Innovation, Strategy and Analytics Should Go Hand in Hand, an Interview with Randstad’s Yolanda Verveer-Born
Last June, we had the pleasure of hosting our second “Big Data for Managers Course,” a 2-day class for managers to gain practical insights on Big Data terms, techniques and technologies.
Yolanda Verveer-Born, who is part of the Strategy & Innovation team at Randstad Group NL, participated in the course. Randstad is a global Human Resources consulting firm headquartered in the Netherlands. With talent management and recruitment becoming increasingly challenging for companies, we were eager to hear Yolanda’s perspective on strategy, innovation and how analytics is reshaping HR. In this interview, she talks about Randstad’s innovation initiatives and why it’s important to align your strategic objectives with any innovation project – especially those that involve Big Data.
Yolanda, you are working on Strategy & Innovation at Randstad. Could tell us a little bit more about Randstad and the kinds of projects your team is working on?
Randstad is an HR service provider offering temporary and permanent staffing and recruitment solutions to companies in 39 countries (from Japan to the US). We are one of the biggest HR companies in the world. To quote our motto, we are “shaping the world of work” and have been doing so for 55 years. In a nutshell, we offer our clients in-depth knowledge about the labor market and help them decide what kind of personnel they need, how to train them and how to manage changes in their staffing dynamics.
I’ve worked at Randstad for 20 years. I started out as a software developer. Last year, I took on a new challenge by joining the strategy and innovation team, where I manage several innovation projects. One of these projects is a labor automation and reshoring project we’re working on with various universities and the European Commission. The purpose of the project, which is called Factory in a Day, is to understand the impact of smart machines on the labor market and find opportunities for European companies to “employ” robots to perform certain jobs together with people.
Innovation and Strategy
Innovation and strategy: a nice pair. Is it possible to have a strategy without innovation these days?
No, it’s almost unthinkable. If you keep doing the same thing you did 20 years ago, you’ll only get the same results – or worse, you’ll lag behind. You need to adapt and to do that, you need to innovate. But innovating without having a strategy doesn’t make sense. You’ll end up with a lot of loose projects that won’t take you anywhere. The key is to innovate with an objective in mind in order to deliver value for your customers and your company.
So now that we’ve established this need for innovation, how would you say companies should manage innovation?
Well, I’m fairly new to this so I’m learning how to manage innovation every day. I would say it’s important to start by analyzing the information you have at hand, and looking at your [market] situation and your team. What kind of innovation initiatives would bring value to your customers or your employees? How can you improve your product and/or services? If you start by answering these questions, you’re on the right track.
As for choosing which projects to focus on, I think it’s important to keep an eye on the future. The automation project I mentioned before, for instance, won’t deliver results this or next year, but automation will be key for the future of work. It will grow in importance and the value of your company will grow if your employees know how to work with smart machines. So you need to be curious, have a broad view of things and choose which initiatives make most sense for your business vision.
Know your customers, know your team
Speaking of a business’ vision, Randstad has an interesting “origin story.” According to the tale, your founder, Frits Goldschmeding, took the very first employee on the back of his bike to the very first client. He was very keen on understanding his employees and his customers and taking care of their well-being. In your opinion, should companies use analytics with this mind? Namely, to know their customers and their employees as well as their needs?
Yes, that’s a good starting point. Knowing your customers is crucial to meet your business objectives. At Randstad, for instance, we’ve developed a Sales Navigator app for our sales team. The app combines information about customers that we’ve collected over the years with online data. Its aim is to predict which customers will be more likely to invest in Randstad services to expand their team, etc. This helps us increase efficiency and sales success.
It’s equally important to know your team. We see that companies are increasingly interested in using analytics to understand which team composition is most successful or what roles, qualities and skill sets contribute most to their team’s success. This interest in analytics opens up an interesting new market for us.
Analytics is set to revolutionize HR. A data-driven understanding of talent and team success will change the way we recruit. We’ll be able to match people with companies based on different criteria. Sometimes it’s not just experience, it’s personal traits, creativity, curiosity, the ability to learn and much more.
Clearly Big Data Analytics is an important topic for many companies. Why did you decide to take our Big Data for Managers Course?
Everybody is talking about Big Data and I wanted to find out why. I wanted to understand it.
What insights did you gain from the course?
I gained many insights. Most importantly, before the course I thought that any Big Data project would be BIG. I thought you would need at least 2 years development time and a very large budget. During the course, I learned that you can start small, with one business question in mind and develop a prototype to tackle that question. Starting with a small project can help you prove to your board of directors that the investment is worthwhile and that you can really get somewhere.
Where do you expect to apply these insights?
Most likely, we will apply these insights to implement an analytics project that will help us (and our customers) understand the right composition of successful teams and making the perfect match. Ultimately, we want to improve our services to clients and expand our knowledge based on data.
Would you recommend this course to others?
Yes for sure. It’s practical training that can help you get started with Big Data to answer critical business questions.