, creating the environment so they can access lots of different experiences and things.

Nick Holmes 13:47
I think one of the things we’re guilty of is saying the program for what we’ve determined is top talent performance ratings, which inherently in their very nature, if you do an annual appraisal, you’re relying on the gut feel of a manager plus a little bit of you know, objective setting which again, can be so objective. So you know, creating these this idea of internal talent hotbeds is actually like this, then we go back to creating this environment. And you’ve got to be coaching your managers to understand that actually, if someone leaves your organization or my organization, your team or your, your charter, they are moving on and in your business. You’ve done your job, you’ve done a really good job by handling that person off and then next steps. No problem we’ve got is mindsets are I’ve got to hold on to this because if I lose them, I’m under resourced, and I’ve got to go find somewhere else. Instead of thinking Mamet as managers mobilizes, right so it’s like my job is to build you create your capability. The number one job of a leader is to unlock the capability in human beings. If I can unlock your potential, you’ll take the next step and you’ll keep adding value back into the business. I spoke about engagement earlier, and you can literally take an engagement scale and you can attach return on investment, right.

Nick Holmes 14:57
So if you think about human capital as an investment, right? When someone comes into the organization, they’re actively engaged, which means they’re adding value back in for what they’re being paid as a salary. Now, as people slide down the engagement scale, they start slowly drifting away and being less productive. And that’s when you you know, we’ve we’ve been sort of quiet quitting in the dirt. But when you’re less engaged, you start adding less value back in for your doing. So your sweet spot and people HR leaves you sort of top quartile as much as you can. So they’re adding back in they, they send that extra email, they write that extra paragraph, they do that extra thing. hotbeds, you’re creating people who are operating in that quartile sitting at 90% of the time.

Mervyn Dinnen 15:42
Now, an important part of career experience, I should imagine is employee wellbeing. And that seems to be an area that was certainly if I look over the last year or so, I’ve been increasingly involved in in the research I do. And it’s been touched on in quite a few of the conversations I’ve had, obviously, around this podcast, and when I’m out and about to the events, what initiatives have you overseen At Fishawack Health, that helped to support and improve wellbeing for the people there?

Nick Holmes 16:13
Yeah, I think it’s important to know that in our organization, we’ve got combined effort from not just the experience team, not just the DNI team, but the HR team as a whole. But putting it on the agenda has been the first step. Now as a team, how we do that and we support that is a couple of different ways. We, we have over 50 mentally Health, Mental Health First Aid trainers in our organization across the UK in the US, so investing in people to get the skill to be mentally health first or first aid train, how our organization is wired to wellness. And what I mean by that is we are about to introduce around an initiative called Project rebalance, which is coming out of and what rebalance is aiming to do is basically set the scales, we set the scales in terms of how we work when we work, why we were and then actually protecting time throughout our day, week, month, year. Other things then doing the thing that is in array, whether that is learning whether that is inclusion, whether it’s a town hall or an extra piece of educational learning. So we’re being smarter with how we’re asking people to spend their time. And that’s that’s it, you can’t cure wellness with you. And additional days off here. And they’re like to be able to map dramatically move the needle on mental health, you need to look at how your organization is actually working the practices around that because burnout does not come. You know, it’s not one direct cause just by working too much. Burnout is the environment, again, that you’re working is going to elevate stress levels or not, that’s going to lead to eventual burnout. So, for example, if you’ve got leaders and managers who are applying lots of pressure, always on micromanaging, providing dual roles, lack of expectations, your stress levels were never to increase for months on end. Combine that with the cost of living crisis upon post pandemic era, and everything else that the world is going through, people are going to inevitably start to really suffer, as well as being back to back. So you’ve got to look at your managerial practices, getting people the right education internally.

Mervyn Dinnen 18:16
Okay. They I think that’s important. You know, this is you’re describing, obviously a very open, I suppose, organization with open lines of communication. I think one of the one of the pieces of research I’ve referred to a lot that I was involved with, showed that most employees aren’t comfortable going to a manager or supervisor leaders directors to say that they’re struggling with a mental health that they’re feeling under pressure. If they really feel they need a couple of days off or a couple of days out of it. They’ll make an excuse. They won’t give the real reason. So I’m guessing that for this to work, yeah. That there needs to be the openness, you know, organizationally, we it’s still something I think we’re we’re slowly getting used to this kind of openness, having the conversations, but from what you’ve said, would you say career experience, you know, that people working in that area within the organization? It’s almost their job to make sure there is this kind of open culture open dialogue?

Nick Holmes 19:20
Exactly. We’ve talked about them as creating psychological safety, right? Yeah. If you ensure that our job as a team is to definitely embed that culture of psychological safety across our organization. It’s funny, like if we were talking to a manager and we had gone running, and we’d sprained her ankle over the weekend, we’d be quite open, as you say, to say, I sprained my ankle over the weekend. It’s in a bad way. As soon as we shift that pain up to our minds, all of a sudden we would have a barrier and how the organization talks about sickness and how you use policy and just making sure employees know that that day is there for your mind just as much as if you were to, you know, hurt your leg, arm or ankle etc. So yeah, the role of that CSP team is experienced team is to create psychological safety. And when you create that employees feel free to express themselves whether that is to improve something, change that but also be vulnerable. But beyond that the only the only way you can actually get psychological safety is through role modeling through leaders, if you get leaders actively stepping in to say, You know what I had to take yesterday off because I just needed a moment I was feeling it, I was suffering, my mental health was suffering, here’s what I did to help improve that Romana mount behavior, that’s everyone else around, you know that it’s okay. And when people know, it’s okay, they’ll feel more inclined to step in and raise their voice.

Mervyn Dinnen 20:41
If business leaders, HR professionals, and listening to this conversation are wondering, how can I get started on this journey? You know, what, what, where do I begin, I would love to have somebody like Nick in the organization to really take a look holistically at everything we’re doing. What would your advice be?

Nick Holmes 21:01
Always start from a place of data. And that was the most important place we did. And when I initially joined the organization that was it’s fair to say it’s a slight reluctance to, from the leadership at the time to really go out and listen, really intently listen through data. And that’s just a sort of a response from growing from a small agency to 100 people now, with new leadership comes a new appetite to get that listening data, which I’m really pleased we’ve been able to do and get. So we combine that real solid constant date. Why are people staying? Why are they leaving? And when they’re here? What are they telling us that needs to change approval? What do people want want from their careers? Getting all that information and insight. And I always used to build a very focused and honed in plan to achieve it. Now you’ve got to combine what the people want with where the organization is needing to go for sustainability, growth and scale. And you have a sweet spot in there where you’ll have a very select number of priorities, which will be two or three things. Do one or two, three things and do them to completion, do them really well and go and the people you need to execute some of this for you. They may exist in your people community.

Nick Holmes 22:18
But I’ve built a team from zero to seven, and all of the bar one of our internal moves, every single one has come into my career experience the number one and we needed some digital learning expertise to bring into the team. Everyone else is internal. Because people want to help people. You don’t have to have a degree in HR, you don’t have to have 20 years led to be able to run and operate increased sprints, you need a passion for improvement. And to be open to coaching, you need to be ready to upskill yourself, you need a massive amount of learning agility, for sure. But you need the right behaviors and the behaviors to lead a CSP team and run analytics, PR continuous improvement, being amazing with feedback, innovation, creativity, design, pace, but just a genuine passion for wanting to improve the lives of your colleagues around you. And that is our relentless vision to create this incredible place for people to work, we are just obsessed about it. So if you’re a leader, your HR professional going, Yeah, but I have there’s 100 people in my business, and there’s just me and an HR advisor, that’s okay, you’ve got to start talking to your team about careers. Again, what’s the first thing you could do in the next three months is going to change or improve the life of people around you start talking about careers as as rock climbing walls, as portfolios, change the narrative, you have it in your control. And a lot of people think this is a really difficult thing to be able to go and do and you need loads of investment nonsense, you just need to start, start executing acting on the things you’re hearing. As soon as you give people a voice. And then you’re consistent about giving people a voice. You then you’ve got this constant funnel of ideas to act on and do and when you act on an idea, you complete it, you get trust, it builds that trust that bind any organization. Once you’ve done one thing you’ve proved to the organization is successful, then you start to scale and grow a team around you based on on the return on investment that you’ve created. And then all of a sudden, you’ll find people will say, and when people will stay you’ll find people are more engaged. And when they’re more engaged, you’ll find business outputs increase. I mean, we’re seeing an interesting trend like that.

Mervyn Dinnen 24:19
Fascinating conversation, Nick, before we finish, I suppose the one question I would ask you is looking further ahead. How do you see this evolving? Because it’s as I said, when I was first met you it to me it was a not a new concept, because obviously I’ve been writing and researching around these areas for a long time, but it’s kind of to see you kind of in there representing an organization as the head of career experience. How do you see this developing over the next few years? I mean, will this be a you see this as being very specific to maybe different types of organizations? Would it be divisional heads of career experience? Or is it more just a complete culture shift within organizations.

Nick Holmes 25:04
Yeah, I think it is a branch of people that will break. Actually, I see it breaking away, I do see the evolution of HR taking two very different tracks. And I, you know, in the future I see there is one side of HR, which is focused on analytics, operations, making sure the business is functioning beautifully and sustainably and smoothly. And the other version of HR is that everything that I’ve just spoken about this morning is how do you attract amazing people keep them grow them progressing through the organization? I think there’s two ways how do you make sure they feel included through amazing inclusion in DNI practices, as well as wellness and growth and progression? There are two bits of HR. And I think it’s okay, we can start to talk about that. And we can we can, we don’t always have to lump everything under the human resources or people and culture umbrella, they can be two different things than I think they are. And it’s going to basically, I’ve started writing a paper around x into hyperdrive. So employees, for instance, a hyperdrive, which is it’s going to be a hyper personalized experience, it’s going to be hyper human. As automation gets better, and technology becomes smoother, that’s going to free time up to be more human, more intimate, more personable, more deliberate, it’s going to be hyper connected, we’re going to have people working all over the world and remote places all the time. Now, that’s not going to go away, it’s gonna get more and it’d be hyper healthy. Because health, we’ll be right back on our agenda once we calm down from what’s happening outside in the world. So when you go back to being one of the questions you first asked me is, what does an employee experience when they step foot in the business?

Nick Holmes 26:37
Why do you think about that new UX into hyperdrive, I’ll get a notification on my phone that says Welcome to the business with a personalized message from the CEO, which says click here to start your journey. And then you’ll be able to see the next 2-4-5 years unfold in front of you. You’ll get notifications when it’s time to get your health checked in organization on a quarterly basis, your manager will be nudged to say, hey, this person flagged up as potentially they’re suffering a little bit his techniques and techniques, right? It’s just going to transform the way we work. Now, organizations are going to be the ones that are going to be succeeding the next five and 10 years organizations are going ah, that sounds a bit you know, I’m just gonna stick to my lane are gonna slow. And ultimately, when the talent market becomes back into the plans is a minute Amazing how we saw the shift quickly, you know, the great attrition is coming, everyone focused on employee experience, it’s like and now the markets a bit topsy turvy, maybe in recession, maybe not, people are staying put a little bit longer. That’s going to change again in the next two years. And the employee experience needs to be firmly back on the agenda. Start mapping it out now. Start talking about it now with your business and start building a capability set within your people team to be able to deliver something awesome for your people.

Mervyn Dinnen 27:48
And how can people find you? How can they connect with you and ask you some of these questions because I’m hopefully this conversation would have inspired a lot of listeners to think you know what, we need to start looking at this in our organization.

Nick Holmes 28:04
Yeah, reach out. I love talking to like minded people so you can find the best place to search me on LinkedIn. I post a lot of things and my thoughts go out there. So search for Nick Holmes, Fishawack Health on LinkedIn, I’m sure it will come up and just pay me a note. Send me a message. Let’s talk if you need to help support, ideas, anything I’ll always make time so yeah, please do connect. Let’s chat.

Mervyn Dinnen 28:28
Nick, thank you for your time and it’s been a fabulous to talk to you and we’ve learned a lot today.

Nick Holmes 28:35
Me too. And as always a pleasure to chat but yeah, thank you so much for having me and allow me to rant and rave at ya.

Mervyn Dinnen 28:44
It wasn’t ranting and raving. Bye.

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