"When you automate a process, don’t lose the process’s purpose and essence," says Metro Bank’s Chief People Officer

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Danielle Harmer is Chief People Officer at Metro Bank. When Metro Bank launched in 2010, it was the first high street bank in 100 years. They were voted Moneywise’s Most Trusted Financial Provider for the second consecutive year and, by 2020, aim to have 110 stores across the UK. Danielle has worked in retail banking for nearly 20 years both in business leadership and HR roles.

Jamie Lawrence, Editor, HRZone: To what extent does Metro Bank use analytics in the HR function?

Danielle Harmer, Chief People Officer, Metro Bank: We use them a lot and are getting better with data and insight all the time. When we have questions to answer, I always say to my team - start with the data. There’s a mixture of art and science when answering questions, but unless you give people the data first I don’t think you can use your judgement and apply the art. 

I like to use data to check a hypothesis: you need to be prepared to listen to feedback and work out a way to use analytics to validate it.

We use Glassdoor as one of our sources of analytics and feedback because it’s raw, unadulterated feedback. It’s a good example of where you need to get the balance of art and science right. We had a couple of people leave and sometimes - I wish it didn’t happen but it does - people leave and feel aggrieved about leaving you. So you have to apply some judgement to the feedback they give you on sites like Glassdoor.

But if you do get a couple of pieces of similar feedback, such as ‘we were discouraged from claiming overtime back,’ then you need to look at the data. So we took all of our stores, and we plotted them by counter (cashier) activity per headcount and by the overtime or the time off in lieu (TOIL) that each colleague had. Then we looked for outliers.

Some of the stores had high overtime in relation to activity but when we looked into it, it was because they were new stores.  So their counter activity was low because they didn’t have a customer base yet, but overtime was high because the team was less experienced and the store was in startup mode opening new accounts.

For the stores where activity was high and TOIL and overtime were low, we went to speak to them and reminded them they needed to give people the time back.

Jamie Lawrence, Editor, HRZone: That’s a great example. What other ways do you use data and analytics in HR?

Danielle Harmer, Chief People Officer, Metro Bank: We also do monthly reporting to the board and executive team. We look at retention rates and we break it down via experience levels. As a growth organisation we know that length of time in role has a positive correlation with customer experience.

As you become a bit more familiar with the job you get better. So we started to track average length of time in role - not with the organisation, but specifically with the role - in stores and in our contact centres. We’re measuring that and, while it can take a long time to move the dial, we’re seeing progress and tailoring our training and in-job career and reward progression to encourage this.

We check absence, and specifically stress-related absence as we think it’s important to check how people are feeling and what their mental health is like.

We look at customer capacity for many roles. We look at this to make sure we have enough people there for our customers. The amount of people you have and their capability is a good way of estimating whether you can deliver great customer experience.

We look at monthly promotions and overall training activity. As mentioned we analyse  Glassdoor every month and we compare our scores there to other organisations we benchmark ourselves against - a couple of banks but more importantly organisations like Google, Lush and John Lewis.

We also do our annual engagement survey (Voice of the Colleague).

Jamie Lawrence, Editor, HRZone: Tell us more about how you use data and analytics to measure culture.

Danielle Harmer, Chief People Officer, Metro Bank: We track anyone who has been promoted whose behavioural scores were below ‘living our values’. We understand that sometimes you can be in a job and it’s too much or it’s the wrong job and you’re struggling from a delivery perspective, but we are concerned when someone is promoted or moved and their behaviours are an issue because culture is so important.

We also measure what percentage of hires come from family and friends and we tend to run  at around 20-25%.

New joiners undertake the two-day Visions programme and we track attendance to make sure that people are taking part.  It’s true that what gets measured gets done: if a department has an employee that can only start on a Thursday, for example, and Visions is on Monday and Tuesday, we try to encourage them to find a solution so the employee can start on the Monday.

Jamie Lawrence, Editor, HRZone: How does Metro Bank use process automation in HR to free up HR to add further value?

Danielle Harmer, Chief People Officer, Metro Bank: We have an ATS and we’ve had that for a couple of years. If you have a decent ATS, it makes a big difference to how hard your recruitment team has to work and whether they can get the system to do a lot of the heavy lifting for them.

From a candidate experience perspective, one of the neat things we’ve introduced is our onboarding portal ‘Ready Set Metro’.  Once you’ve got an offer, you get a link to the portal, and from there you can do things like virtually signing your contract, see all the important policies and documents, get all the information about referencing requirements and other joining processes.

People can electronically sign their contract within minutes. In the past it could have taken us days: we’d have to print a contract, send it out, they read it, sign it, scan it and return it back. I do like our onboarding portal; it’s so important to give new hires an indication of the culture they’ll be joining.

Jamie Lawrence, Editor, HRZone: Should you automate all you can?

Danielle Harmer, Chief People Officer, Metro Bank: One of my guys changed a process internally so that all new hires received an electronic invitation to Visions, our two-day cultural orientation programme for new starters.

This was brilliantly intended, but you should only automate processes where the personal touch doesn’t matter. People previously got their Visions invitations through the post, with a little bag of sweets as a surprise and delight.  At every Visions people would say how much they liked it. And when they arrive on day 1, they bring their Visions ticket with their passport for their Metro Bank journey and the ticket stub becomes their name badge. It’s all part of the experience.

The person who automated it had forgotten that you do have to be careful to what extent you automate something. Make sure that whatever the true purpose of it is, you don’t lose the essence.

Jamie Lawrence, Editor, HRZone: How does Metro Bank use people data to add value across the business, across different departments and functions?

Danielle Harmer, Chief People Officer, Metro Bank: Our people partners give our executive team the data and analytics for their area for that month and then we talk about it. The data alone is not that helpful - you need the conversations and the insight around the data. That’s what’s really important.

Obviously some of the stuff we’re working through right now is the gender pay gap. It’s an interesting exercise in analytics. Most organisations will have a gender pay gap because the average national gender pay gap is about 19%. And the HR function has a responsibility to make sure people understand what that means. When we first looked at the data, we also wanted to look at the equal pay data. Why?

Because there’s a real risk with analytics that people misunderstand what the data means, and there’s a real chance with the pay gap, because it’s described as a pay gap, that people will assume that - say you find a 10% gender pay gap - that it means a man doing exactly the same job as a woman will be paid 10% more.

Now that may be the case, or it may mean that you just happen to have more men in more senior jobs that you do woman. One is an equal pay issue, one is a talent/succession planning/gender mix/progression issue. We can fix both, but we need to fix them differently.

Jamie Lawrence, Editor, HRZone: Interesting. Have you made any changes to data and analytics processes to give you better data to start a better conversation?

Danielle Harmer, Chief People Officer, Metro Bank:  When I first arrived, we had about 75 questions in our employee engagement survey. We got it down to 13.

What I’d seen in other companies is that if you have five questions about a subject, say training, people will use the questions to argue with themselves and really what you want to see is how people are experiencing the company. Are they feeling more engaged? Is it getting better?

If you have too many questions, that message gets lost.

Jamie Lawrence, Editor, HRZone: What’s next for Metro Bank when it comes to HR analytics and use of data in the people function?

Danielle Harmer, Chief People Officer, Metro Bank: We’ve probably nearly outgrown our HR system - we put in workflows and data in a logical way but we’re getting to the point when we can’t do the things we now want and need to do.

If you’re a manager at Metro Bank, and it’s someone’s birthday, you get an email a week before reminding you that it may be nice to send a card. And the colleague gets an email as well. We’d like the birthday email to have a personalised image and the system can’t do it.

Another area is business continuity planning. If you had (say) a flood at an office and wanted to let people know to go somewhere else, the easiest way to do that is via text message.

We’re also looking at how to use [enterprise social networking tool] Yammer better. There’s “if this then that” technology available now, so that when for example a colleague puts a suggestion on Yammer, it automatically puts it into a spreadsheet so you know the suggestion won’t just get lost.

Or you could send the colleague an automated email thanking them for their suggestion and then the suggestion is automatically forwarded to the appropriate team.

Jamie Lawrence, Editor, HRZone: What would you say to other organisations looking to further automate various HR processes? What helps the process go smoothly?

Danielle Harmer, Chief People Officer, Metro Bank: Think through what it is you’re trying to achieve and why. Remember it’s not just about less work for you, but the experience of the person - the candidate, colleague, employee etc. Balance the automation and efficiency with the impact you want to achieve. Get the right mix of art and science.

Always read workflow emails as a customer and ask yourself if it’s the best it can be, if it’s the simplest, best experience. Innovation is not about thinking about something really clever. Continual improvement and making things better is very important. You need to look for feedback and ask your people what they think could be better to drive continual improvement.

About Jamie Lawrence

Jamie Lawrence, HRZone

Jamie Lawrence is editor of global online HR publication and community HRZone.com. He is committed to driving forward the HR agenda and making sure that HR directors have the knowledge and insight necessary to make HR felt across the whole organisation. He regularly speaks to audiences of 250+ and has interviewed key HR industry names, including Daniel H. Pink. He has worked previously as a small business journalist and a copywriter and has published non-fiction that reached #2 on the NYT Children's Bestseller List. In his spare time Jamie likes writing fiction, films, fitness and eating out.

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