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HR 2.0: Keeping Pace with a Changing Human Resources Function

Cynthia Hiskes, CHRO, Cars.com

Cynthia Hiskes, CHRO, Cars.com

As human resources professionals, we sometimes act as service providers rather than strategic partners. Strategic partnership relationships with HR and other central functions have been evolving for some time; at Cars. com, we’re focused on doing that and more. We see our next opportunity in the experience that we help create for our employees, candidates and internal business partners. To that end, our HR team recently decided it was time to enhance the employee experience by making our function more consultative. By engaging proactively, leveraging technology and keeping our eye on industry trends, we’ve made huge strides in becoming better allies to, and advocates for, the people who make our business run.

"As human resources professionals, we sometimes act as service providers rather than strategic partners"

The human resources industry as a whole is changing to align with this trend; to keep pace, we recently underwent an extensive team reconfiguration and rebrand to more accurately reflect the value we can (and do!) bring to the table. We said goodbye to traditional HR, and hello to the PXT—the People Xperience Team.

Our team hadn’t had a formally stated mission in the past, but as the PXT we wanted to have a clearly articulated one: The PXT cultivates and customizes employee experiences, connecting individuals to business results and shaping their unique journey.

It’s intentionally similar to Cars. com’s own mission, which is to be the leading decision engine that moves people through the car ownership cycle with transparent, fun and engaging experiences. Both statements position their respective owners as a resource, a guide, a trusted partner—whether the audience is a Cars.com employee or a Cars.com user.

But it hasn’t just been a new name and a cool logo; we’ve made fundamental changes to the way we operate. Becoming the PXT took serious legwork, and we’re continuing to grow. Some of the new key initiatives that accompanied the rebrand:

• The introduction of HR business partners to align with each function, improve communication, navigate systems and manage change
• A new performance development approach that encourages continuous, year-round feedback
• More process transparency around career and pay progression, like establishing clearer criteria for promotion; and education regarding total compensation, its components, decision making and connection to performance
• Overhaul and standardization of recruitment and hiring processes, employing innovative approaches to hard-to-fill roles, like “source-a-thons” and daily stand-ups for top priorities
• A more strategic approach to identifying philanthropic opportunities and beneficiaries that align with the Cars.com mission, vision and values

These enhancements, among others, are all part of the larger trend we’re seeing as HR practitioners: a shift toward creating a more customized experience for employees. “Customization” was a recurring rebrand theme, and one of our largest endeavors will be to scale and create customized approaches to development, training, recognition, rewards, talent acquisition and more.

One of the enablers to delivering our vision for the PXT has been technology. Thanks to tools and platforms that can automate some of what “old” HR did, now we can focus on taking our expertise and counsel to the next level for employees, and act as strategic partners to help guide them at every turn of their career journeys. We can use these platforms as foundations that allow us to scale more custom solutions for specific situations; and, we keep some consistency and standards across the organization, yet allow customization so the solution works for each employee without being “generic.”

Leveraging tech resources—like more sophisticated online training and development modules, unlimited access to Lynda.com for all employees, communication platforms that go beyond email or IM and more robust virtual on-boarding programs for the nearly 40 percent of our employees who work remotely—helps us to provide better service to our customers and focus our energy on being more consultative. We can better cater to all employees—regardless of function, level or location—and still ensure they have the tools they need to succeed.

Some of these same tools, particularly the ones that foster informal, cross-functional collaboration, helped the PXT with one of our first major charges post- rebrand: Reimagining Cars. com’s core values. The last time those values had been evaluated and updated was in 2007—when we were a different organization from the one we are today. Nearly 10 years ago our values were established by a parent company; now, we’re preparing to be our own publicly traded entity, and we want to make sure our values reflect who we are and who we’re going to be.

Cars.com is a young organization—we were founded in 1998—but in startup years, we’re old. The same values that all great tech leaders embody—embracing change, iterating constantly, valuing “out of the box” thinking—helped to inform this new set of core values.

Starting from scratch with the new core values required input from multiple individuals and teams across the country, and wouldn’t have been possible without the tools that have become instrumental in our day-to-day functions. Slack channels, survey tools, Chatter hashtags and informal Skype meetings offered us ways to get input from a group of employees beyond the ones we see in the office each day, whose participation is just as critical.

Core values and company culture are becoming more important than ever when it comes to being an employer of choice, and the PXT is driving their redefinition because of how embedded we are within all functions of the company, as well as with current, former and prospective employees. As research from Deloitte recently stated:

“…topics such as ‘mission,’ ‘values,’ and ‘contribution to society’ are driving engagement more than ever. Indeed, employees value ‘culture’ and ‘career growth’ at almost twice the rate at which they value ‘compensation and benefits’ when selecting an employer… culture and work environment have become the new drivers of employment brand and employee passion.”

Core values aren’t just for individuals already employed by Cars.com: They’re just as much about the ones we want to attract. We’ve long prided ourselves on having a strong, employee-driven culture of people who genuinely like doing what they do and with whom they do it. As we grow as a company, it’s critical for us to maintain what we often refer to as “purple pride.” We don’t want these values just hanging on cubicle walls; we want them to live and breathe with employees—wherever they are.

As we continue to move into this next chapter of our company and as HR professionals, I can’t think of any better way to face them both than as the PXT. We’re firing on all cylinders—thanks to the tools available to us— and are excited to nurture and grow the great culture that’s been a Cars.com fundamental since day one. 

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