Dialing up a new workforce

Yellow Pages Group makes radical changes to recruitment, training and culture
By Lise Lavoie
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 07/14/2013

The transformation of a company, particularly one as large and established as Yellow Pages Group (YPG), is much like doing a steep bank with a large passenger airplane — it’s destabilizing for all inside and can have lingering effects.

Like many companies transforming business activities to meet current needs, this has meant major changes in how our company manages HR. Changing from a legacy publisher to a digital media and marketing solutions provider forced us to adapt how we onboard talent and shift the corporate culture to better reflect an evolving workforce and business.

There are several key learnings that emerged through this journey:

Know your competitive advantage: A sales force is undoubtedly a key competitive advantage for a marketing company. However, in introducing products and services as diverse as mobile, online, search engine optimization (SEO), search engine marketing (SEM) and analytics, this segment suddenly needed to go from understanding one print product to understanding a multitude of digital and traditional products and services. And they needed to do it quickly and seamlessly.

This was taxing on both the sales organization and training department, not to mention that with the expansion of the products portfolio, the skill sets of the sales force needed to shift, as did the profile when recruiting staff.

The sales force is also unionized, which is an additional consideration when implementing any changes or new requirements.

At the end of the day, YPG needed to recruit new talent and invest in training. And it needed to do this without weakening the competitive advantage element of the workforce while respecting the contracts of the unionized segments.

As a result, I was appointed chief talent officer to bring a level of strategy and expertise to the company’s HR department in navigating the murky waters of change to the unionized sales force.

Technological infrastructure can motivate workers: Changing the dynamics of a core component of a workforce doesn’t end at skill sets. An employer can have the best employees but if they’re inadequately supported or missing the right tools, they’ll never be at their full potential.

YPG was in the process of re-evaluating legacy systems initially designed to support the sales and fulfillment of a single product, namely print. This meant the current business model and its many products could not be adequately supported by existing systems. This led to a frustrated workforce and inefficiencies at the operational and fulfillment ends of the business.

So the company opened two C-suite positions that would work in tandem: a chief information officer and chief technology officer. These two have focused on overhauling the internal systems, the technology behind them, how data is managed and the in-house talent to manage our needs. This has directly addressed gaps in the work cycle and helped provide employees with much better tools.

Investing in permanent positions helps attract, retain talent: Prior to the business transformation being full-speed ahead, the overwhelming majority of IT positions were contract or consultant positions and a lot of the work was outsourced. The general consensus within this particular community was YPG was not an attractive or creative work environment for IT professionals. In other groups of the business, the perception was IT showed no sense of ownership and wasn’t invested.

That all changed when we began changing our systems, the way information was processed and how large amounts of data generated on businesses across Canada was managed. The company built an in-house IT team, adding more than 300 IT and digital media positions in 2012 alone — and these teams are growing.

Post-and-pray is a recruitment relic: Historically, YPG recruited in a relatively passive fashion, posting a job and seeing what came back. With such a large amount of positions to fill and a candidate mindset less attuned to job boards and more to word-of-mouth and social media, the company decided to become far more proactive.

It now uses social media on a much larger scale, pushing job postings across LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter, and filming recruitment-oriented videos that are syndicated across its online properties and YouTube to attract new talent. YPG connects with potential candidates with interesting profiles on networks such as LinkedIn to gauge their interest in switching employers.

Changing culture

With a workforce comprised of everyone from recent graduates all the way to employees close to retirement, there are employees reporting to managers who are several decades their junior.

Combine this with a corporate culture that is changing to reflect the new realities of digital media and technology versus print publishing and you have an environment that can easily seem rudderless for employees, without strong involvement from HR.

One of the first things YPG did was promote and facilitate open and interdepartmental communication, and try to minimize hierarchical obstacles to the sharing of information. This was done by building and launching an enterprise social network and replacing the standard intranet. This allowed for a larger sharing of information across the organization, an exchange of documents that wasn’t reliant on email and greater access and communication with the leadership team in an environment that puts all employees on an equal footing.

It’s equally important in any period of change to ensure you have a finger on the pulse of employee thoughts and emotions. For this reason, the company decided to regularize employee engagement surveys to measure job satisfaction and find out whether the workforce clearly understood the changes taking place at the company.

In any business transformation or change, the role of HR should never be underestimated. Company objectives are often best served by having human resources work with other key areas — such as communications and sales and marketing — to shape consistent messaging that is aligned with the company’s overall objectives.

Lise Lavoie is chief talent officer at Yellow Pages Group in Montreal. For more information, visit www.ypg.com.

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