From the impact of AI and the necessity to provide actual employee journey, to the global recruitment challenges and people development in a leading FinTech company: BEAST met with Noor van Boven, Chief People Officer of N26, to discuss the latest trends and innovations of the HR industry. Mrs. van Boven will participate to this year’s edition of the HR One Gala and will be held in Luxembourg on November 20th.
You have a significant experience working for tech companies as you notably held an HR position at SoundCloud before joining N26. How different is the culture in tech companies compared to more traditional companies and how does it actually affect and impact the people working in it?
In my career, I have mainly worked for technology companies. With technology evolving so rapidly, especially tech-driven companies, there is a higher pace and need for innovation.
The speed and constant iteration lead to a different way of decision making, which needs to happen moment by moment by the people close to the challenge.
The need for innovation demands a culture of accepting failure and healthy debate. All these points define a culture and have a direct impact and effect on the people working in it. We have a set of values that include drive, autonomy, ownership, innovation, and openness.
How easy is it innovate when it comes to HR practices and methods when leading the people strategy for a FinTech company, which by definition feeds on innovation?
Your people practices are an extension, a result and a foundation of your culture. These elements are feedback into our people processes as well. Innovation and being ahead of the curve is important to be able to cope with the hyper-growth we are in. We also want our employer experience to mirror our product experience. This means that we have a bias for digital, with an emphasis on well-designed and personalizable processes that put the employee at the center.
What are your current challenges when looking for new talents? How have the demands of the candidates evolved over the years?
It’s not news that the talent market is global, and every scaling company is likely to look for talents internationally. This also comes with challenges. Highly diverse environments are rewarding and more successful but not easy to align. The differences in expectations, assumptions, and communications are significant. I don’t think that demands in general have changed significantly over the years, though. Different lifecycle phases, cultural and economic backgrounds cause constitute the largest differences.
The one thing we see changing is how employee loyalty plays out over time. People don’t stay as long with their employer—but at the same time, it’s much more common to re-join a previous employer. In my early career, it didn’t look so great on your resume if you left a company within 3 years (job hopping). Returning to your former employer was seen as a step back, a sign of failure. This is evolving and I truly believe that loyalty and connection haven’t decreased, they’ve just changed. People will build up a life-long connection with a company and join at different times during their careers. This also means that companies need to cherish their leavers, invest in their alumni, and start recognizing their employee community in a broader sense, from interns to former employees.
How can traditional companies compete with startups and their agile ways of working, promoting flexibility, etc?
Joining either a traditional company or startup is a different opportunity and both add great value to someone’s career. I am very grateful for the foundation larger companies gave me before joining the startup scene. Of course, we can all learn from each other—especially around providing employees with true autonomy, breaking through the traditional hierarchy to increase the speed and quality of your decision making, and creating a culture of innovation. There are some principles to incorporate. At the same time, I see large companies put too much focus on “the startup” scene. We are ready to move to a world where we communicate better, to starters and job seekers, what the honest difference is between different opportunities—with pros and cons on both sides. The startup scene can use more people with a corporate background and the other way around. More collaboration and exchange would be healthy.
What about talent retention and people development at N26? Can you share some of your best practices?
We are going through true hyper growth. This is not easy it has some very specific implications for the personal development of our employees:
A steep growth trajectory of all employees is required: the scope of roles expands faster than unguided personal growth can keep up with. We have a constant focus on helping people to accelerate and provide everyone with a personal development budget they can use to support this growth. Evolving organizational design and structural changes is of high importance. Only the smartest people can keep formal structures limited.
We don’t have fixed carrier paths. People at N26 have started in roles that were completely different compared to their current work. While of course we also hire for experience, to succeed in our organization we need people with a growth mindset, a tremendous drive, and resilience.
We put a strong focus on management development to equip managers to guide their teams through their steep growth trajectory and constant change.
According to you, what are the next challenges HR people will face in the years to come, notably through the advent of new technologies, new market demands and employee needs, etc?
The first obvious topic is artificial intelligence. HR isn’t just becoming the change agent for its own area, but also for the organization as a whole. It is helping to define what the non-emotional customer or employee journeys are and where AI and other technologies are the solutions. Still, there will always be emotional journeys, journeys on which you need analog (inter)action for a better experience or higher quality result. It’s a great topic and opportunity for the HR profession to have a differentiating impact.
Secondly, HR needs to evolve from being a one-size-fits-all solution to a tailored service for its organization. HR professionals have the tendency to network and share experiences and find solutions for similar problems. I don’t hear enough HR people truly defining how they want to “practice HR” in their environment. At N26 we defined an employer vision. Similar to a product vision, it guides our roadmap decisions and the design of all our people processes and products. Everyone in the people team is aware of this vision, and we shared it with the whole organization as well. It’s tailored for our environment and the challenges we face. I would love to hear more HR people talk about how they defined the HR DNA for their workplace.
Finally, does working for the «bank of tomorrow» mean that you are looking for the « talents of tomorrow? » How would you define the talents of tomorrow?
As I mentioned before, we are growing and maturing so fast, that it’s almost humanly impossible to keep up with the growth and evolution. This means that all our processes and interactions are future focused. Including our hiring. We hire people who can tackle the problems we will need to solve tomorrow. Sometimes, the talents of tomorrow are the talents who have seen the other side already and, sometimes these are the talents selected on drive, eagerness, and a growth mindset. The combination of the two is very powerful.
As an example, one of the biggest milestones for our organization was getting our European banking license. This was driven by our Bank MD, an experienced bank executive with over 20 years of experience, and a younger employee, for whom N26 is the first employer, who is smart, eager, and full of drive. The latter just got nominated for 30 under 30 in by Forbes DACH. An unconventional, but very successful combination: they made the “impossible” happen. That’s what truly makes us the bank and employer of tomorrow.