Take It from the Top: Tamás Fehér on the Path to Digital Transformation

Tamás Fehér

Senior Vice President, Permanent Placements & International Recruitment, Trenkwalder Group

As Senior Vice-President of the Trenkwalder Group, Tamás Fehér is responsible for the Permanent Placement business line as well as the International Mobility program of the company. Tamás had previously managed Trenkwalder Hungary as Country MD for 5 years converting the previously purely blue-collar temporary staffing agency to an HR service provider offering Permanent Placement and Outsourcing solutions as well.

In his current role since 2017, he realized that the most effective way to harmonize processes and product portfolios of the countries is to implement a common ATS platform providing multi-country structures and workflows. The driving principle of the group-wide implementation has been the establishment of common operational KPIs.

Welcome to Take It from the Top, a podcast brought to you by the Recruitment Innovation Exchange (also known as RIX). On Take It from the Top, we interview leaders within the recruitment industry to discuss various pressing topics within the sector.

This week, Tamás Fehér, Senior Vice President of Permanent Placements & International Recruitment at Trenkwalder Group, joins Leah McKelvey, Vice President of Global Enterprise Strategy & Operations at Bullhorn, to discuss how his firm is digitizing its processes across 17 countries.

      
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Welcome to Take It from the Top, a podcast brought to you by the Recruitment Innovation Exchange (also known as RIX). On Take It from the Top, we interview leaders within the recruitment industry to discuss various pressing topics within the sector.

Leah McKelvey (RIX): Can you share a little bit about your background and what your role is at Trenkwalder?

TF: I’m Hungarian and actually based in Budapest, the capital city of Hungary. I’ve always worked in Budapest, but some roles have included an international scope. I began working in the recruitment industry in 2006 and prior to that, I was working on the corporate side doing human resources (HR) and was also responsible for the multicountry recruitment efforts of an FMCG company. But since ‘06, I’ve been managing recruitment agencies. First, it was a purely white-collar, permanent staffing agency and the Hungarian market leader at that time, Grafton Recruitment, and for the last seven years, I’ve been working for the Trenkwalder Group.

For the first five years, I was the Hungarian Country Managing Director, and since early 2017, I’ve been responsible for the total group’s permanent placement business line, as well as its international mobility program. I’m also responsible for fir the management and digitization of our recruitment processes.

 

RIX: Definitely a pretty fast journey in terms of the things that you’re focused on. For Trenkwalder, what’s the context of the company? And could you share a little bit as we look to 2020, what your growth and strategic plans are heading into the new year?

TF: The company covers 17 countries, mainly in central and eastern Europe, meaning all the German-speaking countries, and from Poland down to and including Turkey. Basically, it’s a regional power. We really believe that we’re specialists in the central-eastern European region, and because the German companies dominate these economies, it’s actually a very good combination from the geographical point of view. We have roughly 1,000 employees, and around 30,000 temp workers as well.

Trenkwalder was named after our founder who unfortunately died a few years ago and since then, new investors have come in and restructured the organization to deal with some of the challenges we were facing. Basically, what we had before, which is very important from the digitization point of view, is that Trenkwalder used to be like a loose alliance of very independent country organizations. Over the last four or five years, this has drastically changed. We still have a lot of independence in our individual countries, however, we’ve started to harmonize our processes and we have started to drive our main business lines centrally.

 

This was a strategic necessity for the company because Trenkwalder used to be known as the blue-collar temp agency. Every time we’d go to potential clients they say, “Why are we talking about a risk manager role when you’re really good at actually finding forklift drivers.” This was a challenge–figuring out how to change our perception to the market, how to design a new product mix, and then how to support it from the organizational point of view with KPIs and new motivation schemes.

RIX: You’ve been at the forefront of both experiencing that process transformation as the MD of leading Hungary. But as you transitioned to that role of aligning processes across the different countries and starting to think about digitization, what were some of the first things that you took on when looking beyond Hungary?

TF: In my eyes, it’s very important that our product mix is both blue-collar and white-collar temp and perm, and also outsourcing of HR-related services. I believe that each of these areas needs a different skillset and colleagues from different psychometric profiles in the roles, and we need to motivate them differently. Because we were focusing mainly on one product in the past, it was a one-stop-shop. One recruiter was doing the recruitment, administration, and client management, and we couldn’t really continue operating like that.

In order to be effective, we didn’t need to just change the roles and profiles, we had to come up with a clear, individual motivation scheme, or an individual performance scorecard. And because we need data for a scorecard, we had to break down and analyze our processes. We basically had to quantify every step to make it measurable. That’s why we were looking for a global ATS platform, and at the end of his journey, we found Bullhorn Connexys. It was a good learning experience for me because we had to provide a common structure for our plans and then I had to travel around the 17 countries and understand the structural legal differences.

 

We have very different legal expectations in Austria compared to in Germany, or in Central Europe. The organizational designs in certain countries, and what it means to be a recruiter really have different definitions in other countries. At first, I was shocked at how different it was, but when I was thinking about it, I began to notice that it’s actually quite the same.

The first step was to design a recruitment workflow that actually makes sense for every product in every country. We needed buy-in from each organization, which was more of an educational task for me to explain to them that whatever they called A before, now we just call it B, but it still functions the same.

RIX: Any tips in hindsight on how you gathered buy-in from those leaders and really had a successful change management effort around introducing new processes?

TF: Well, my philosophy is proof, not promises.

RIX: I like that.

TF: I like to talk to the people on the ground floor, those who do the daily work. In other words, in a recruitment agency, those are the recruiters and maybe the team leaders. Although I need to get buy-in from the country managers, they’re typically more focused outside of the organization than on the daily work, and we’re talking about motivating the total workforce, so I always managed to talk to them directly.

Secondly, I myself demonstrated, or I took very talented colleagues from my Hungarian organization to demonstrate how we do things there. We showed them what they can do with the recruitment platform, which then basically immediately triggered this “aha moment.” And then it’s easy because they have hundreds of questions, and the country managers need to support these changes.

Of course, it has to be very diplomatic and I always need to start with a case. The Hungarian organization has moved up from the 15th position to become one of the top three permanent placement providers in Hungary within my two years of management, which was a good start.

The group proved that maybe there’s something being what I’m saying. And then I’m always demoing. So we’re just constantly demoing in a way that begs the question, “What is your biggest pain right now?”

“I’m looking for a Dutch-speaking engineer for this position in Hungary.”

I know that Dutch is a very rare language spoken in Hungary, for example. And then I sit down and start to search. When they see how we do things, and when they see what the functionalities are and how we use them, they always stop us and say, “Okay. Show it to me again.”

It’s very time-consuming, but at the same time, it creates word of mouth. So if I’m just talking to two or three recruiters in a few weeks’ time, there would always be a request for me to come again, and we would focus on another functionality. This way, it’s not just the functionalities that make sense to them, but the processes as well.

 

RIX: You’ve gone through the journey of getting buy-in both on the ground and from leaders involved, and then built out processes in the system to get the data through a  proof-driven approach. When you think about being data-driven, how are you working towards that?

TF: When we’re talking about the results, we typically say, “We didn’t succeed because of the environment–it’s usually the competition, the economy, global warming, or whatever.” But ultimately, there was no proof in our hand because our data previously was concentrating on larger units like regions of the countries. Therefore, we couldn’t really find the root cause of any problems.

Now, we’re right in the middle of this data mindset or data culture and it’s very easy to show outstanding performances. My favorite example is our Czech country team because we had a fantastic relationship with them, and they technically doubled their turnover within these two years. They were just so happy that they could see one-by-one their results–how many interviews, conversion ratio, and success rate.

At the end of the day, it wouldn’t be enough just to see that your performance is better than the target, so we linked the bonus structure to these figures. The first thing I told them was that whatever was in the system, that’s what’s going to be the base of their commission–it helps the data quality.

RIX: A lot more attention paid after that.

TF: That’s my experience not just from the last two years, but from the last 10 years. The first three months is usually rejecting the change–wanting to do things as it was done before. That’s why they were double-bookkeeping everything they did. But of course, that’s very time-consuming so it’s really hard to maintain the data in two places.

The second quarter is really about accepting the changes and then learning how to do it much better. After the first six months, recruiters who actually took the effort to embrace this change realized that everything was much faster and more transparent. I’m proud that everything is performing well and that I don’t have to come up with stories. The figures speak for themselves.

RIX: You talk about benchmarks and the things that help drive their knowledge of their individual performance. There’s always the healthy debate around how many KPIs are too many and how often you’re tracking them. Can you share the top five KPIs or metrics that you like to track and if those have changed over time?

TF: We have a set of KPIs, and I wanted to keep it very simple in the beginning. We have some projects where we work on more detailed ones, but technically we’re tracking the sales side as well. Everything starts from the activities that our business developers are doing, so basically how many visits and meetings, are the classic ones.

The second one is workflow, which is for the recruiters. Workflow is all the steps that we do through the recruitment process–from application through prescreening, and interviews use to hiring and placements.

The other important one, which is used by both the sales and recruitment organization, is the open jobs. It’s very important that we have a clear view of how many open jobs one recruiter can manage, and it always depends on the type of recruitment projects that he or she does. Is it temp? Is it perm? Is it white-collar? Is it IT? That has to be managed.

In this case, we have a triangle where we need to keep the balance. If there are not enough jobs, then sales needs to do more activities. If there are enough jobs, we have to concentrate on the field ratios. The good thing is that this is transparent for both functions. In many organizations, it used to be the case that sales are saying that recruitment is not filling and delivering, and recruitment is saying, “Yes, because you’re not bringing us the right kind of jobs.” But here it’s transparent. 

We established communication platforms between the two units, where they can share and track this development. They have clear views on whether they are actually filling it quite well or clear views that the salary levels are not at the level where it attracts candidates, etc. There’s continuous communication now that we have data.

 

Sales enjoy these data-driven cultures the most because clients usually have a very specific role, like an operator in this very specific industry within this 50 kilometers region. Nobody can tell you immediately what the standard salary level for a role like this is, but in some countries, we already have accurate information in the system, and they can just show them that they found 40 people in this region within this particular salary range. Or we can come up with some very nice one-pagers in a day. This is something sales like very much because we can provide very interesting data our response times are much faster.

RIX: It’s really exciting to hear the full journey that you’ve taken from not only changing the mindsets and understanding the motivations of the teams, implementing process and system, and now taking that data to help them sell and more proactively get in front of prospects and clients. What do you think is next as part of your digital transformation journey?

TF: We’re currently in the middle of the process, so what I just told you is probably true for four or five countries out of the 17. Our focus in 2020 will be about rolling it out in other countries. It’s started, but it’s not there yet. Most importantly, we managed to get the buy-in from our board, so now they are very excited to see all the countries on the reports. They are eager to hear, “Hey, now you can trust the data. This is 100 percent accurate in real-time, so you can take a look at it anytime.”

That would be the next step, which is very operational. There’s not too much innovation in it. But as I mentioned quickly, we’re working on some pilots in the background with a few selected teams. We’re testing how to be able to create nice reports on provided targets so that it essentially acts as a thermometer. The person running the process should see where they are at any moment in real-time. Right now we’re checking the KPIs at a monthly or quarterly level, and the next big step would be the absolute real-time data.