Oct 4, 2023 Nurole logo
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People & talent: the role of Remcos, and how board members can help measure and engage employees in a digital age, with Daniel Kasmir (Chief People & Procurement Officer, TalkTalk)

ūüéôÔłŹ You can listen to the full podcast interview with Daniel on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

The tech revolution and Covid have brought seismic changes to the way organisations engage and assess their employees. Traditional approaches don't cut the mustard. So what do board members need to do to keep on top of their most valuable resource in the digital era? Daniel Kasmir has managed people issues for over 30 years, as a Chair, Remco Chair, Trustee and executive at TalkTalk, YouView TV and others. Tune into his conversation with Nurole CEO Oliver Cummings to discover:

  • what are the pros and cons of combining the Chief People and Procurement Officer roles? (1:19)
  • how do you calculate return on investment when it comes to talent? (5:19); why aren‚Äôt boards more excited by people analytics? (10:03)
  • how do you show employees you're acting on their data? (12:27)
  • how regularly do you have employee development sessions? (14:49)
  • how are you approaching hybrid working? (16:43)
  • are CEOs wrong to think in-person work is more valuable? (19:28)
  • what is the role of the Remco, and how does it differ across ownership structures? (23:29)
  • when can non-execs add the most value to Remcos? (25:34), and
  • The Lightning Round (27:54).

Oliver Cummings: I want to talk about engaging talent at the board level because I know very few organizations who don't say that talent is their most important asset and yet very few who seem to really walk the walk as opposed to just talking the talk.

And I'd be interested to start just by talking about your experience in the talent space. You have a very unusual title holding both this responsibility for people and procurement. And when I saw this, I thought that's absolutely genius. Putting those two things together makes so much sense.

I've seen both as an investor and an [00:02:00] employee that people make mistakes by changing costs without taking the people factor. Can you just talk to us a bit about how that came about and how that works? 

Daniel Kasmir: When I joined Talk Talk I was very kindly of the opportunity to be the chief people Officer and we talked about the organization and how it hung together and I saw the procurement function and I said to the chief exec, if there's an opportunity for me to look after the procurement function as well, I'd really loved it and she was kind enough to give me the opportunity to do so.

And the driver to do that was when I looked at how the organization was spending its money. In this particular case, we spend quite a lot of money on routers to put into the customer's houses and stuff. But an awful lot of the money we spend is to do with buying services from third party organizations.

Be that software development, be that customer contact centers, et cetera. And there was a clear notion that, if we are spending quite a lot of our money on procuring the services that involve people. Why don't we [00:03:00] get the person that looks at people to think about it more broadly.

Don't just stop at the right, we've got this number of people on payroll, but look at, look at it much more broadly. So in our particular circumstance, we have a couple of thousand people that are on our payroll, but we've got three or 4,000 people that are contributing in other ways providing services to customers.

So actually this has come together quite nicely and it's been a pretty good thing for the HR team as a whole. It's given them the opportunity to look more broadly and more commercially at what we do. And actually critically, it's helped us with some of our buying decisions and deciding how to best structure and shape the organization.

Oliver Cummings: Really interesting. So for a board member listening to this going, gosh, that's a genius idea, I'm going to go away and talk to our CEO and challenge them to think about, potentially doing that. What are the pitfalls that they should be aware of? What are the lessons that you've learned?[00:04:00] 

Daniel Kasmir: It's different. In the procurement of services and the hiring and talent, you're just looking at two very different things. One area you're looking at on a very individualistic basis and another you're working I think that it's absolutely reasonable as you assess and you work with third party suppliers, not just to let it be a cost based consideration, but actually get into the organization and actually start to understand their own processes for talent, how well engaged their people are, etc.

The thing that we've really got to do well. It's to have a high employee net promoter score, which is something we get very excited about. It's absolutely consistent that those people who are talking to our customers on our behalf put equal measure and weight into that.

And that's something we do and we nudge and we change as we go. But just recognize that the language is the starting point. are going to be a little bit different, but actually we found it to be really quite [00:05:00] helpful. So I remember the first couple of times we got to speak to the people who are leading the people stuff in some of our customer supplier organizations, they were like, oh, wow, this is really novel.

This is good. And didn't really have any particular pushback. We just wanted to see and understand how they went on that journey. And it was actually quite good. And then we were able to share processes, share approaches. And it was entirely helpful. 

Oliver Cummings: Really interesting. And when you think about investing in people. Across the organization, I'm really curious to understand how you think about that and how you think about the major levers , or investment opportunities you have , I wrestle with this a lot. , one of the things we do a lot, I think for an organization of our scale on the talent side but I sometimes struggle to calculate the return.

On investment, some of the things that I do. So for example, we have tea every day at four o'clock and we bring the entire organization together. And it's brilliant because it suddenly gets, we [00:06:00] were having problems with cross functional silos where, the engineering and the product team, we're not spending enough time with our customer facing teams and suddenly, something like that tea.

Every day at four, bring them together, foster those connections that start to break down those barriers, but I struggled to put a value on that. How do I value that relative to the cost? I'm really interested to know how you think about that return on investment equation and how you think about the different areas that you can invest in. On that talent side, 

Daniel Kasmir: So I think that there are, there are a couple of strands. There's a fairly conventional strand where you look at your leadership. You look at your emerging talent and you put appropriate talent programs together that are in place for them. And that's driven by, , your success.

There is getting better at succession planning, et cetera, et cetera. But then I think on the other side, there's the whole value add, consideration of value add around culturally, where you sit and what you're trying to do as an organization. So, [00:07:00] , for a long, long, long, long time, that had been a very subjective situation.

And I think that one of the things I found really quite helpful from the advent of technology is the ability to measure. Organizations using data much, much, much more effectively to see how people are, where they're at one of the things that I've seen emerge, I think one of the most helpful things that I've seen emerge in the last few years has been the the quite swift uptake of being able to measure employee net promoter score on a regular basis.

And there are now numerous software providers, they're offering some really quite good platforms that let you jump in and measure the organization. Some people do it monthly, some people every couple of months, and it's transformative. So I come from a world of … mentioned learning gray hair 30 years ago, , the annual employee survey, which took six to eight weeks to administer another three months for the results to come back [00:08:00] and once you've seen them, they will.

So they were already out of date. And it was, that wasn't that was a moment in time or able to do now is real time. Take assessments of the organization where people are, where engagement is and actually get quite precise and quite open in terms of where value is, what's going on, what's going well, et cetera, et cetera.

We can make it competitive. We can be very transparent. Previously, this had been a very secret dark art. There's no point having a dark art when it comes to leadership of your people. So we've jumped onto, held onto very closely, Employee Net Promoter Score, something that I think is incredibly important, something that I think will just grow in weight as we go forward.

And through clever software, we're able to see, right, where's the positions of strength in the organization, where's the positions of weakness, through all sorts of different lenses. The most obvious one is that it is looking at particular leaders. How are they doing? Where are people engaged?

I mean, frankly, we've had [00:09:00] situations where we've had people who have, got very low employing that promoter's goals and you jump in and you start to deal with it and fine. And then you have issues that get generated at a macro level across the organization, again, which you can jump in and you start to solve and deal with.

What it also does is it pushes you to to think about some of the counterintuitive stuff. So you sit there behind your desk and you'll make a judgment of the organization. Well, , I think if we did a little bit more of this, that would be quite helpful.

Whereas what the data will start to say is actually no, just there's a couple of outliers coming through. Which you might want to think about. And , I think in our organization, the things that come across as being quite important to people are obviously communication, understanding of strategy.

That's what you would expect in lots of places. Community is also an important thing. And being able to be attached. And then you say, okay, right, fine. How do we then work through and drive greater levels of attachment? [00:10:00] We spent a reasonable amount of time doing some of that. 

Oliver Cummings: Really interesting. Just picking up on the the people analytics piece of that because that's certainly been a real revelation to me over the last few years moving into More of an operational role and I sometimes scratch my head and wonder why every organization has not got, weekly analytics In place and yet as a board member, I've sometimes struggled actually to convince CEOs of the value and normally actually what, what's what happens is I show them the analytics dashboard.

I have no, like, wow, I want one like that. So what? It's really easy. It costs you 7 a month per person or whatever it is. And you can do it. And then they hit a roadblock. They get pushback from their employees from their leadership team saying, , they don't want to be monitored or things like that. What's your experience of rolling things like this out and how have you achieved my success. 

Daniel Kasmir: The thing that's fundamentally important is transparency here.[00:11:00] I mentioned before that employee data and sharing stuff had been a bit of a dark art.

And I think the thing that I found when we started measuring Employee Net Promoter on a frequent basis, there was a little bit of like, Gee whiz, what are we going to do? People are going to see each other's skulls? What's going to happen? And after a couple of months of like, Ooh, actually, it galvanizes and you get quite positive energy coming through the organization 

Often, it's quite difficult to get organizations to focus on the people agenda very seriously because it's been quite subjective. When you put it into an objective format, it actually creates a hunger and people are looking at it. Okay, well, I don't want to be at the bottom of the table, so what are we going to do?

And it generates an energy and a level of involvement that people are starting to get stuck into. Then you start to see the cause and effect in terms of there being a correlation between employing net promoter score, net promoter score, and ultimately it helps move your business in the right direction.

Why don't [00:12:00] more people do it? I get asked this question a lot, it's still a lot of the data that has been supplied through commercial systems, they do feel like they are commercial systems generating data, and they're not hugely accessible.

I'm really pleased that there's a group of people who are now developing employee data, which is much more user friendly. You can look at a page and you can interpret it and you can share it. And I think through that sharing, through that simplicity, you can then pick from the three or four leavers that will contribute to organization success.

So I think to answer your question in a very rambling way, I think it's been way too complicated trying to measure way too many things. And ultimately it's been like, where do I go? What do I do? 

Oliver Cummings: Really interesting. One of the other things that I suppose I probably being on the back end of as an employee is, , endless surveys that didn't go anywhere. And so one of the things that I implemented quite early was something to close the loop. So we have a committee that meets quarterly that takes [00:13:00] representatives from different parts of the business.

They basically analyze the data. It's all anonymized, but aggregated and they analyze it. And then they come up with recommendations, which they will then bring to our head of talent. And that's been a very nice way to close that loop. And for people to understand that the feedback they give in those things really matters and moves the needle.

How do you go about creating that sense of, we are actually listening and acting on it? I'm always interested to see how organizations go about that. 

Daniel Kasmir: So, so, so happens in. Principal way. So we said, if we click the button, we'll put the survey over a week and then the results will come back and then it causes an exco. 

We said that we look at it and there's a bit of like, oh, we can Ring and say, okay, fine. This is good in terms of the headlines within each business unit. We'll , we'll take a look at, okay, what are some of the , what are some of the levers and drivers? And then very importantly, we have regular operating boards that happen in all of our business units on one of the agenda items is around engagement for what's going on and [00:14:00] particularly what steps are you taking within your business unit to address some of the shortcomings to build on some of the strengths, but it's regular discussion.

So it's just keeping it there as a regular narrative. And then we follow a similar process with our staff group, our we call it one voice here. And I meet with them on a regular basis, and again, they see, we discuss, and we just listen, but it's not just listening, we have to keep going backwards with plans and actions of what we're doing.

And then once, once every two or three months, we'll bring the organization together, and we'll say, right, okay, these were the scores, this is what we heard, and this is what we're doing about it. And so as a leadership group we very much hold each other accountable for actually making things happen.

Otherwise, as you say, it's just an exercise that just, , some great PowerPoint slides, but doesn't do very much. 

Oliver Cummings: The other thing you touched on earlier was around what you're doing in terms of learning, learning and development for your manager program. We've been through a journey where we, you [00:15:00] know, I think we started like every organization thinking we were quite good doing a one off annual review and then quickly realized actually that was pretty rubbish and it was always just capturing whatever happened to be in front of our minds.

So we then moved to quarterly and then we found actually quarterly was too frequent. The amount of time we were spending on it was taking forever. When things weren't really changing from one quarter to the next, we moved to every four months and still found that too frequent and have now settled on six months.

And that now feels about the right cadence where you get really meaty, meaningful feedback. But it's not so frequent that it's just completely debilitating for the whole organization. We layer that on top of, , everyone has a weekly one to one or bi weekly one to one as well as quarterly personal development sessions.

Do you have like a, a cadence that you roll out across the whole organization that you look to model as best practice, or? 

Daniel Kasmir: Yeah, the cadence is very similar to yours, to be honest with you. I think that I... place the greatest attachment to that. So that weekly one to one that happened and it was quite interesting, during COVID and as [00:16:00] we have this debate about participation, attendance in the office, et cetera, et cetera, we've really continued to place lots and lots and lots of focus on that one to one and we've sent to our line managers.

It's really important that those are face to face sessions because they're so important. Then we'll have, , a little bit like you will have the six monthly. And then we'll look at the the individual performance targets on a more regular basis and we keep trying different techniques, different ways of making this better and better, but I think, that my best experience of this is line managers, So why Having good conversations with their people, I think if those happen with the degree, with the appropriate degree of frequency, that that's when you start to see the lift up in terms of how people.

Oliver Cummings: Yeah. Really interesting. Now you touched a little bit earlier also on the topic of remote work, which seems to be going through a really interesting journey at the moment. We've actually just implemented. Through various sessions, we've been testing different formats, but we've landed on a three, two split where we figured out hybrid working didn't work [00:17:00] for us, where we had some people in, some people out.

And so we now have everybody in for three days and everybody remote for two days and when they're remote, we have an online platform that they can come and  meet in a virtual world. And, and that seems to be in line with, I think it was research from Gallup showing that seems to be the peak productivity, but it feels like we're at the very beginning of figuring this out and we haven't got a long enough set of data to really know what's what's right. How are you approaching this challenge? 

Daniel Kasmir: So we're similar to many organizations in terms of an expectation that people are in the office two, three days a week. So that's fine. Occasionally we do keep an eye on  what's going on and stuff and if we need to  call out something a bit sluggish in a particular area it's fine. All we're trying to do more than anything else is to create. Reasons for people to come into the office.

So we spent, we've invested quite a lot in our office in terms of having plenty of collaborative spaces. What we try to do is to encourage people [00:18:00] where there is, there are workshops, where there's a need for collaboration. Please, please, please come to the office. We encourage people to have their team sessions face to face.

We encourage people, as I said before, to have their one to ones face to face. In terms of  where we end up with this, ... I find it difficult to envisage a time when we'll see people back in the office five days a week, and I expect that this three day a week thing will stick around for a while.

 At the moment, the measures of productivity of what works well and what doesn't work well are a bit sparse, and I'm not sure how objective they are. The thing that we do find is that when people come to the office, they have a workshop. They are together. You do get that water cooler stuff happening and people break out into discretionary conversation, which fixes things, which moves things forward more than they would do where you've got to have a  prescribed appointment stuck on teams.

And that just seems to be more limiting. I've grown up in a world of work where people come to the office. So [00:19:00] it's trying to  stay in the heads of 20 to 30 who have got quite a different perspective on how this stuff works. And I think we've got to recognize what we've got.

A whole different, just many different generations of people at work. And I think there's some stuff that happened during COVID, which just caused society just to function differently. And that will go back in the box and we've just got to find ways of driving. Appropriate productivity is quite different, just quite different approaches to work. 

Oliver Cummings: Yeah, it's really interesting because there's a lot of research suggesting there's a big disconnect between what CEOs think and what employees think. Where most CEOs seem to believe that people should be back in the office in person.

And whereas most employees seem to think that actually they're more productive outside. And one of them... Has to be wrong. And  find myself, I look at my own experience and what I definitely noticed if I benchmark some of our entry take a level intakes coming in is that those who came in, in the [00:20:00] year when we moved fully remote during COVID, they ended up being behind those.

The previous generation, it was quite easy to benchmark. And I would say it's quite a significant difference. And what I'm not sure about is, is that because there's something fundamental about the way you learn in an office environment, or was it, or is it because of the way that we haven't adapted to teaching and bringing people up to speed in that office environment?

So, I probably find myself leaning into that  aggregate CEO camp, where I think I see value in both. Being in person and I also see value in deep work and being remote. I think the one thing I don't like is hybrid but what's your take on that our CEOs wrong in their belief that people are better off or why is there this disconnect?

Daniel Kasmir: Oh gosh, What one of the things that's patently obvious is that , we found it in  encoded that, guess what recruitment carried on during covid And people , been in a situation where they didn't actually meet their [00:21:00] boss face to face for , for maybe  18 months.

And there's no question those in that circumstance, the people that joined the organization. Without the chance to  work with colleagues, et cetera, et cetera, just struggle to grab hold of the DNA, the culture of the place. And I think that rose back to the point that COVID was foisted upon us.

And what we sought to do was to put all sorts of processes and systems in place, which were extensions of the world that we'd come from, as opposed to the world that we're actually  existing in now. And I think that what we're going to have to do is to re-engineer all sorts of employee based processes to actually recognize and get the most out of people in this hybrid world of work.

So from a chief executive looking in, without changing those systems, I think they're absolutely right. We will not get the most out of people without a [00:22:00] significant reengineering, and I think it falls upon us through the use of technology, through the use of communication to recognize that  it's different.

And there are benefits of that, where the work's done, where we choose to recruit from, et cetera, et cetera, that could actually help us quite significantly. But I think that we shouldn't underestimate how we've got to adjust some quite fundamental systems to be able to let hybrid work give us the Same degree of productivity that those conventional systems gave us when they were built up around.

 If you take something or like productivity or measurement of performance. In the office, we can wander around and we can see people, there are their desks and this, that and the other.

We don't have that visibility now. We  think that everyone sits at home watching daytime TV and waiting for Amazon parcels. And so you have the occasional flare up, don't you, of organizations saying, well, we're going to. Measure people's keyboard clicks and we're going to measure this, that and [00:23:00] the other, which again is Byzantine and it's again taking an old technology and saying, well, right, come on, let's be the thought place and we can work out.

So I think that there's an adjustment and there's a discussion and I think there's an opportunity for technology companies to just think about, okay, how do we drive productivity satisfactorily in this hybrid world. So I don't think this hybrid world is going to go away. I think we've got to find a better way of engaging with it.

Oliver Cummings: Interesting. I think that the topic that often comes up and is a source of huge interest to certainly new role members is the Remco. I'm really interested to understand how you think about the Remco both as, , with your executive hat on, but also as the Remco. What, what do you see as the role of the Remco and also interested to understand how you see that it operates differently in a  private equity context versus, say, a publicly listed context? Because I know you've had experience of both. 

Daniel Kasmir: I [00:24:00] think the Remco exists, in both private equity and within PLCs, , of course, governance is really important and just making sure that you've got the  the. basis of governance covered off properly Of course is really really really important and quite a lot of Remco time  is devoted to that.

Oliver Cummings: Can I just check what when you say governance because I hear lots of different people meaning different things when they say governance What does governance mean to you? 

Daniel Kasmir: There are certain codes that we just need to make  to make sense. So Let's make sure that we've got the proper governance in place For making adjustments to people's packages for setting people's packages, et cetera.

So there's control. I suppose that's probably the most appropriate thing. Then looking at some of the more topical, almost legislative type stuff, such as gender pay, equal pay, et cetera. Making sure that that's covered off properly.

It's just part of the furniture of running a REMCO [00:25:00] properly and effectively and making sure you've got those things  covered off. Then there's some quite scientific approaches and there are some quite a little bit more artistic approaches to  REMCOs.

 REMCOs are, when they're well run, very aligned to the strategy of the organization. And do a good job in terms of aligning the pay of the chief exec, the rest of the execs to deliver an organization business success. But if that goes a bit awry and it's just a little bit too disconnected or a bit too esoteric or a bit too complicated. It's not helpful to anybody. 

Oliver Cummings: Where would you say non execs can add most value at the Remco? 

Daniel Kasmir: There's very little that happens in business life that isn't a repeat or a variation on a theme that hasn't happened before.

The great thing that the board directors are able to bring to the party is, well, actually, Yeah, I saw a situation that was quite akin to ours a little while [00:26:00] ago, and we tried this, and it worked, or it didn't work, so I think that there is just a knowledge and experience, I guess , it's the example, isn't it, of the  tacit knowledge, you have the guy who's the The fisherman who's been going out to fish for 40 years and says, right, stop the boat here.

We're going to fish and it's great. And you've got the guy who's totally scientific and goes out and says, right, we're going to fish here. And it's the guy who's been doing it for 40 years that finds the fish. And I guess it's that tacit knowledge, that experience that just can help nudge and bring a conversation, a set of decisions into quite a productive end.

Oliver Cummings: Without breaking any confidences, can you give me an example that brings that to life? 

Daniel Kasmir: I chaired a Remco at a particular company. We had a cultural challenge, we had owners from one part of the world, and the chief exec was from another part of the world, and the board had many interests, many, different companies, and their [00:27:00] knowledge and understanding of this particular sector was scant and you had a chief exec who had been a lifer in this industry and understood it in black and white, and he wanted to take it in one direction and the ownership wanted to take it another direction. And what I actually  agreed with was actually 

Let's actually formulate a board that can actually bring some experience in, that actually can take us to a better outcome. And actually, they were agreeable to that, because they'll actually be able to try and do something here, which is culturally, we just don't really understand.

And actually having a group of three or four non-execs come back to us with a sensible set of recommendations on an independent basis is actually very helpful. And actually that made the chief executive feel more confident in his position and that organization has gone from strength to strength, but from a governance perspective, that actually helped the owners as well, drive something to a sensible result.

Oliver Cummings: Interesting. Time has flown. It's time to go on to our lightning round, if you're ready, [00:28:00] where I say a short statement, ask you for a quick response.

Daniel Kasmir: Let's have a go. 

Oliver Cummings: First up, boardroom behavior that irritates you most. 

Daniel Kasmir: Limited experience in the organization. 

Oliver Cummings: Best book every board member should read and why? 

Daniel Kasmir: Book I read years ago called Memos from the Chairman by a guy called Alan Greenberg who was the founder of Bear Stearns and he just reminds you not to believe in the smell of your own perfume. It's really good. 

Oliver Cummings: Love it. I've not read that one. I'll add that to the list. Your favorite quote and why? 

Daniel Kasmir: If I had more time I would have written a shorter letter which I think was written by Mark Twain. And I think we still, in organizations, just use too many words where fewer would suffice. 

Oliver Cummings: Love it. Your most significant professional insight? 

Daniel Kasmir: Don't do people's jobs for them. 

Oliver Cummings: Brilliant. Your worst, the worst professional advice you have ever received. [00:29:00] 

Daniel Kasmir: Oh, it was one of my, one of my first bosses. He said, you only get to enjoy 20 percent of your job. Which is like, I'm going to do something else.

Oliver Cummings: Fantastic. And last but not least, if there are three things that listeners should take away from this podcast, if they take away nothing else, what are they? 

Daniel Kasmir: Communicate, communicate, communicate. Be clear about the purpose of your organization, what you're up to, what you're doing, and just go get the best talent you possibly, possibly can, wherever it lies. 

Oliver Cummings: Brilliant. Daniel, thank you so much for taking the time. It's been an absolute pleasure speaking with you and so many fascinating insights on the topic of engaging talent.

Daniel Kasmir: Thank you.

ūüéôÔłŹ You can listen to the full podcast interview with Clarissa on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

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