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Ep 378: Values Driven Retention and Recruiting


Keeping employees is as difficult as attracting employees at the moment, and, as ever, it is particularly tough in the tech sector. The relationship between employees and employers is changing, and shared values are a vital part of this.

My guest this week is Michel Visser, VP People Success & Enablement at software company Unit4. Unit4 are taking a holistic values driven approach to recruitment and retention. It is also a strategy based on innovation and experimentation, and Michel has some extremely valuable perspectives to share.

In the interview, we discuss:

• Recruiting challenges in tech

• Talent on the move

• Making work more than transactional

• Taking a holistic view of employee success

• Being innovative with compensation and benefits

• Meaning versus tokenism

• Using core values as a compass

• Demonstrating values through candidate experience

• What is the future of work?

Listen to this podcast in Apple Podcasts.

Transcript: (0s):
Support for this podcast comes from delivers the talent intelligence platform, the most effective way for companies to retain top performers, upscale and rescale the workforce, recruit top talent efficiently, and reach diversity goals. is deep learning artificial intelligence platform empowers enterprises to turn talent management into a competitive advantage.

Matt Alder (48s):
Hi, everyone. This is Matt Alder. Welcome to Episode 378 of the Recruiting Future Podcast. Keeping employees is as difficult as attracting employees at the moment and as ever, it is particularly tough in the tech sector. The relationship between employee and employer is changing and shared values are a vital part of this. My guest this week is Michel Visser, VP People Success and Enablement at software company Unit4. Unit4 are taking a holistic values-driven approach to recruitment and retention. It’s also a strategy based on innovation and experimentation, and Michel has some extremely valuable perspectives to share.

Matt Alder (1m 33s):
Hi, Michel, and welcome to the podcast.

Michel Visser (1m 36s):
Thank you. Great to be here.

Matt Adlder (1m 37s):
An absolute pleasure to have you on the show. Could you just introduce yourself and tell us what you do?

Michel Visser (1m 43s):
Yeah, I’m Michel Visser. I look after People Success and Enablement at Unit4, a tech company and it’s basically a fancy way of sharing my job is to ensure we get the best talent to join our business, and once they’re in make them as successful as they can be.

Matt Alder (1m 58s):
I wanna talk about not in a lot more detail as we get into the conversation. But I suppose, just to give us a little bit of context, tell us a bit about Unit4 and what you do.

Michel Visser (2m 6s):
So we’re a tech business and we basically, we operate in 24 countries across the globe. We offer ERP solutions, helping businesses manage their business, and we serve all businesses where people is main asset, right? So think about, you know, government, schools, but also professional services, businesses, those kinds of business.

Matt Alder (2m 27s):
Around the world we’re seeing lots of employers with recruiting challenges, very difficult to find talent, and also very difficult to keep talent at the moment. What kind of challenges are you seeing? What are you experiencing from your perspective?

Michel Visser (2m 41s):
Absolutely. So what I basically see and what we see happening across the industry, I think is just an acceleration of what was already happening. I would say pre-COVID times where we just see people we know where 10 years are sort of getting less and less. You know, people sort of move around businesses all the time. I know for the past year or so we see, of course, a massive acceleration rise where there’s lots of attrition. People had a lot of time to reflect on their careers and their future. And as such talent is on the move, I would say.

Matt Alder (3m 13s):
The companies that can deal with this situation, the best in terms of, well, both in terms of recruiting talent and retaining talent are gonna give themselves a massive competitive advantage on them.

Michel Visser (3m 27s):
Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. And because I think one of the things that we’ve seen over the past two years is that especially the tech industry, if you’re not careful, work becomes a truly transactional thing, right? You open up your laptop at 9:00, you close it at six, and at the end of the month, you get your paycheck. And if that is sort of the game that we play, then I think, you know, there’s always organizations with bigger pockets. So it’s quite important for organizations to put something next to this, right, to build this competitive advantage and become an attractive partner of choice for all the talents out there in the markets.

Michel Visser (4m 7s):
And that puts a completely different perspective, I would say, on sort of the investments that businesses need to make in to people and just the overarching lens I use to look at people in general because suddenly we talk about stuff like, you know, ensuring not only that people are productive, but also ensure that we look after people’s wellbeing, right? Then we create an inspiring environment to work in and suddenly all these themes, which were already important I would say earlier, I think now become increasingly more important to look after and really make the difference.

Matt Alder (4m 39s):
We really are sort of fundamentally seeing a shift in the relationship between employees and employers and the quality of that relationship, and what it means. I mean, talk us through some of the things that you’re doing as an organization or that you’re seeing in other organizations that there’s kind of really helping that to happen. What are people who are doing this well in terms of retaining the talent that they have, what are they doing?

Michel Visser (5m 6s):
Well, I think it starts with really sort of investing time and making very explicit what’s your DNA of the business is about. And what we do is spending a lot of time talking through and making people aware of what our company values are, right, as a starting point. So people can see if they relate to theirs and they can also function as a magnet to attract talents, but that’s only the starting point because then you need to really expand on this and build on this. What we’ve done, for example, is we’ve launched this very big program focused on employee success, but then we really took sort of a holistic view on employee success.

Michel Visser (5m 46s):
So it stretches way beyond, you know, we look after your professional development because we also look after, you know, people staying physically fit, people staying socially fit, people staying mentally fit. So we’ve deployed all sorts of initiatives in this domain for people to actually start feeling that the business cares about them beyond the moments that they sort of contribute and deliver to the business which shows we just holistically care for our people. And you need to be innovative, right? It’s really important that you stand out and you can be innovative on the stuff that I just talked about, but you can also be innovative when it comes to, for example, the compensation and benefits sort of in the compensation and benefit arena, right?

Michel Visser (6m 31s):
How do you stay competitive and attractive at that piece? We recently reshuffled our comp plans for our sales teams, for example. We’re working into sort of building a share scheme, a participant’s share scheme for employees, and last year, and this is the one I’m sort of most sort of proud of because I think, yeah, this really stretches the concepts is that we’ve just partnered with an organization that helps, that enables girls in Africa and refugee camps to [inaudible]. And there, we basically leveraged sort of our capability for our tech business, right. And adding this sort of layer of purpose to it, where we offer our employees the opportunity to also do a bit of good to the world next to their day job.

Michel Visser (7m 16s):
And I think it’s ingredients like these that help you create, you know, a sparkling workplace that is interesting to stay or interesting to move into.

Matt Alder (7m 26s):
Some fantastic initiatives that you mentioned there. Just stepping back to what you were talking about at the start in terms of sort of wellbeing in particular. Obviously, lots of organizations talk about this. And one of the things that I’ve seen is it’s sometimes that can feel very tokenistic. So, for example, the ridiculous case of I was talking to an organization who were worried that all of their employees were burnt out because they spent all day on Zoom calls and their antidote to this was to give them some mindfulness training via Zoom, which kind of seemed a little bit crazy. How do you make sure that those kinds of programs are meaningful and people really get value from them?

Michel Visser (8m 12s):
Well, I think there’s no sort of one-size-fits-all. There’s no holy grail sort of approach, but what we sort of experimented with various things. So one of the things is we partnered up with an organization and sort of not embedded in our organization. We partnered with an external organization, which offers mental health aids in the broader sense of the words, right? So we deployed an app. People can reach out to the people in that organization, can just have a cup of virtual cup of coffee, you know, just have a bit of talk about how they feel. So at one side, we just tried to open up channels, you know, for people to engage with other people, you know, to share their, you know, whatever they’re struggling with.

Michel Visser (8m 55s):
And at the other side, I think looking after mental wellbeing is also as to which I’m giving people this appreciation and this feeling that the organization cares about them, right? So, in our case, I mean, there’s nothing different to, I would say, than to just managing your own relationship with your partner at home, right? How do you keep it exciting, right? So you sent [inaudible], over the summer, we sent little gifts, you know. We now then offer, you know, we come up with this nice sort of developmental opportunities for everybody. We give people subscriptions to a learning solution. We find some external nice speakers to, you know, sharpen their minds.

Michel Visser (9m 36s):
We have this sort of mental support as I just talked to. We recently, we worked on this whole sort of what we call fit for you, right? Where we allow our employees to stay also physically fit. So we have all these different sort of workout sessions that people can join in remotely. And then on the background, we support this with other tools. So, of course, we’re a tech company, so we like to do a lot of tooling. So we have another tool in the background where we sort of stimulate people to get physically active, we track their steps and we partner up with organizations, you know, where we hit certain thresholds in terms of exercise, we donate to a charity. So we have all these different sorts of components that we experiment with and play with.

Michel Visser (10m 20s):
And so, of course, some were better than others, but I think as an organization, it’s quite important that you do start doing stuff, right. That stuff is happening and you find your little, let’s say, holy grail or sort of best solution because it will be different for everybody.

Matt Alder (10m 34s):
Absolutely. And I think what’s interesting about what you’re describing is you kind of have this wellness program, you’re also sort of putting your values, you know, front and center, and also with the charity that you’re working with. I guess that’s kind of sort of living those values and showing evidence of that. Does it kind of all sort of tie in together? Do the values provide you with the map if you like to make this understandable and really resonate with your employees?

Michel Visser (11m 5s):
Absolutely. One of our four core values is people first and, of course, many businesses will say, right? We put people first. So it starts with putting this statement out, but then it starts to actually, you know, the next step is then to start living it. And through the stuff that I just described are just examples where we try to showcase to our people is that we truly live this value, for example. So these values are absolutely our sort of world compass guiding us and directing us into these various initiatives.

Matt Alder (11m 35s):
From a sort of talent acquisition perspective, how do you leverage this back into making sure that you’re attracting the absolute right talent for your business?

Michel Visser (11m 46s):
Well, what see happening is that we’re increasingly attracting candidates asking for these kinds of things, right? So I think sort of a few years back ago, the question was more around, you know, how can you make me successful in my job, right? Or what is this business going to do to make me thrive? But the question now is way more sort of holistically asked in terms of, you knows, how can I be successful my job, but just, how does this–? Not only this, but then also, how does this organization help you to be successful in life in general, right? Because there’s not only work, there’s also all the other stuff. And we increasingly see, you know, candidates eluding sort of to these topics.

Michel Visser (12m 29s):
So we leverage all the sort of the initiatives that we just talked about massively, right? So we use this to fuel the engine room of our branding activities, right? Because we want to showcase as we live our people first value, for example, and we showcase these examples, but we stretch them also into policymaking. For example, we just released a policy around taking unlimited leaves. Everybody’s now struggling with, you know, where and when to work. We see lots of candidates also ask for clarity on this, right? Do I need to be in the office or not? And also, here we use our moral compass, which is all about trust with people first, where we stayed where we don’t really care, right?

Michel Visser (13m 11s):
We have our offices. You can stay at home as long as you deliver your results, it’s okay. So we just, I think one of the things we’re trying to do now is actually provide clarity in the space, which is quite unclear, right? Because everything is shifting all the time at this point in time. And we’re trying to very explicitly formulate answers to our candidates on how we feel on all these topics on employee wellbeing, on where you work, on how we’re going to make you successful. And we tried to boil them down into very traditional tooling, our stuff as well, right. Just, you know, boil it down all to one page, right? What is the leaflet that we use to sell our business? And we spent quite some time on building this, for example.

Matt Alder (13m 53s):
And is it something that you’re also very keen to demonstrate in terms of your actions? So from a recruitment perspective, is candidate experience kind of really important? Do you sort of focus on, you know, focus on that to sort of demonstrate how much you value people?

Michel Visser (14m 12s):
Yeah. Yeah. It’s massively important and, yeah, we’re taking sort of a multiple-step approach there. So at one side sort of, we started really sort of managing and sort of getting in touch with our alumni base, for example, right? So people who are not even in the process, but we still wanna stay in touch and, you know, keep them close, for example. And those people who are in the process and the people we are reaching out to. That candidate experience is absolutely key because at the end of the day, as the marketplace is globalizing, yeah, we will meet again anyway, right? So it’s really important to manage those relationships even if they don’t lead to concrete offer or a placement into the business.

Michel Visser (14m 55s):
So the short answer is yes.

Matt Alder (14m 57s):
It seems that we’re at this real inflection point where it comes to work at the moment, as you said, we thinking the relationship between employees and employers on every type of level where work’s done, how the work’s done, how people are rewarded for work, that’s done, all those kinds of things. I mean, it’s a very, very disruptive time at the moment. As you said, there, isn’t really a sort of a clear path, and no one’s quite sure what’s going on. How do you think this is all going to develop over the next two to three years? What direction do you think it’s heading in? How’s it gonna, you know, how are we gonna settle? What does the new world look like when it comes to work?

Michel Visser (15m 38s):
The way I see you this, I think the change or the disruption, or sort of continuous change will only continue, right? So I don’t think we will move into an end state where everything sort of turns out to be calm and stable again. So I think that the businesses that really thrive in the future in the coming years, also from a talent acquisition perspective, are the businesses and teams of people who are hugely innovative, right, who are able to sort of move along with all these changes and come up with, you know, interesting and crazy ideas to excite people along the way, right, at one side. And at the other side, also provide clarity on all the questions that people have and all the uncertainty people face because I think the uncertainty will remain, the dynamics will remain.

Michel Visser (16m 26s):
And the only thing what you can do as a business provides clarity as one side and at the other side, you stand out, you know. We need to stand out at the crowds, you know. The last two years learned us that, you know, lots of stuff can now be digital. And as such, it doesn’t really matter anymore where you’re based, for example, right? So everybody can work from anywhere, but that also means you can work everywhere, right? So every business is now competing with every other business and we see that too in our day-to-day work. So it’s really important. I think the organizations that will win in the future are those who really stand out, right? Differentiate and do something different because the traditional stuff people get bored of, right?

Michel Visser (17m 7s):
They leave the traditional stuff. So I don’t have a quick answer, right, on what the future will look like. But I actually do think it will be, it will continue to be changed and we need to accommodate it.

Matt Alder (17m 18s):
Michel, thank you very much for talking to me.

Michel Visser (17m 21s):
A pleasure.

Matt Alder (17m 22s):
My thanks to Michel Visser. You can subscribe to this podcast in Apple Podcast, on Spotify, or via your podcasting app of choice. Please also follow the show on Instagram. You can find us by searching for Recruiting Feature. You can search all the past episodes at On that site, you can also subscribe to the mailing list to get the inside track about everything that’s coming up on the show. Thanks very much for listening. I’ll be back next time and I hope you’ll join me.

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