Case studies

Macmillan Cancer Support

23 Aug 2017 By Georgi Gyton

How the charity revamped its applicant experience as part of an ambitious HR transformation project

Most employers can ill-afford the dent in reputation caused by delivering a poor candidate experience. But the risk is more critical for Macmillan Cancer Support, explains recruitment and resourcing manager Andrew Hyland: “We receive 20,000 applications a year – and each of those is a potential supporter of the charity.”

When Hyland joined the organisation six years ago, he faced a relentless barrage of complaints about the hiring process from applicants. “At that time, Macmillan didn’t have an in-house recruitment team – it was outsourced,” he says. “The brand wasn’t being leveraged as well as it could be and candidates weren’t even being recognised for applying.” Clearly, something had to change.

The first steps were to ditch its old applicant tracking system, and bring recruitment back in-house – giving the team a blank canvas to start afresh. Now, candidates who’ve registered with Macmillan’s job site each get personalised information about their application status. Job offers can be accepted online via a digital signature, and the system means the new joiner’s line manager can reach out to say hello before their first day.

“People now know where they are at every point in the process,” says Hyland. “It has really improved that connection with the candidate and filled the void between accepting an offer and starting a job, when traditionally nothing much happens.”

The impact on applicant experience has been profound. “In my first year, half my day was spent answering complaints from people,” he says. “I’ve only had two complaints in the last three years since the new system was introduced.”

There have been more tangible benefits for Macmillan as an organisation, too, he adds – the cost per hire has plummeted. “Because we can create libraries of adverts within the system, managers can be much more self-sufficient in terms of ‘business as usual’ recruitment,” says Hyland. “Previously, we paid external companies £100,000 a year to post job adverts – a cost we took off overnight. When I started, cost per hire was more than £1,000. It’s now £411.”

But there’s still some way to go before the recruitment process is perfected. “We have a hugely recognisable external brand and we want that to be replicated whether you’re an employee or in the unpaid workforce,” says HR director Dawn Wilde. “We haven’t quite got that right yet, but it’s our journey and an opportunity.”

The 75-strong HR team is aiming to make the candidate experience more personalised, potentially replacing old PDF job descriptions with video clips of line managers talking about the candidate’s role; posting pictures of where in the office the successful applicant will sit; access to an employee forum or message board; a team plan; and a schedule for what they will be doing in their first week.

Macmillan’s work on recruitment is only a small part of a much bigger HR transformation project, the bulk of which it is aiming to complete in the next 18 months. Employee numbers have nearly tripled over the past 10 years to just over 2,000 staff, which rises to more than 20,000 if you add the army of volunteers into the equation. But this expansion had not, until the appointment of new chief executive Lynda Thomas two years ago, been accompanied by a coherent strategy.

A shift in the charity’s mindset means there’s greater internal recognition that Macmillan needs to nurture and develop talent from within to guarantee future success. This has been translated into three core HR priorities: fit for the future, great place to work and transformation.

It has also been working with consultant Perry Timms on how to better unify HR’s voice and structure within the organisation. The HR team is questioning everything, says Wilde: “What does our internal HR look like? What is our service level agreement with the rest of the organisation? How can we do everything we need to, but in a more agile way? We are taking a pause to think about what we want to look like as an organisation.”

Things have already begun to change significantly: seven new behaviours have been introduced, and performance management has been decoupled from pay reviews, with conversations now happening on a quarterly, rather than an annual, basis.

Although some employees have found the change process upsetting and difficult, Wilde is confident the strategy is setting Macmillan on the right track for a sustainable future: “While a lot of what we’re doing might not sound groundbreaking when compared to what a large commercial organisation might do, it’s groundbreaking for us.”

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