HR tech an enabler or disabler?

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Charlotte Hall
May 5, 2021
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You're reading about Talent hacks for scaleups, the show for people building HR and talent functions at scaleups moving at the speed of light.

In this series we share hacks from industry leaders that have built HR and talent functions at Europe's top scaleups whilst in mid-flight. This is the start of our FinTech series, which will zero in on challenges that you face.

Today, we're joined by, the queen of FinTech, Sophie will be sharing stories from running people and HR functions, as some of the fastest moving fintechs are no other than revolute, and now.

Sophie, tell us a little bit about you?

I started off in recruitment about 10 years ago, I never really thought that I would do recruitment, but I fell into it and absolutely fell in love with it, and have just never really looked back since.

Since then I've worked on the corporate side of things. And in the last five or six years, I’ve worked predominantly at FinTech startups and started off my first role in the startup world with Revolut. That was a bit of an experience, and it just went on from there.

I did a little bit of a detour outside of FinTech and then realised you know what my heart is in FinTech. I'm going to go back into it and then here we are!

3 quickfire questions!

  • So Sophie, if you were to pick between slack teams, or discord? Sophie : Slack
  • Mac, Windows or…? Sophie : You don’t even need to finish that sentence, I go with a Mac!
  • Finally ATS or HRIS? Sophie : This is a hard one I toss between the both because I also usually have to choose between the both um… HRIS! Yeah, I think it's a lot more fun. It’s a bigger piece than the ATS and touches more areas.

You recently spoke at an event about your career pivot, tell us more?

So I originally graduated from engineering, I absolutely loved what I was studying and what I was learning. But there were definitely aspects as I was growing older, I was like, this is not as fun as I thought it would be. I thought I cannot be studying refrigeration anymore.

Because you know, when you're in uni, and you pick the major, but they tell you what you need to study, and, there are not that many electives. It was during the financial crisis and I could either bum around and wait for the right opportunity to fall through or apply for 1000s and 1000s of graduate roles.. My first real job was in a startup, it was three people, one founder, and I was an IT recruiter, and that was how it all started.

Do you think your engineering experience influenced your methodology to recruitment; a methodical, structured & data driven approach to decision making?

I think it's shaped the way I am very critical about how I make decisions based on a very data driven mindset. But I think, particularly when I first started off in recruitment, most of us could agree that recruitment is probably one of the more fun ways of looking at HR, right?

Because there's a lot of people you talk to, you meet great people, sometimes you don't meet a great candidate, but most of the time, you're talking to excellent people who you end up learning a lot from. When I was doing that, I never ever thought that I would be able to apply what I've learned professionally in the job that I was doing.

Zinc: Sophie Theen - Talent hacks for scalups

I think it wasn’t until I started at IBM, when I started looking at resource management, I realised there was a much better way of implementing this particular project. Then I started bringing back that analysis and then as I ventured into HR, it became even more prominent and important to me that, if I was a little bit more critical when I make decisions, it could help the business make much better decisions that didn’t just fall into my area. So in a way, at least for the first five years, it's probably one of the most important skills that I've learned from uni.

When you're working at a FinTech, you just treat it as any other startup. There’s not enough people to tell you no, that's for sure, and you can take that for granted, because everyone's far too busy. On the other hand, it's a perfect blank canvas to actually make the right decisions to start with. So you've got to be accountable to yourself to make those good decisions, convince your stakeholders and influence the rest of the business that this is right, and then you go for it. It is a regulated environment, but not one that limits actually doing good HR work.

Who cares what technology you pick? Let's just pick what our mate over there picked! Right?

Yeah, this makes me cringe. I personally myself have walked into places where I'm like, how did you let this unravel? And how did it happen? What was going through your head when you've made the decision to sign up on something that you're now stuck with for the next three years? I can't help you. Instances like that are definitely due to the fact that when you go into a startup, the reality is people are far too busy. Which means if it's your decision. It falls onto your plate, you better well make a very good decision about it, because no one else is going to do that for you.

On the other hand, when people are so busy, they re-prioritise things right at that particular moment, that might not be the most important to you. You come into a place, it's hypergrowth, and everyone’s super busy scaling up. They've never had an ATS system before, and so the first thing that you are tasked to do is implement an ATS as fast as possible so that you don't have CV’s and data all over the place. You're missing out on what your people are doing without an ATS. They send CV’s through Slack, they send it to each other, print them out and we all know that's not right.

So you sit in front of your laptop and you go okay, my only priority is... to implement something that is a lite version. Not clunky, takes a very short period of time to implement, and is also super easy to use so that I can go, go, go.

We've done it, tick box, let's carry on.

And that's fair, because you were tasked to do that. But if you have some sort of bandwidth to further analyse it a little bit, it’s going to be useful for the next 12  to 24 months. Now, regardless, where you put your stopping point, and where you draw the line, you still need to have some recognition right now for the next 12 months. I don't care what happens, I need this in the next two weeks and I need this to support and sustain the business for the next 12 months. Then you put a reminder, at least even if you know you're not going to be there for the 12 months, make sure your team recognises that, okay, here are the tools, continue to analyse this, if it doesn't work, make sure you get yourself out of it. When you sign the contract, don’t tie yourself in just because of a teeny discount.

How do scaleups get the balance between useful data, understanding the real pain points, but quickly enough that they can keep up the momentum?

I would just say, when you are in an early stage, you don't have enough historic data to make decisions. Unless you walk into a place of ten years, and something  there has not worked for the last five, then it's quite an easy decision to make. But when you go into a startup, they don't have enough historic data, so you really have to make sure that you're not the only person making that decision.

Zinc: talent hacks for scaleups Sophie Theen

When you're in that kind of environment, you want to engage a focus group, and ask your stakeholders before you decide how to solve that problem. If you don't feel like you've got enough information about the real problem to solve, then keep looking for the problem. You are going to come across tonnes of pressure that this needs to happen yesterday, but that's the environment of a startup. But still, you have to be responsible enough to go and find as much as possible to make a well-rounded and informed decision.

So often, when you’re working in a company where it's there's not enough time, (you don't even have time to have lunch) if you don't stop and think about the real problem you're trying to solve, you're guaranteed to make a wrong decision. It's way too busy. It's growth, growth, growth. This is what I always tell my team or anyone else that I come across. Even to myself. I ask myself, what is the real problem I'm trying to solve?

Is it admin?

For example, you hear people say that there's tonnes of admin, there's not enough people in the HR team, let's go and find something that is smarter so that we don't have to do that. Or on the other hand, I don't want my team to do mundane tasks, it's not motivating. I want them to have headspace to start learning things that are more strategic....

When you hire 30 people in a week, that's what you do all week. Onboarding, paperwork, paperwork, paperwork, and that's the most important thing. So really scale back and then zoom out to think, what is the real problem you're trying to solve?

Should it matter if an ATS talks to a HRIS? How important is integration and which do you buy first?

In an ideal world there is a blank canvas, there is no HRIS or ATS. You go out and find the two that are a perfect match for each other, and you marry them together. Then it's happy days after that. Or you come into situations where one already exists before the other. I always want them to work together.

Zinc: Sophie Theen - talent hacks for scaleups

We’re now in a better place with HR tech. Because of all the competition, we still see HRIS that actually has an element of ATS, and that's brilliant. I love it. Ten years ago, we definitely did not see that, so this is something that I'm super excited about! The more we can get them together, integrated into one single one-stop-shop, the better it is. But until we get more choices like that, I always go for the one that will integrate into my current software. Integration is probably one of the biggest criteria for me to look at.

Do you think there's a huge difference between a Fintech organisation and other laterally associated organisations?

There's actually not a lot of difference. I did a detour. I came out of FinTech, and went into a different company, in a completely different industry, and then came back. I think the beauty of being in HR and talent is that it is so versatile. You can apply all your best practices and whatever you've learned in almost every single industry that you tap into. I think for recruitment there are slightly more advantages, if you're working in an industry that you're familiar with, because of the network. It's easy to find the candidates. Go into whatever industry you love. Go for your passion, work wherever. It's basically a one size fits all.

So to round us off, what is your main takeaway for readers?

Don't be appalled by the word HR. I think we deliver and we add a lot of value to businesses.

Sophie Theen - Talent hacks for scaleups

Sometimes it breaks my heart to hear people say that HR shouldn't be a career choice. I mentor young girls and young women. A lot of them feel like they want to go into an HR role, because it's, almost like they're trying to say it's more feminine, because it's less competitive.

I hate for people to think that because you can make it as competitive as you want. It's your choice. I think that is also one of the reasons why we constantly have to struggle with the stigma that HR doesn't have a seat at the table. It's almost like we've decided to give up before we even win the battle.

So that's my real advice for anybody out there.

Just look at me, right! I didn't come from HR and I definitely went through a little bit of hell, when people just wouldn't take me seriously. They were like, well you didn't do this in uni, surely you don't know as much. But eventually, I put a lot of hard work in, and I got to where I am today. It's been remarkable, and it's been very, very rewarding as well.

So definitely don't let this whole profession and the stigma put you off. Because when you are effectively bringing value to each and every single employee's life, then you'll know how rewarding this is.

Link to full episode with Sophie Theen here:

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