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Shutterstock Chief People Officer: the new transparent world of employment

HR transparency HR transparency
Photo credit:

Faungg’s Photos

Peter Phelan, Chief People Officer at Shutterstock and part of the Hot Topics Tech HR 100, believes there's been a strategic shift in the way employees are thought about.

For a long time, a company’s success was assessed and measured by publications such as Consumer Reports that would provide the consumer with information and data. You could make a more informed decision. But the common era changed the equation; today, sites like TripAdvisor and Yelp promote what ordinary people are saying about a company and its offerings.

In the past, we may have received a filtered or sometimes distorted view of a brand. Now, it’s a no-holds-barred look inside.

Consumers, in this way, have more power than ever. They drive not only awareness, but also consumption. Customer reviews are a helpful and reliable tool, and earning positive reviews and popularity is high on the minds of executives. Some companies rose to the top of their industries based on customer service alone. Social media has only accelerated the pace and underscored the value of winning customers through great user experience, both online and offline.

The field of employment has followed a similar trajectory. As companies have moved to become more transparent, so did we, the people inside.

Potential candidates for a position are informed, prepared, and well-versed before they even step foot in the door for an interview.

The onus is on employers to keep up with the conversation going on out there. Who’s saying what, and why?

This transparent world of employment shouldn’t scare you, though.

In fact, it’s a change for the better. It’s always been a part of any human resources department’s responsibility to keep up with what’s happening, and now thanks to the availability of original blog posts, updates on LinkedIn, and reviews on Glassdoor, everything you need gets shared and surfaced on its own. More information is always better than a shortage of it.

The journey to HR transparency

With these changes, the typical and traditional HR function has had to adapt accordingly. We’ve championed a rebrand ourselves. The modern move to label ourselves “people teams” instead hasn’t been a coincidence.

Thanks in part to the transparency happening externally around a company’s prospects and pursuits, we’ve embraced HR transparency internally, putting employees first.

We have shed the stigma attached to old terms like “personnel” or “human resources” that painted a picture of an administrative function. We are not mere enforcers of company policy. Many of those old administrative duties are performed today by online platforms, freeing up people like me to focus our attention on real concerns and the career development of our employees.

It signals a strategic shift in the way we think about people and their lifespan at a company.

According to the Millennial Branding Report, up to 45 percent of millennials will choose workplace flexibility over pay. They are coming in thinking about work differently than their predecessors may have, envisioning roles that will enable them to flourish and contribute at a high level right away. They expect transparency, feedback and insights into how they fit into the company’s vision and mission.

Companies quick to accept this as a new reality will benefit as well.

By giving individuals the insight they crave to do their jobs better, managers empower individuals to step up and take ownership over projects they might have balked at in the past. This will in turn help the company edge closer toward achieving its short-term and long-term goals. With this model built upon honesty and empathy, everyone truly can win.

At Shutterstock, we have invested heavily in both people and process to make the whole system better. The structure for our teams comes first, and the infrastructure of our workflow must follow. If something comes up we are in position to respond to it immediately.

The last piece of this HR transparency was to establish employee OKRs (objectives and key results) that went into effect at the beginning of 2016. Most intrinsic in that process, though, was to allow employees to make the first suggestion as to what they should be working on this year. Together, we tweak and fine-tune those goals and measurements of success.

Now, all employees across the company know what we are working toward as a whole, and how they fit into the scheme of things. It was a labor-intensive process to put into place, however we know we’re investing in the future.