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Three UK: A journey from recruitment to resourcing

Driven by a desire to develop a best in class resourcing function where an ethos of strategic workforce planning permeates the business, Head of Resourcing at Three UK, Chad Horne, has undertaken and achieved the challenge of restructuring the function and implemented a more robust, proactive, direct sourcing model.

A year ago...

When Horne joined the mobile network provider Three UK in July 2014, he inherited an internal resourcing structure that was somewhat disjointed and quite traditional in its approach.

“They were basically a reactive recruitment team where they advertised roles and hoped the best candidate would apply. If the best candidate didn’t apply, they would go to recruitment agencies,” he said.

Horne said this ‘spray and pray’ approach lacked inspiration, particularly for a mobile and technology led business that is currently trying to brand itself as a mobile provider trying to reinvent the industry and win back consumer appeal. His challenge therefore, was how to change this approach.

The first thing Horne did was to devise an operating model and team structure and vision that the resourcing function was in agreement with. The idea behind this was to give his team direction and a sense of purpose, as well as to encourage and instil in them the desire to make brand led decisions.

“I asked them if they wanted to be known as a best in class function that is really pushing the boundaries in terms of resourcing, from an attraction, selection and retention point of view.”


A year on since Horne took over and the resourcing team is definitely moving in a different direction to what it was.

Instead of waiting for candidates to come to them, Horne’s team has been tasked with proactively going out into the market and speaking to people and promoting Three UK as a really great place to work, where you can have a lot of fun and a great career. Accolades such as being rated the 7th Best Place to work in the UK by Glassdoor really helps promote this message.

The recruitment focus has now shifted away from solely candidate attraction towards a more complete resourcing approach, with Horne and his team evangelising what it looks like to have a strategic, proactive, direct sourcing model in place.

When Horne joined Three UK, a subsidiary of Hutchison Whampoa, agency usage was at 15%. Since then, he has reduced this to 9%, with plans to further reduce this to under 5% of total hires being recruited by agencies. This year alone, he would have reduced the spend on agencies by half.

Making change happen

Horne, who has clearly undertaken the challenge of restructuring the resourcing function with fervour, said he takes a very long-term approach to resourcing and is not in favour of the more ad hoc approach of advertising and using recruitment agencies. In fact, Horne would rather invest in his team finding the best talent themselves rather than pay a third party organisation to do it for them.

By having conversations that really matter within the business, Horne has helped mould his team into an effective resourcing machine that is actively focused on acquiring the best talent for the organisation, as well as promoting internal mobility. Although there is still more work to be done, the team of 18 recruiters that Horne leads across three locations in Maidenhead, Reading and Glasgow, is today a much more dynamic and motivated function than it was last year.

Not only does Horne encourage greater innovation but he has also had to reinvent the way the team do things and to embrace digitalisation along the way. As part of this, Horne has invested in cost-effective online tools such as LinkedIn Recruiter seats, pay-per-click campaigns on Indeed and Glassdoor. He has also invested in a new careers website that is SEO-enabled and drives traffic to them directly, that also allows Horne’s in-house team to attract and build talent community pools.

“Indeed is really pushing the ball out in terms of their cost versus hire ratio which any source of hire will tell you. So as a result our advertising spend [on other sites] has massively dropped. We have invested in Indeed as a cost comparison which is driving a lot more traffic and therefore hires to some of the more junior, common roles to fill.”

He added: “Moreover, Glassdoor is the TripAdvisor of companies and the reviews are completely authentic. If I was a candidate I would definitely be going on to Glassdoor to get some objective feedback about a company I am applying for.”

Given that Three UK CEO, David Dyson, has a Glassdoor approval rating of 96 per cent it is not surprising that Glassdoor is an online platform favoured by Horne. In fact, as part of the resourcing team’s involvement in increasing brand awareness among candidates, Horne encourages his resourcers to celebrate their successes – such as that of a very popular CEO –externally just as much as they do internally.

Horne spends much of his time thinking about how he can improve his resourcing function at Three UK. At the moment he is considering how to attract talent using social media more effectively and is also exploring the notion of programmatic marketing tools. In future, he may even look into gamification, he said.

Currently Three UK is in the middle of rolling out a video interviewing trial at one of their retail regions. The idea is to determine if video screening candidates will give Three UK a better assessment of a candidate’s customer facing abilities than a telephone interview.

The beauty behind this product is that it is mobile enabled, which further feeds into Three UK’s brand, said Horne.

“We are a mobile company so if any part of our resourcing process allows us to promote using a device, such as an interview by a smart phone, we should be trying to promote it because we should be practicing what we preach. If we don’t, what does that say about our brand?”

Re-shaping an existing in-house team

When Horne joined Three UK in 2014 he inherited a team of 13 in-house recruiters who were all effectively at the same level and grade, he said.

Called resourcing partners, the team’s responsibility was to effectively manage the relationships of their vendors both internally and externally. In other words, they did very little direct sourcing themselves, he said.

In fact, the team was spending far too much time at the backend of the resourcing process and not enough in the front end, said Horne.

“After a role was advertised a shortlist of candidates that looked appropriate was sent to the hiring manager, the hiring manager would then select the candidates s/he wanted to interview. The recruiters would then engage the candidates on that premise, and would sit in on the interviews with the hiring managers to select the best candidates.”

Horne said the quality of talent they were attracting was arguably not the best it could be because the team were not investing the time to proactively build those talent pools and pipelines for the vacancies.

“By doing their job at the frontend, and bringing in the best in class talent for a particular vacancy that have already been pre-screened and interviewed by us, the resourcing team no longer have to sit in on every interview because they have already completed their selection exercise,” he said.

Today Horne manages a team of resourcing specialists who are the ‘engine room’ and who directly source using LinkedIn, job boards, and who ask candidates for referrals. This is only after they have considered the internal talent pools. This exercise feeds up into the ‘resourcing partners’ whose role it is to work with the hiring managers and to look ahead about what resourcing requirements will be coming up.

“Rather than just be reactive to a backfill vacancy of someone who has left, the approach we are now taking is that we actually strategically know what is coming up in the different business areas.”

The idea behind this approach is that it allows the resourcing team to prioritise and coordinate how to proactively build talent pools so that when there is a resourcing need – particularly for difficult to fill roles – the role can be filled quickly and efficiently, said Horne.

“It means we are not always chasing our tail when requisitions for roles come through,” he said.

Don’t forget the candidate

Last year Three UK had approximately 100,000 applications for roles of which they hired circa 3,000. Horne pointed out that was 97,000 people that had to be rejected.

“My message to my team and the business was if you do a really bad job of letting them know they have been unsuccessful, at whatever stage, that’s 97,000 people you have just disengaged and probably will not want to come back and work for us again. They might be a really good candidate but just missed out to someone else or they might not have had the right level of experience at that time but they might be in the future.”

He added: “Secondly, these individuals might become or are already Three UK customers and if they’ve had a really poor service from us, then they may be disengaged as an existing customer of Three, or put off from becoming a customer in the future. When you start looking at the numbers involved that’s a huge commercial loss.”

Working in partnership

The bulk of the 3,000 roles Three UK recruited last year were in the retail estate across its 380 UK stores.

“To handle that volume we have an HR shared services team that perform CV sifting and telephone interviewing. This frees up my team do the more strategic resourcing and to manage the relationships with the hiring managers and to support in the assessment and selection,” he said.

The remaining 1,000 roles tend to be corporate services/head office type roles. These are based in their head office in Maidenhead, their technology arm in Reading or their shared services and contact centre in Glasgow.

The in-house team do not deal with the temporary labour side of things. This is completely outsourced to a Master Vendor with whom they’ve had a good relationship for over a decade.

Although Horne and his team have no influence or involvement in the recruitment process for non-permanent labour, they do keep their Master Vendor abreast of their resourcing journey. In fact the same principle applies to all Three UK’s resourcing partners.

Specifically, in an effort to ensure the channels he is using are working effectively, Horne has built quarterly resource partner sessions where all the resourcing ‘suppliers’ attend. These include their Applicant Tracking System provider, LinkedIn, their employer brand agency and even their Master Vendor supplier.

“We feel it is important to involve them on our resourcing journey and any changes we are doing, including the launch of a new brand platform. I feel we will get more out of our resource partners if we invest in them. Ultimately we need them as much as they need us, which is why we do not have a client/supplier relationship.”

Biggest remaining challenge

Twelve months into his role and Horne says the direct sourcing model has started to take shape, with the investments they have made in other channels of attraction and acquisition starting to pay off.

However, he said he still faces a big challenge regarding the lack of strategic workforce planning within resourcing.

“I don’t think we look ahead enough and as a result are very reactionary to the business requirements rather than leading the business in terms of their thinking regarding the strategic direction of our business and the impact that has on people and how we are going to adjust those gaps if we have some.”

According to Horne the whole premise of strategic workforce planning is to understand the longer term vision of the business, which is then filtered down across all business areas, so that the resourcing team can determine what impact that business vision and strategy will have on their existing skills and what skills they will need in future.

“That gap, between the existing skills and future skills is where the resourcing function will come in and either buy or build that particular talent gap.”

If the decision is to build, the resourcing team needs to determine how the business will grow, upskill and develop its existing talent. If the decision is to buy that talent, you need to think about where to find that talent externally because everybody is fighting for the highly sought after talent in the mobile industry, said Horne. These individuals are in high demand, and as a result very contractor led and expensive, so to get permanent members of staff in these areas can be quite a challenge, he added.

“That’s why it is good to have these conversations with the business early on so that you can determine what to do about it before it happens, rather than waiting and then rushing to catch up,” he said.

Horne admits that these kinds of conversations are still a work in progress because the way workforce planning was traditionally done at Three UK was much more operational rather than strategic and so, like with any change, it is taking time to properly implement.