Join us: HR networks
Operational private equiteers are typically lonely roles within PE houses, however, role-focused networks provide much needed support.
As these groups have evolved at varying paces, what do they tell us about the various operational functions within PE? Does the level of formality, ways in which they’re used, or types of people they include reflect the way in which these roles are perceived in-house? And how effective have they been in responding to the recent crisis?
“Being able to pick up the phone to your peers, even if you’re simply having a rubbish day and want some reassurance about how you’re feeling”
Ruth Tompkins, EQT
While complying with their strict confidential nature, HR functions are very open when sharing best and effective practices, as well as offering support. This is often done through both formal and informal networks (see boxout below), which meet a few times a year as well as keeping regular contact over email.
Caroline Carr, chief human resources officer at Permira says various subjects are discussed. “Topics range across recruitment, development, recommendations on coaches and other vendors, as well as structural questions around corporate titles and the promotional processes that go with those.”
These networks offer an external form of support HR practitioners can’t get in-house. “We tend to work in small HR teams so we don’t have many peers within our own organisations to bounce ideas off or brainstorm with,” explains Ruth Tompkins, HR director for the PE team at EQT. “But being able to pick up the phone to your peers, even if you’re simply having a rubbish day and want some reassurance about how you’re feeling or handling a situation, that’s a huge help.”
This personal touch has been especially helpful during the current global pandemic. All HR networks have now become virtual, and communication is more active than ever before.
The networks have shared experiences around the practicalities of moving towards remote working. Discussions have focused on when to make decisions, how to organise home working in terms of IT support, as well as what level of support should be provided to individuals in terms of home desk setup. “I think everyone has taken some reassurance that the group reacted relatively consistently in terms of how we’ve all tackled the impact of the crisis on our organisations,” adds Carr.
For Tompkins, the extra layer of peer support has been a huge help because this is the first time she and her peers are dealing with a global pandemic. “The conversations initially started around the approaches we as responsible employers should take, as there’s no best practices to handle a situation like this,” she says.
Beyond dealing with the present, HR network discussions also include exit strategies from lockdown, including how best to return PE professionals to normality. “We as HR need to think from a health and wellbeing perspective too,” she says. “We need to consider the best processes for people to return to work without causing wave two of coronavirus. For example split shifts or who we consider to be critical workers until things return to normal. One big topic has been will we change the way we work because Covid-19 has proven flexible working can be done quite effectively.”
Passing the baton
Since these established networks have been deemed so helpful for HR professionals, Tompkins is at the forefront of trying to reestablish a junior network. The aim is to advance entry-level roles while more official roundtables could focus on pressing industry issues. “At a junior level, not having other junior peers around you is quite difficult,” she says. “Not many of our juniors grew up in PE, so a junior network will give them a head start in learning about the industry while enabling them to begin building their relationships within the firms and their own peer networks early on.”
While HR professionals are supportive across the board on best practices, employee and firm confidentiality stand good ground when it comes to salaries and compensation. Instead, Tompkins explains the networks she’s part of use the McLagan Private Equity Survey to discuss sensitive topics in a generalised way.
“We use the McLagan survey amongst others, to ensure we are paying at the right market level, and in line with our compensation strategy and we use the more informal surveys to learn about best practices or proven suppliers for example” adds Tompkins.
Examples of PE HR roundtable networks
Location: UK based
Type of network: Informal. A couple of people manage the email chain and keep on top of admin-related duties
How to join: Free to join. Get introduced to one member, who then introduces you to the wider group
Contact: Mostly email with in-person meetings annually. Since coronavirus, active email chain
Location: US based
Type of network: Formal. There are currently two co-chairs, and a treasurer. As this is a paid-for membership, formal speakers are hired to speak on various subjects
How to join: Application to join, followed by membership fee
Contact: Three meetings per year, usually March, June and October. To maintain membership you must attend a minimum of one each year
Look out for part three of this series which explores CTOs & digital networks in PE