We recently caught up with Heather Kitto, our Head of Resourcing, whose team recently picked up the award for ‘Large recruitment team of the year’ at this year’s FIRM Awards (www.thefirmawards.com). We wanted to know how this came about, what this means to her and her colleagues, but also how she has gone about planning, activating and sustaining such a huge transformation project over such a disruptive two year period.

Congratulations on the award! You must be over the moon?
I’m beyond thrilled! When I look back over the last two years and what we set out to achieve, against a backdrop of global disruption, I couldn’t be happier. In 2021 we won the FIRM award for ‘Outstanding impact transformation and change’. To win that award for transformational change was an incredible achievement. But to win the ‘large recruitment team of the year’ award is recognition for the combined effort we put into the transformation planning, how much time we spent with people across the business and how hard we have worked to keep everyone focused on the goals we set ourselves.

What prompted this programme of transformation?
We have to go back to 2018 to start to answer that. We were spending a significant amount on recruiting 1,200 internal and external vacancies. 89% of which was being spent on over 65 different recruitment agencies. And we had also set ourselves a business goal of being ‘a great place to work’. And yet we didn’t know how our systems, our process and our technology were delivering on that goal. This was the moment when we looked at resourcing in a new light. To introduce a model that would be a sea-change in the way we attract the right people. Not just volume of people.

Where did you start?
We planned. And planned some more. We knew that whatever we placed in front of leadership had to complement the three strategic objectives of NFU Mutual – sustainable profitable growth, great company to do business with and great place to work.

Our ‘Target Operating Model’ was developed to be competitive, flexible and achievable. But with the right amount of stretch to transform our resourcing capability at speed. This model was formed of six connected strands: Centralise the recruitment budget. Re-allocate £2m from external recruitment agency to develop an inhouse capability. Significantly reduce our external recruitment agency spend. Reduce our number of external recruitment agency suppliers. Target of 80% of recruitment being done directly by the team. And position NFU Mutual as ‘an employer of choice’.

But we also knew we wanted to prove ourselves. Preliminary investigations in 2019 saw a small investment in the direct sourcing capabilities of the recruitment team. The result was that just under 50% of all hires were made by the in-house team. While this level of activity and success was not sustainable, what it did demonstrate was that change could be achieved. It just needed the right vision. And the right model. Needless to say, we were so excited at the possibility of the new model and the impact it would have on individuals, teams, the business and most importantly, the candidate experience.

What were the main steps in the ‘Target Operating Model’?
There were three key steps. Firstly, we looked at team structure and capability to make sure we had resourcing expertise for every business area. Secondly, we reviewed and refreshed our technology and processes to make sure we were best in class when it came to the end-to-end recruitment process, the candidate experience and the methods of measurement. Finally, we implemented our plan to manage, measure and continuously improve the changes we needed. And we did all this within one year.

Were they any major hurdles to the transformation?
This is where the transformation became most challenging. In 2019 I said, “The Resourcing Team will provide specialist expertise in sector-driven recruitment. To attract the best talent in the market by aligning a resourcing proposition that meets the needs of NFU Mutual.” Both myself and the team were fully behind, and committed to, this statement. And then COVID hit. New ways, and places, of work. New technologies to understand. New ways of living. The demise of in person face-to-face meetings. All this, and so much more, challenged our plan, our process and our people, at a time of significant change.

Did world-change, slow down work-change?
Well, everyone was talking about the ‘great resignation’. Hybrid working forced us to be more agile in our thinking. We looked at it more as a ‘great reshuffle’. People worked differently and did different things. Which turned into such a positive for us. Because we put ourselves in the position of learning. And to me, that means growth. So we turned a huge negative into positives, we stuck to our plan and the team dug in to adapt, adopt and deliver.

How has this changed you and your team?
I think this is a question that makes me instantly proud of my team. Their agility and adaptability has shown me, and the rest of the business, that Resourcing is a function of multi-skilled talent that go to extraordinary lengths to listen and learn. To develop their knowledge and their ways of working to benefit each and every business area. I’ve got people who constantly cross over from one specialist area to another. To work with line managers and understand precisely the type of people we need to attract. And they have the autonomy to run their own area of expertise. Taking on new challenges and development opportunities all the time. This fluid approach to resourcing keeps us fresh, motivated and eager to learn more. And it comes back to that word, ‘sustainability’. We don’t stand still. We learn and share knowledge. And then go and learn some more. Technology has also been a huge factor in our transformation and reputation as a department. Our investment in platforms has changed the experiences of the team but more importantly, candidates and managers. With the data and analytics we now have to hand we are able to see trends, grow our knowledge and drive decisions for making constant improvement.

How has the business responded?
The business has been patient with the team, we’re lucky we have such great managers, they look at us differently today because they know, or they have heard, how we can help them find the right talent, that adds real value to their team. To me, it’s often in the words of others that you feel most proud. I heard this recently from a senior member of the business. “I just want to formally record the fantastic service I have received from your resourcing team recently. The team are an absolute joy to work with and have been very professional, helpful, friendly and flexible in the work that they have done for me. The service you now offer is just a world away from how recruitment used to be at NFU Mutual. This initiative has been such a great success. Thank you.” Two years of hard work, the backing from the business at all levels. It means everything when the business recognises the change and the benefit we bring.

What’s the greatest success?
I think that comes down to the collective attitude of the Resourcing Team and the approach they have taken to get to where we are today. We know that implementing a new way is one thing. But sustaining it, learning from it and evolving our proposition is key to long-term embedding of change. There have been so many other successes too. 85% increase in direct sourcing of candidates. 51% reduction time to offer. 58% increase in the time candidates spend on our website and a 66% increase in applications and most importantly we’ve seen record satisfaction results from our candidates and managers. All of these numbers are proof of our plan in action. But most importantly, they are yet another benchmark for us to build on to continue to be better.

So, what’s coming next?
We’re in an important moment as a business, the employee value proposition has to be able to compete in today’s market. The business is growing and changing, we need to continue to build capability. We know the business has made some great decisions, which have helped the team continue to attract the right talent but we have to go further, we have to turn our attention now to flexibility and diversity. These two vital aspects of our culture make NFU Mutual the “great place to work” that it is.

We’ve partnered with many organisations and made commitments to drive change – Women in Finance, Evenbreak – the job board for the disabled run by the disabled. And we’ve committed to taking part in the ‘10,000 black intern programme’. In terms of flexibility, we are competitive, but we know we can go further to demonstrate our commitment to be a great place to work. But back to your first question. We couldn’t be more delighted with the recent award wins. They validate our approach, effort and collective spirit. But this team of mine fill me with pride. They know there’s more to be done. Most importantly, their appetite to sustain the momentum we’ve built in the Resourcing Team and the business is unbelievable. And when you’ve got people who constantly improve who they are and what they do to exceed what’s gone before, you’re on the right path.

Fancy joining Heather and her award-winning team? Take a look at our current vacancies.