Workday Podcast: How Global Fleet Management Services Company Leaseplan Turned Siloed Data into Effective Insights

Thanks to change management that empowered local teams, a modernised HR function at LeasePlan has visibility on the entire employee experience and can drive business decisions.

A global organisation generates a lot of people data—but how useful is all that data if it can’t be easily accessed or if by the time it’s compiled it’s out of date? LeasePlan, one of the world’s largest fleet management services companies, operates in 32 countries and employs more than 6,800 people. Elena Zara, LeasePlan’s people technology, analytics, and innovation director, sat down with us to discuss LeasePlan’s digital transformation. She shared how the car-as-a-service company now uses technology and data to drive business performance and improve the employee experience, from recruiting all the way to exiting.

Here are a few highlights of our conversation, edited for clarity. If you enjoyed this episode, you can find our entire podcast catalog here

  • “Every single country in LeasePlan was doing its own thing with its own HR tools. We didn’t have an integrated view of talent, performance, or the employee lifecycle from hire to retire. We used to collect more than 35 spreadsheets to create one report, and by the time we compiled those spreadsheets, the information was already obsolete. In 2017, we embarked on a very ambitious digital transformation. We began building the next-generation digital architecture for the company, and HR was at the forefront of that.”
  • “We never left the countries behind. Throughout our digital transformation, we visited most if not all of our offices to understand the local challenges, requirements, and cultures. Change management has to be a constant effort every single day. If you don’t do proper change management, people won’t support the technology journey. Of course, we steered the transformation with a global approach, but it was up to the local teams to decide how best to implement it. They felt much more empowered to drive the journey locally, to have ownership of their data and tools. Then the global HR technology team stepped back and left them in the driver’s seat.
  • “Everybody talks about the war for talent and quiet quitting. When we heard about Skills Cloud, we said wow, this is the future. We implemented Skills Cloud throughout the organisation. We have a massive database of skills, and we can target those skills to see where people should fit or how to retrain people. Every single time we look at recruitment, we first visit our internal pipeline. We also launched a talent marketplace, which is a platform where the right people find the right opportunities within LeasePlan. This changed our approach to recruiting people internally. As a result, we have almost tripled the percentage of our internal mobility, which is quite an achievement in just the last two years.”
  • “Data analytics has completely changed the mindset of our HR function. Back in the day, we looked at our ability to run a report or compile different datasets. Now with analytics, everything has changed. We have data-driven insights we never had before. Data is big, but it’s about what you do with the data. This is how analytics has helped us. With our transformation, we always knew that accessible data would drive decisions that would steer the business. Now, HR runs its own dashboards and looks at people analytics to see trends associated with effectiveness.”

Patrick: LeasePlan is a Dutch financial services provider specialising in fleet management services. Established in 1963, LeasePlan has evolved into the world's largest fleet management services company and currently operates in 32 countries around the world. LeasePlan has over 6,800 employees. Today, in a special edition of the Workday Podcast from Workday Rising Europe in Stockholm, I'm thrilled to be joined by Elena Zara, HR technology director at LeasePlan. We're going to get her thoughts on how a company with operations all over the world transformed its HR operations. We'll look at the role of technology in building and maintaining the optimal culture for employee engagement and business performance. Elena, really happy to have you on the show today here in Stockholm. I'd love to start by getting a bit of background on you and your career, if you don't mind.

Elena: Yes. First of all, thanks, Patrick, for having me here. Very glad to attend my third Workday Rising edition already. Time really flies, especially when you're having fun. About me, I've been in this landscape over human capital management for the last 12 years, I think. 10 or 12 years. Started back with on-premise applications, but then once we discovered the cloud, there was no way back to what it used to be before. I used to be a consultant back with IBM in previous years, and then I decided after a couple of years to change the side, and I moved on the client side, and now working at LeasePlan for the last four years and a half in the role of HR technology and analytics director for the LeasePlan group.

Patrick: Excellent. And what sort of company is LeasePlan? Tell us a bit more about LeasePlan.

Elena: It's a financial services company. As you mentioned, the establishment goes a while back, more than 50 years ago. We are operating in a very diverse culture in more than 30 countries. The landscape would be 80% in Europe, so it travels back to the headquarters in Amsterdam. But we managed to extend beyond the European scope in America especially, and we are highly, highly specialised in offering the entire package to our clients in terms of operational leasing.

Patrick: And how does that – obviously, you spoke there about the fact that you're spread over many different geographies. How does that affect your HR infrastructure, and how has that developed over the last few years, and sort of what are the things that you're looking to achieve when it comes to your HR infrastructure?

Elena: Yeah. And I think, the geographical landscape, it had a huge impact on our journey with HR technology and overall with the digitalisation of the company, first of all. It was the starting point. We looked at so many countries. Every single country was doing their own single HR tooling. They didn't have any kind of integrated view on talent or performance, not even on the human side of the employee from hire to retire. Just to give you an order of growth, back in the days, in order for us to look at FTE, we used to collect more than 35 Excel files. By the time we compiled those Excel files, the information, you can imagine, it was already obsolete. So it was very difficult from a corporate perspective to manage this kind of activity. But we embarked into something very ambitious back in 2017, and here we are with a lot of progress on the way, with huge achievements, I would say, that we can, of course, explore in the next couple of minutes. We also had the countries on board, so with the change management piece, and the desire was there from every single country. And on our side, we really took into consideration their requirements, their desire, their culture. So whatever we did throughout the last four years and a half, it was really fitted and targeting the local culture; of course, adapted to the needs from a global approach, but we never left the countries behind.

Patrick Yeah, definitely. You've touched on culture there. I'm intrigued. How do you go about maintaining a strong culture when you're so diverse as a workforce? How do you see that? And what tools are helping you to sort of cultivate that central culture?

Elena: At LeasePlan, we are 100% technology and Workday driven. So we started our journey with Workday, and then everything we built, it was on top of the Workday suite of reporting, HCM, the transformation, the innovation coming from Workday. So we had that in mind. That was one of the pillars we looked at first and foremost, Workday technology, and then we adapted this technology to the country's needs. When you talk about culture, we implemented, just to give you some examples, the onboarding experience. How does it feel for our employees in the first three months from a diverse perspective, from a generation perspective, from a gender perspective? From the first actions that we implemented from a global approach down to local or the reverse way around, we took local initiatives into account, and we made them global so we can empower the countries in that sense. We looked at the exit survey. What is going wrong in certain areas of our company? Call it the business units, so it can be functional-oriented, or it can be technology-oriented. Whatever it was going wrong, we addressed it with quite agility with the technology always, with the right way to measure it, and also having at the table of decision the right stakeholders. So every single time we implemented something new, we made sure we had the audience, the 30 countries on board with us. The same we did for recruitment. So we targeted also the functional area or bifunctional area for recruitment. We tried to standardise the process. We tried to look at how many agencies were they using globally, what is the most efficient one, and then we went for a global contract with LinkedIn, for example, and then we just built from there.

Patrick: I guess we spoke about recruitment there. I know talent is an area that you're hugely, hugely passionate about.

Elena: Yeah, definitely.

Patrick: And finding the right people and skills to grow the organisation is a big challenge for a lot of companies in Europe at the moment. What role does analytics play in helping to build that talent pipeline and also to find the right skills that exist already in your own organisation?

Elena: Yes, and I think this is a crucial aspect we had to take into account. Everybody now talks about the war of talent. Even I heard it the other day as I was reading it before joining Workday Rising this year about silent quitting. People start going to work, but they are not there anymore invested in the work that they are doing. And then we started getting peoples' enthusiasm again in the game, and we did that-- again, we looked first of all at the Skills Cloud. When we heard about Skills Cloud, together with our Workday partners, we said, "Wow, this is the future," because then we have a massive database of skills so you can then target those skills accordingly to see where does that person fit or how can you retrain those people to keep up with the momentum. On the same side, we were going through a huge digital transformation in LeasePlan. It's already very much in the public that we are building the next-generation digital architecture of the company, and HR was definitely there, actually a frontrunner in this kind of services and landscape.

Elena: So we went for Skills Cloud, we implemented it throughout the organisation, and every single time, we looked at recruitment. First and foremost, we visited our internal pipeline. We knew we had people very talented. It was just a matter of addressing their needs and reskilling a bit, targeted reskilling, and this is specifically what we did through our data campaigns. We had one launched in 2020 that lasted for six months, and one of the main focus ideas of the campaign was bringing up data literacy of our organisation to a certain level. And on the other side, we also launched tele-marketplace, which is a platform where the right people find the right opportunities within LeasePlan. And this heavily changed our philosophy on recruitment, on internal abilities of our people, on internal mobility in the end because right now, we have almost tripled the percentage of internal mobility, which is quite an achievement on its own, just in the past two years, I would say. But the appetite is there, so it's just the way you look at it and the way you make it work within our community.

Patrick: And that must be having a big impact in terms of employee satisfaction and things like that.

Elena: Absolutely, yes. And we measure that as well from a global perspective, also from a local perspective, and we keep on doing that. As mentioned before, we have recruitment experience that we look at, onboarding experience, exit experience, so we can see the lifecycle of the employee, how that was generated and well-maintained throughout the tenure at LeasePlan.

Patrick: Brilliant. And in some of your other roles, you've been heavily involved in projects that deliver HR analytics. Talk to us about the importance of people analytics and a little bit about the work you've been doing with Workday on that front.

Elena: It's hugely important because, for me, changed the mindset completely. If, back in the days, we looked at the ability to run a report, to compile different kind of datasets from one report to another, and if, in the best-case scenario, you would be able to integrate data from HR with commercial data, then you already can say that you had a successful day. But right now, with analytics, everything changed because you see now insights you have never seen before, and this changed the game for me, as an analytic person, and that was the cultural shift that data had at LeasePlan. We, of course, took it step-by-step because it was important for us to build some robust data journey, so it was more important to build on the right foundation instead of going very, very fast and leaving people behind. So we really wanted to do it very well from the beginning, through running data campaigns, steady data companies, looking at the quality of our data, familiarising our HR community with the data analytics concepts, data interpretation concepts, because we just basically needed to do that to get to a certain stage.

Elena: And then when we implemented people analytics, for example, the shift in the mindset of looking at data was already there. Again, the biggest change for me as compared to my previous projects were analytics. We talked about analytics, but it was just the beginning of a journey. Right now, it's real. It's there. For my team, for example, it brought a lot of productivity because we didn't know how to do our job, how to prioritise our tasks. Data is very big. We are talking about billions of data, and then what do you do with the data? It's one thing to gather the data, but then it's a complete different story to be able to make something out of the data. So this is how analytics helped us, pinpointing, going very deep into a specific, specific topic, and on top of that, it helped us as a storyteller towards our community to be able to build on a narrative. So that is the big shift that I would say that happened to us.

Patrick: You're also hugely experienced in HR transformation projects. Obviously, we spoke about the fact that you worked in a consultancy previously before working at LeasePlan, so I'd imagine you've seen the evolution of HR in the cloud. What advice would you give HR leaders who have not yet made the step into the cloud, and what are the main things you think they should consider before taking that step?

Elena: Yes. I've seen HR before, the cloud applications, and I've seen HR, and I'm still working in this area, and I can definitely mention that the shift, the change has been tremendous. My biggest advice is for HR professionals to take the leap of faith, to take the jump, basically. I know it's a big jump. I know it has a lot of implications, specifically when you think about regulatory aspects. We are also a bank, so we looked in that angle, as well, but take the jump, have the courage to invest because it's always – it always pays off. We are now in an era of transition and of speed, high speed, and the cost for people, the desire and the difficulty to attract people, and for products, which is tremendously difficult to position your products anymore in this digital landscape where everybody has a piece, and the only way to keep track with all these changes is through technology. We need to deliver – any  kind of company, I would say, needs to deliver their products independent of the function, a digital cost. So independent of what you are - finance, commerce, operations, retail, or HR – you need to deliver your services at the digital cost.

Elena: What does it mean for a cloud? It means easy to access, easy to maintain, easy to use, and it empowers your community, call it HR, be it your managers, even the analysts that will be targeted by the cloud applications. Of course, it requires an investment at the beginning, but this return of investment in a couple of years will definitely pay off. And again, I would encourage every CHRO out there to invest in a data team. We had the pleasure and we were very fortunate enough for our CHRO at LeasePlan to have this vision two years ago once we implemented Workday, talking about huge HR transformations on itself, and in the second – we finalised our second wave of implementing Workday. The next day, we were discussing what do we do with the data. So for us, it came somehow as a normal consequence. We always did the transformation having in the back of our minds that the ease of application, the ease of data, accessible data – we wanted to make decisions based on that data, to steer the business. We wanted to bring HR to the table instead of two seats behind that to just having a lot of Excels.

Elena: Right now, they're running their own dashboards. They are looking at people analytics. They see trends. They associate them. I don't know, the hiring, the effectiveness of certain sources with the high performance. So everybody talks in a special – the technology has changed. The mindset has changed, of course. Again, the transformation has been pretty impactful, and the key to that is not to leave people behind. The change management, it's a continuous, constant effort every single day. If you do not implement – if you don't do proper change management with a company, your own technology journey, you won't have the people supporting you. So yeah, key, again, people.

Patrick: From what you said at the beginning, it sounded like you've invested a lot in engaging with different cultures around the world, the different offices that, obviously, that you operate to understand how that technology was impacting them and to be sympathetic to the differences of each of those geographies.

Elena: Exactly. I think sympathetic, it's a very good and appropriate to use. We did exactly that. When we went through implementing Workday, it took us two years to go big. We had a big approach, and this is also one of the best practices. I would definitely recommend to go big-bang, even if you have a diverse workforce like we did. But we did travel a lot through our design, global designs, local design stations. We visited, I would dare to say, most of our offices, if not all, throughout those two years to understand local challenges, local needs, local marketing initiatives. Of course, we tried to steer that in a global approach. We had some ideas, but it was down to the local teams to decide how to best implement that, how to best work with their people. They know the business teams. They need the empowerment and the enforcement from their own executive teams locally.

Patrick: Also, they're invested at that point as well. It's something that they have control over that they're invested in.

Elena: Absolutely, absolutely. And as soon as you are there supporting them, they also feel much more empowered to drive the journey locally, to have the ownership of their data, the ownership of their toolings. And then we take one step back, and we leave them in the front seat, and then we become the end seat. And I think that's the role of a global HR technology and data team, to make sure that everybody has their own ways within the system, within their data, they control the data. And then you are just innovating. You keep on innovating. You keep on having that pace within the company. You keep on thinking about creative ways to get there, to be close to them, to visit them, to create marketing campaigns. Because everybody would say, "Wow. Marketing? What does marketing has to do with Workday or HR technology in general?" It has a lot to do. Right now, we are celebrating internally, as of this month, four years of Workday since it's live within LeasePlan, and we are doing a quiz with prizes, branded prizes from Workday. Your colleagues were very kind to help us in that regard.

Patrick: I'm glad to hear it.

Elena: To bring awareness, again, within the company, we will send those prizes in the local teams. They will distribute accordingly. So the journey is there. The journey continues over and over. So yeah, our job is not really done here at all.

Patrick: Well, it sounds like you're talking a very well-thought-through approach. Finally, I've got quite a big question for you, Elena. And obviously, there's no crystal ball for the future, but what trends do you think will emerge in 2023 that HR leaders should be focused on?

Elena: I would go first for data. Data, data, data. Everybody keeps on hearing data, data, data. But we are still not there in terms of data literacy. I know it's a big word. To put it in the open, data literacy, for me, it means the capacity of people to digest, to internalise that data. It's one thing to have data, to report on that data, but you need to really have a good feeling about what that data tells you. How can you make an actionable event or topic or drive something out of that data? So that is one, again, data. The second one would be people. From the people perspective, talents, how do you keep your talents in instead of out? And even more importantly, how you don't lose the engagement of people? And at least from our side, this is the main focus that I will have for next year, combining culture and understanding how the culture of the company would impact the employee to stay or to leave. So this cultural empowerment, creating a safe environment, of course, that would be a layer on top of technology.

Elena: To convince them to stay, to be onboarded, to be fully onboarded with all the initiatives that are going on, to feel part of the company, and to come with some sort of a pleasure at work instead of doing things just for the sake of doing them. And of course, all this, again, I would say culture, employee listening, talent optimisation in some sort of a manner, and data, again, data literacy, and a full internalisation of what data means within the company, they would all route back to supporting the business overall into producing better financial results because it's down to that as well. We need to be quite objective in that regard. But I think HR's technology role would be dedicated to help the business drive better decisions in regards to the human capital aspect.

Patrick: Well, it comes back to that, that quiet quitting point that we spoke about at the outset, really tackling that and keeping employee engagement high and making sure that they're investing in the organisation and the organisation's aims.

Elena: Exactly. Absolutely. Keeping the people engaged, close to the business, close to the initiatives that we are rolling out without this engagement, permanent engagement. And I'm sure that we will find some better ways to listen to their voice a little bit further and further. We are now looking into that, the best optimal way to close the gap between their feelings sometimes and the organisational objectives. Let's call it like that. In 2023, that will be our main goal, to keep people engaged and to limit the gap between their desires and the overall objectives of the company.

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