Q&A: Gareth Williams: “I’ve adapted my leadership style to implement change in 31 countries”

Author: PM Editorial | Date: 20 Jan 2016

The group HR director at Travelex explains his global digitalisation project

Gareth WilliamsGareth Williams is group HR director at foreign exchange company Travelex, which has its Asia office in Hong Kong. When he embarked on an ambitious transformation project to put the end-to-end employee experience in the cloud, even the self-confessed “geek” couldn’t predict the amount of personal development he would have to undergo to make the project a success. People Management caught up with him to ask how the project is going and how he’s adapting his leadership style to implement change for 8,000 employees, in 31 countries.
Why did you decide to redesign HR as a cloud-based system?
Travelex is nearly two years into its own aggressive digitalisation programme and I am tired of hearing that HR is the last department to adopt an organisation’s growth strategies. If the company is digitalising its processes, why shouldn’t HR step up to that and match the delivery? The challenge is how you educate the business to embrace radical new ways of working, and convince them that HR is ready and capable of leading that change. I chose the cloud approach because I wanted something that can be constantly upgraded and updated, seamlessly everywhere at the same time, all at an affordable cost, and requiring low maintenance.
 
Is mobile-accessible HR important to a global organisation?
Whatever system we adopted had to be mobile enabled. I had a firmly held view then – which has been validated now – that everyone is moving to mobile, whether that is a talent process, learning or recruitment, or a data exercise. For some of the emerging, progressive economies – such as India, where we have 400 employees who immediately downloaded the HR cloud-based app – gone are the days of the web browser. Work has to be accessible on the move, through mobile and tablet. That means that how we communicate with, engage and teach employees has to be mobile first.
 
What personal challenges have you faced during the process?
I have had to adapt my leadership style – rather than tweak the policies – for the project to work in different regions. A lot of that is around influencing and pace; asking open questions; using reflective pausing; asking ‘how did we do?’ as opposed to ‘why?’ and ‘what happened?’ I have definitely become more situationally aware. I am quite an action-focused type of leader and trying to have a hard action-focused conversation with colleagues in India and the Middle East is more difficult than New York, and the Netherlands. My bias to execution has always been ‘70 per cent is good enough’ but in Japan and Germany for example, they operate in a perfectionist culture, so I’ve had to alter expectations, and coach and support employees to let a few things go.
 
When you’re not digitalising HR, what else do you do?
I travel every other week to visit the HR teams in the regions. We do ‘operational change reviews’ every quarter, so I visit all of the satellite offices – in Japan, in Sydney [Australia], in France, in the Netherlands, in New York – and we conduct these reviews, to look back and determine our next move. And of course, we do that with some hard operational metrics, anchored in data. It’s important to keep regular contact with all our partners in the regions, to keep the consistent message but also understand what is and isn’t working for different countries. Capturing real-time, evidenced-based information, rather than waiting for a review at the end of the financial year, helps HR to contribute to the business growth strategy every day.
 
Find out how Travelex’s HR team are using predictive analytics to stay one step ahead in the global market, in the February issue of People Management’s UK edition.