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Klarna VP, Human Resources: ‘I don’t like the term HR’

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Photo credit:

Colin Knowles

Malcolm Kemp is integrating HR technology into the growth plans of Swedish unicorn, Klarna. Here's why.

Klarna is a Swedish payments startup that enables online shoppers to buy items just by submitting their email.

Its popularity in native Sweden alone saw it process an incredible 30% of all sales online, with as much as $9bn flowing through its system in 2014.

Its valuation of $2.25bn highlights just how much of a juggernaut it has become, helped by its backing from renowned Silicon Valley VC firm Sequoia Capital too.

Next on the agenda is tackling the US and UK markets.

Ensuring an HR system is in place to stretch and grow with the company as it scales is front of mind for its VP HR, Malcolm Kemp. He walked Hot Topics through the shift in HR in recent years, why he dislikes the word HR, and how best to approach giving the right information to managers.

HT: How has HR changed as a profession over the course of your career?

Since starting out in HR in my early 20’s, I’ve seen the entire profession become more integral to businesses.

There has been a realisation, albeit delayed, that an HR department with the right tools can be an incredible value add to an organization. With technology built into the seams HR can become a true business partner, provide more access to organizational data and help make business decisions significantly easier.

The other aspect is recruitment. And over the past 20 years, technology has had a similar impact on this area as it has the rest of HR.

HT: Why do you think it’s taken such a long time for executives to realize that HR is such an important asset to businesses?

I think there have been problems with both sides. HR professionals have certainly changed over the last 20 years to become more business savvy. They’ve become more relevant in applying HR principles toward business related subjects.

So, rather than HR technology being purely theoretical and something seen as lacking in relevance to the business place, I think HR professionals have had to become more commercial in their outlook and in the way they apply their skills.

In terms of why has it taken so long? The image of HR used to be much more tired than it is today.

Personally, I now feel it is very strategic; it feels very transactional compared to the past.

HT: It seems that everyone has a problem with that term: HR. To that end there’s an evolution going on. The name is being shaken and we are seeing Chief People Officers and People Scientists rise to prominence. Why do you think that is?

I have a problem with the term HR too. I’ve been thinking about this recently because I don’t feel ‘HR’ really sums up what you are looking to do with your people. Instead, people use HR as a catchall term for processes that have little business sense within organizations.

Having said that, I think it’s much more important to change team behaviors rather than just changing the department’s name.

It’s probably incumbent on me to make sure that my team gives a different impression other than ‘HR’, rather than just change the name and hope that that does the job for you.

HT: How are you using data to better help your hiring processes?

We do use data to inform this side of the business quite a lot.

I wouldn’t say that we’re using big data, but I think being able to analyze the various steps of your recruitment process from a data perspective is really important.

Even if it is just to gauge a better understanding of the efficiency of your own processes. Having this data also enables the analysis of this at a much greater volume than ever before, which provides a view of the effectiveness of your communication strategies to various candidate pools.

You can track behavior from how people interact with you at the very early stages before they even become a candidate, as well as looking at candidate behavior on your website. For example, when they’re most likely to apply for a job therefore when it is most sensible to push some kind of content out to them. All of this is incredibly interesting and powered by data.

It has allowed us to become more forensic in terms of the hiring process. On the surface, it might seem like a simple social media strategy. However, I can assure you it is slightly more complex than that.

HT: What excites you most about future HR and what is has to offer?

Looking at our own environment, at Klarna, and given that we are new – what happened and tends to happen in smaller high growth companies is that HR can get left behind.

Until recently our challenge was purely keeping up with the business on a transactional basis.

This meant hiring people, getting their contracts out, making sure they get paid. And at some point during that growth period, as we recognized, you need to ensure you’re making the environment one that the talent you’re hiring can actually thrive in.

To that end we introduced HR technology to help us leverage the benefits of our systems, putting a framework in place to allow us to continue to move in an agile way.

Our main focus was around simplifying the employee environment. So just helping people do what they need to do more easily.

Take managers as an example. To do their job to the best of their ability, they need to be able to access and see information around their talent really easily, to be able to feedback quickly and in turn, enable individual empowerment.

With that in mind, if a manager has to come directly to HR and ask for information, this just won’t do.

It is no longer efficient enough. Instead, the information they require needs to be instantly accessible.

And this is what we are looking to do.

It sounds simple, but what we’re looking to maximize this year is the ability for managers to do things themselves, and in turn provide our talent with more knowledge and information.

Being able to make sensible decisions based on information is, in my opinion the best way to deploy resources.

Without this information it can become difficult to know what those resources are, what they are good at, and how well they have been performing recently, making your role as a manager more difficult.

So what I’m excited about is just being able take away some of those barriers, and remove those inefficiencies so that managers, rather than having to take that extra step and ask for information, just know it, or can easily find it themselves.