Building a common language

Talent management at Vlerick

About 200 academically trained faculty, researchers and staff, 22 different nationalities and an average age of 32. Add a unique mix of academic expertise and business knowledge, combined with an entrepreneurial spirit, and you have the Vlerick DNA. How does the School attract talent, and even more important, how does it retain it?

Professionalising recruitment

When Martine Polen joined Vlerick as HR Manager in May 2009, she found an HR organisation that was ready for the next step. Since then, she and her team have developed an HR strategy as well as processes and tools to support all aspects of HRM. “The central thrust of our strategy is talent management. We want to recruit talented people and deploy and develop their talent to help them grow their careers. That’s why we focus on competencies, flexibility and employability. Our employees should show a willingness to learn, but we also want them to have fun. Enthusiasm and passion is what we look for when we’re recruiting.”

Kristien Podevyn, HR Business Partner, is closely involved in several of the HRM projects. Centralising the recruitment process was one of the first things she tackled when she joined Vlerick in 2010: “Matching candidates to vacancies in the different competence centres is easier and more efficient if you centralise the management of CVs and applicant information. As a result, the time-to-hire has been significantly reduced.”

The improvements didn’t stop there. “All faculty and staff involved in recruitment have received training in interview techniques and we’ve developed competency-based interview guides for support. In 2011 we had online personality and analytical tests developed that serve as an initial filter.”

Multi-channel recruitment

Being the number one business school in the Benelux, Vlerick has a strong employer brand, so much so that there is no shortage of talented candidates easily finding their way to the School to fill most of the vacancies available. Kristien Podevyn: “We mostly advertise via our own website or the websites of our partner universities. And we’re experimenting with social media such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. We also have a great network of ambassadors, i.e. ex-students, faculty, researchers and staff. Their contacts in the business and academic worlds are an invaluable source of new talent.”  

While the recruitment channels may differ according to target group, the recruitment processes have one thing in common: there are plenty of opportunities for both formal and informal exchange, allowing both the candidate and the School to see if there is a fit.

Hop on and stay on

Because this fit is so important, HR devotes a great deal of attention to the “boarding” process, as Martine Polen explains: “When you get on the Vlerick flight, we want you to stay on board. Jump Start is an interactive tool introducing the School and twice a year we organise a special welcome session for all new recruits. But that's not all: a few months after they’ve joined us, someone from our team will invite them for a chat. We sit down together to take stock of the situation and explore what their experience was of the recruitment process. We learn a lot from these conversations and they allow us to pick up any problems early on.”

Competencies pave the way

Once on board, people have the opportunity to deploy and develop their talent. Martine Polen: “During our annual Vlerick integration seminar in 2009, we learned that people lacked information about possible career paths within the School. We now have clear key result areas and targets against which performance is measured at the end of the performance cycle. More importantly, for each job we’ve established a competency profile – a combination of skills, knowledge and attitudes. All profiles are freely accessible via the Intranet. As the information is now well structured and consistent, profiles are easy to compare. People can immediately see whether they have the required competencies for any vertical or horizontal career move.”

Picking up on this point, Kristien Podevyn comments: “For staff, horizontal career moves are definitely encouraged and many vacancies are filled internally. After all, we’re an SME; not everyone can become a manager!” Podevyn feels the competency framework has introduced a common language. “It’s a thread running through our HR processes. Our recruitment process, performance cycle and development plans are all competency-based.” Martine Polen adds: “By developing the competency framework, we've gained insight into which competencies we have in abundance and which we need to develop or recruit.”

Leavers become ambassadors

Of course, the School wants people to stay on board as long as possible, but inevitably some leave. “When we say we want to help our people grow their careers, this is not limited to their career with us,” Martine Polen explains. “We want to prepare them for anything that comes their way. Exit interviews are valuable in that we learn why people decide to leave, but also where they can deploy the competencies acquired while they were with us.” Kristien Podevyn: “When people do leave, they become ambassadors for the School, just like our ex-students. In fact, we plan to extend our alumni programmes to include former employees. The first event is planned for September.”

Martine Polen and Kristien Podevyn believe they have come a long way in a relatively short time and they will continue to improve. One of the major projects launched recently is My HR, the automation of all HR processes. Podevyn: “Our business processes have been streamlined, so now we can start streamlining the supporting information infrastructure. We’re also looking at a self-service portal where people can update their own details, and an online repository for all performance cycle documents.”

In conclusion, Martine Polen stresses that HR is there to support the business. “We don’t want to create additional administrative red tape. We want to change things for the better and provide tools to make the lives of our faculty and staff easier. This is why we’ll continue to seek their feedback, to develop our talent management systems together with the people who use them.”

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