What’s in OES’ secret employee engagement sauce?

Denice Pitt, CEO of OES, says a targeted approach to talent acquisition and diversity has been critical to improving employee engagement

A targeted approach to talent acquisition and diversity has been critical to improving employee engagement, driving innovation and creating a culture of high performance, according to the head of HR for Online Education Services (OES).

This targeted recruitment approach has an 85 per cent success rate and focuses on hiring people who are diverse in their thinking styles and backgrounds, as well as finding candidates who will add to the unique culture of OES, said Shanyn Payne, ‎executive director human resources for OES.

“A diverse workplace means the people and company reap the rewards of different experiences, intelligence and approaches to tackling challenges and opportunities,” she said.

“This recruitment approach is ingrained in our actual hiring process and has seen an 85 per cent success rate with new hires – it has also ensured our people have buy-in with new hires by incorporating a peer and direct report interview within the standard recruitment process.”

OES, a joint venture between SEEK and Swinburne University of Technology, has experienced rapid growth since its inception in 2011, and is now the market leader in the provision of online higher education degrees in Australia.

Last financial year OES generated $109.4 million in revenue and in four years of operation it has gone from four employees and zero students, to almost 796 staff (229 onsite staff and 567 remote) and some 10,000 students.

It also won the 2017 ‘best of the best’ award in the Aon Hewitt Best Employer Awards, with a score of 88 per cent for employee engagement, 20 per cent above the employee engagement industry standard.

“There is no way OES could deliver on its strategic plan without a highly engaged and high performing workforce”

Payne observed that effective and inclusive leadership leverages the diversity of the OES workforce, and is something that sets the business apart.

“OES leaders get the best out of their teams through being open, honest and transparent, while maintaining a ‘whole person’ people first focus,” she said.

“It is the genuine and passionate belief of our leaders that being people focused gets us better bottom line results – this is what gives us our competitive advantage.

“There is no way OES could deliver on its strategic plan without a highly engaged and high-performing workforce,” she said.

“HR is a true partner to the business at all levels to ensure our people deliver the company’s strategic goals,” said Payne, who explained that the key enablers of this are:

  • Providing expertise across the business on how to grow and maintain employee engagement. “This is how we essentially have a ‘seat at the table’,” said Payne.“We facilitate this by working with our managers to create goals for teams and individuals that are directly aligned to the business strategy and overall vision, and also by delving into the drivers that engage each team and developing tailored action plans accordingly.”
  • Proactively rewarding and recognising people’s efforts with a little fun. “Whether it’s a chocolate fountain in the lunchroom, yoga classes or dress-up days – we make sure to cater to our diverse mix of people so there is something for everyone,” she said.“Engaged employees get things done and achieve amazing things.”
  • An inclusive and effective management team. Payne explained that not only are people managers selected carefully by being interviewed by their potential direct reports as part of the recruitment process; they are all put through an accredited coaching course and trained to be values-based leaders.“We are also very clear on the leadership competencies that make a great leader at OES and are therefore able to very specifically develop people to these,” she said.

“Word of mouth about our culture also means that we are able to attract the best candidates in the market”

In tough business times, Payne said OES’ high-performance culture and high employee engagement levels have come to the fore and delivered.

“This is because of our culture of feedback, and clearly aligning reward to both performance and behaviours,” she said.

“The foundation for this is recruiting people that thrive in our unique culture and by being clear and transparent about our behaviour expectations.”

The business has a strong focus on internal promotion and retention, and in the past year, 90 per cent of people manager roles were filled internally while 95 per cent of key and emerging talent has been retained.

“Word of mouth about our culture also means that we are able to attract the best candidates in the market,” said Payne.

“OES also has a large remote teaching workforce and we’ve found, for those roles, we very rarely have to advertise anymore, as we receive top quality unsolicited applications to fill our positions.”

OES’ CEO, Denice Pitt (pictured above) says she has given HR a seat at the table, which means putting people first in everything the business does.

“There is no point trying to get a diverse workforce if you don’t have an environment that supports it,” she said.

“We’ve preserved elements of our start-up mentality even through large scale growth, so we continue to be agile and try new things”

“Leadership at OES is aimed to coach and empower employees; there is an unwavering belief that the next big idea can come from anywhere.

“We’ve preserved elements of our start-up mentality even through large-scale growth, so we continue to be agile and try new things,” said Pitt.

“At OES, it’s essential that all of our employees are committed and passionate about contributing to a common purpose and vision for our students.”

Payne explained that OES partners with universities to design and deliver their on-campus programs for the digital environment to open up access to high-quality education for more people.

This means all levels of the business take an entirely student-centric approach and work on creating a great experience and outcomes for students.

“If our workforce is engaged, aligned with the company goals and passionate with what they do – then this translates to great customer service,” she said.

“This student-centric approach hits all facets of the business and means that everything we do is about them.”

She added that the next three to five years for OES is about growth, expanding the business with current partners as well as bringing on new partners.

“This year we brought on our second university partner and were able to expand our entire operations and bring on new employees,” she said.

“For the future, we hope to grow OES through new domestic and also international partnerships.”

Image: supplied