Investment firm makes multi-faceted gains in talent management

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CarVal Investors is a majority-owned subsidiary of Cargill Inc., a privately held international company. Founded in 1987, CarVal Investors is a recognized global leader in managing opportunistic value investments. In a few short decades, the firm has earned a reputation for integrity, discipline and rapid execution by drawing on its experienced team. Today, with some 125 investment professionals supported by more than 200 administrative, tax and legal professionals in 10 offices across the world, CarVal Investors has acquired over $37 billion in assets.

Executive summary

Since adopting Halogen's cloud-based talent management solutions into its organization, several beneficial changes have been realized, among them:

  • A more meaningful competency framework and language has been created specific to roles within CarVal Investors’ investment business;
  • A cumbersome process was modified to a one-page, continuous-scroll format with built-in competency and rating definition rollovers — to enhance ease of use;
  • Individual and departmental goals are now firmly aligned with corporate goals;
  • Data outputs and analytical reports can be generated quickly and simply;
  • Configurability allows CarVal Investors’ HR team to make changes as required;
  • Implementation accommodated different time zones and locations around the globe; Halogen Software’s ongoing support continue to do so;
  • Appraisal process participation levels increased from 50% to 95%; and
  • Employee satisfaction with the organization’s approach to managing talent increased shortly after the implementation of Halogen Performance™.

During its formulative period, CarVal Investors struggled with a cumbersome talent management system developed in-house.

“It was quite a sophisticated system,” said Paul Holstead, HR Regional Manager with CarVal Investors, reflecting on those earlier days. It was Internet-based, providing benefits in terms of real-time communication between employees and managers, and central data collation. It also measured a number of different performance criteria including task-based goals or business objectives and competencies. This system helped track, monitor, measure and develop performance.

The Continental Divide: global needs and differences

The Cargill multi-national conglomerate had about 170 000 employees when the home-grown talent management system was in use. This covered a diverse grouping of people: fish farmers in Honduras, sugarcane farmers and cotton plantation workers in Africa, hedge-fund traders in London and New York, shipping captains navigating grain tankers across the globe… One of the challenges found increasingly in CarVal Investors was the ability to measure performance specific to its employees.

It was an exciting time with a lot of new colleagues; a lot of new hiring from investment banks and other private equity firms. CarVal Investors became aware, however, through anecdotal comments and through an online employee engagement survey, that improving talent management could generate a high return on its investment.

Elizabeth Ogren, the HR director for CarVal Investors globally, tasked Holstead with more detailed research on talent management systems. Holstead approached this research in a variety of ways. Employee focus groups were conducted on both sides of the Atlantic and one-to-one interviews were held with the senior executive team. Anecdotal feedback was encouraged from all involved and the firm reviewed archived sample performance evaluations. Through this process they gathered a rich picture of where the organization had been and where it needed to go.

Trading up on transactional performance

One of the things people didn’t like about the existing talent management system was that they had to hop from screen to screen, and the screens could take a long time to load. That concern, Holstead pointed out, was a reflection of the people in the investment business: financial traders working against the clock and not necessarily focused on administrative and management details.

Another concern expressed by users was the system’s competency framework and language; the competencies and they way they were defined simply didn’t resonate. They were too vague; there wasn’t enough emphasis on the behaviors essential to the business: analytical skills, building the business reputation, building commercial relationships internally and externally.

“The degree of control and influence we had as a CarVal Investors HR team over the actual outputs from the talent management system; the ability to use them for other more sophisticated processes were lacking,” Holstead recounted. “We could get reports, but inevitably there would be a time delay because it’s administered by a central team that’s part of our larger organization. Also, when reports came back they were not in a user-friendly format.”

Perhaps the biggest consideration for the firm’s senior executive team was that while individuals were clear on what their role and responsibilities were there was a disconnect between their activity and the larger corporate strategy.

The compilation of these key findings prompted the drive for change within the organization.

Dealing with enterprising solutions in the cloud

A request for proposal was put together with input from HR and IT. The proposal was distributed to a number of potential suppliers, among them SuccessFactors and Halogen Software.

“The documentation Halogen provided in response to the RFP was extremely impressive,” said Holstead. ”We quickly decided to proceed to meetings and presentations with our CEO. As a team, we identified some follow up questions, and again, we commended Halogen for their responses to these queries and their desire to make sure they really understood our business.”

A CarVal Investors executive agreed to participate in a web-based product demonstration. A highly successful trader with limited time, there was some trepidation on the part of Holstead over whether a virtual product demonstration would convey the right message and all the benefits of Halogen Software. His concerns were unfounded.

“Halogen’s webinar demonstrated the quality of the technology,” said Holstead. “Because it was done remotely the focus was clearly on the quality of the technology and the solution.”

Halogen’s goal alignment made the biggest impact. In fact, according to Holstead, the “golden paperclip” is often mentioned in internal strategy updates — a reference to the goal alignment icon featured in Halogen Performance that facilitates an individual’s ability to set goals by linking upwards to departmental and corporate objectives.

Technical finesse spans time, distance

From Holstead’s perspective, Halogen Software’s project implementation was equally commendable. Halogen-facilitated telephone conferences, which spanned all time zones, kept Holstead, based in the U.K. and his colleagues in Singapore and Minneapolis, in sync as a global organization. Accurate records and structured action minutes made sure everyone remained focused.

Through soft-skills training CarVal Investors began to develop their managers on effectively coaching for performance. They also introduced new financial-service specific competencies, and discussed how to use these competencies to give feedback.

Using a phased implementation approach, CarVal Investors is now completing goal setting/goal alignment with the intention of expanding its talent management efforts to include Halogen 360 Multirater™ and Halogen Succession™ modules.

A successful venture

Using the previous system less than 50% of employees had a signed-off appraisal. CarVal Investors has now seen a big increase in appraisal process participation levels, with 95% of employees taking part. “It’s a key metric to know that people, the vast majority, in fact, are using Halogen Performance,” said Holstead. “The system prompts and reminds us about deadlines etc. — with messages the HR team can control — which is an incredibly beneficial feature.”

Another element Holstead cites as having made a marked difference is the configurability of the Halogen Software offering; the HR team can easily make tweaks and changes. On a day-to-day basis, this means the team can manage the administration more quickly and efficiently rather than have to put in a request to the central Cargill team to run reports.

“We’ve now got our performance appraisal documents looking like a single consistent document,” he added. “You can scroll from top to bottom and have the whole appraisal form in front of you. You can mouse over and bring up competency definitions or rating definitions. That was additional functionality that wasn’t present in our previous system. And the palate of competencies using the behavioural-anchored rating scales is yet another added value that Halogen has brought to our work.”

CarVal Investors’ HR group has also found Halogen service and support teams extremely efficient. “So in terms of all the promises and commitments we received when we signed up with Halogen, each of these have been exceeded,” said Holstead.

Another key benefit seen by the organization is that the process prompted a larger piece of organizational development. The top leadership team has been more explicit in articulating, capturing and communicating their corporate objectives. This was a major change management project.

“This change in mindset was made possible by our change of talent management technology,” Holstead noted. “In terms of making a great strategic contribution, the technology was really something that was a catalyst for the executive team getting together and defining corporate objectives, and for employees to have high-quality conversations and informed dialogue about how they and their department contribute to corporate goals.”

Has the solution impacted the organization in any concrete, measurable way? CarVal Investors completed another employee engagement survey shortly after implementing Halogen Performance. While not surprising in the context of the world economy, some engagement drivers showed deterioration, however one of the areas which showed an increase was talent management. “It was very pleasing to see the metrics around talent management noticeably improved,” said Holstead.

A multi-year approach

Part of the rationale behind modifying CarVal Investors’ talent management approach was developing career ladders specific to different job families and levels within the organization. It involved identifying expectations of the role holder in terms of their knowledge, in terms of the relationships they’d be building, in terms of the financial impact of their role, in terms of the complexities of the issues they’d be dealing with. Those career ladders have been developed and going forward, will become part of the firm’s appraisal approach.

“One of the things I’m very excited about is to use performance appraisal outputs and bring these finding into talent management and succession planning meetings,” said Holstead. “These outputs will guide calibration conversations that we’ll be having when talking about performance and potential. We’ll have a common set of criteria and a common language. This creates a strategic opportunity to work with our executive team and more locally with managers, to help them understand what we mean when we talk about potential.”

A recommended investment

Though there’s still much ahead, “I’d definitely recommend Halogen Software, and in fact, have,” said Holstead, pointing to his colleagues in another business division he supports, who are currently engaged in exploratory conversations with Halogen.

“I’ve worked elsewhere in financial services, especially in investment management, and what you typically find is that the traders, who also hold all the senior positions, are not the world’s greatest users of talent management systems. That’s not where their expertise or focus lies. You need something that can adapt to the way they work. You’ve got to have a tailored approach. Halogen provides exactly that.

“We cover all continents. In Europe we’ve got people in the UK, Paris and Luxemburg. In the States we’ve got people in Minneapolis and New York. We also have offices in South America: Argentina and Brazil, as well as offices in Japan, China and Singapore.

“In terms of bringing people closer together, in terms of the language and through goal alignment, there’s now a common focus. As we apply some of the outputs and find new ways to use Halogen tools such as Halogen Succession it will become more ingrained in our culture, certainly our culture of how we manage people and how we communicate expectations.”