HR Director (International) at Verizon Connect
Michael Arkins is the HR Director (International) at Verizon Connect, an organization which is guiding a connected world on the go by automating, optimizing and revolutionizing the way people, vehicles and things move through the world. Arkins is responsible for International HR ensuring the smooth and profitable operation of the global HR team whilst providing consultation to management on strategic headcount plans, compensation, benefits, training and development, budget, legal matters and workplace relations.
In this in-depth interview, Michael explains why he is not the average HR person who only wants to think about rules and procedures; discusses mergers and acquisitions in Verizon Connect; reveals his belief that employee experience is the most fundamental experience; stresses the importance of being visible and vocal; and admits that he likes people to be dreamers, to see a spark in them.
Brian Friedman: Hello, and welcome to The View from the Top, a podcast brought to you by Benivo. My name is Brian Friedman. I'm the Strategy Director at Benivo, the world's leading welcome as a service mobility tech company. Now, I'm delighted to say that today's guest on The View from the Top is Mickael Arkins, who's the HR Director International at Verizon Connect. Mick isn't your average HR professional. Of course, Mick has got the strong people skills and he gets excited about healthy HR metrics and he leads by example, but Mick goes one step further. Mick is also a project manager, a culture influencer, and a team leader. Mick's background, while extensive, isn't traditional. His first HR role was with an eLearning business, Mind Leaders, a digital learning company that offered high quality learning solutions to customers around the globe. Mick then quickly ascended up that HR career ladder due to demanding work environment, which presented him with some amazing opportunities to influence the development of a world class HR function that served the business towards achieving greater success. Mick currently oversees all HR services for the Verizon Connect global organization, which covers no less than 15 countries with over 1600 employees. This experience focuses very heavily on talent acquisition strategies, performance advancement, and talent development initiatives, as well as legal compliance. In addition, Mick has adopted a continuous improvement focus that ensures that the HR contribution is valued and fully serves the business with ROI in mind. Mick describes himself as not the average HR guy who only wants to think about rules and procedures. No, Mick's the HR guy who actually wants to get involved and to make a difference with progress over perfection in mind, to plan, to ideate, and to lead. This is what Mick does best, and this is what Mick loves the most, so Mick, welcome to the The View from the Top and congratulations on your impressive career achievements to date.
Michael Arkins: Thank you very much, guys. Glad to be here.
Brian Friedman: So Mick, let's get cracking. So, can you just tell us a little bit about yourself and your current role? Tell us about Verizon Connect, what the company does, the HR function is like, and a bit more about yourself.
Michael Arkins: Yes, so the best way to describe it is I joined Verizon Connect via acquisition. So in 2017, Verizon, who a lot of people will be familiar with, is a large telecommunications company based out of the U.S. Verizon is looking to get into new businesses in the form of vertical integration, so they went and acquired Oath, which has now become Verizon Media, and they also went and acquired three separate businesses within the telematics space, and made it Verizon Connect. I sat in one of those businesses, Fleetmatics. An Irish-owned company came about in 2004. We were acquired in 2017, and the reason why we were acquired was we was the largest SMB telematics provider in the world.
Brian Friedman: SMB?
Michael Arkins: SMB. So, small to medium business. We focused our business on what we called white band drivers, or mom and pop businesses. So, we would basically help companies that have a small fleet size, we had given them insight into various metrics around how that fleet is being utilized, the location of the vehicles, fuel consumption in the vehicles, route optimization, a lot of intelligence that these businesses can basically tap into and make informed decisions when it comes to how they run their business. That's all around the concept of efficiency and optimization. So, at the point of acquisition, we were tracking about 850,000 vehicles around the world, and we would have acquired eight separate companies ourselves, prior to being acquired by Verizon, right. So, lots of acquisition activity in there. When I joined, we had a very small population between the U.K. and Ireland. We had less than 100 people. Nice little fit for me, consistent with the job that I came from and Mind Leaders. What I didn't expect was the absolute speed at which Fleetmatics would grow. I came in about five weeks after we IPO'd the New York stock exchange. At the time, the business was oversubscribed by three times, so we pulled in a chunk of phones that we then reinvested into growth within the Fleetmatics business, and on average, we acquired a business twice a year across various markets in Europe and Australia. At the point of acquisition, we were sitting comfortably at about 4000 employees globally. So, that's a massive, massive jump from 2012 when I joined to 2017 when we were acquired, and the company was in great shape prior to going into Verizon Connect. Now that we sit in Verizon Connect, we're sitting alongside two other telematics businesses. One of them is Telogis, based out of New Zealand. They focus on the enterprise space, and another is Networkfleet, which focuses on the consumer side match of the business. So all in all, Verizon have the three best companies in their respective markets rolling up into Verizon Connect and providing telematic solutions to about two point four million vehicles around the world today.
Brian Friedman: Got it, got it.
Michael Arkins: So, that's where we are today, and we are branded Verizon, but we operate independently in terms of strategy and focus.
Brian Friedman: Okay, so let's talk a little bit about these mergers, these acquisitions. Obviously, Verizon Connect has been pretty acquisitive. When you do these mergers, you must have different cultures in place, different policies, different programs. How do you go about merging them into one organization, or do you let them sit as different organizations?
Michael Arkins: Yeah, it's actually a difficult question, and you could read all the books in the world on this and none of them will really guide anyone to what actually needs to be done. Our approach has always been hands-off. When we acquire a business, what we like to do is we like to respect their boundaries, we like to respect what works well for them, we observe and we try to identify where we can improve and fix. We've also been in the very unique situation where when we acquire a company, we tend to invest very heavily in expanding their sales engine and sales capabilities. So, it's not always a case of going in and imposing culture because I'd like to say that we have this defined culture that we can impose, but we don't. When Fleetmatics was making these acquisitions, we were still evolving and trying to find ourselves through that process, and we kind of went into those acquisitions with an open mind. Some of the companies we acquired did things that we felt were better than what we did. Some of them had functionality within their products that we felt would benefit our product suite, so a lot of the time it was a case of giving them space to breathe, letting them slowly navigate through that larger organization and environment that they're in, and being sensitive to the fact that you're not always gonna get the corporate refinement that you would like to see with some of these companies. A lot of them are people and they may have a prominent place within the market in their respective countries, but if you suffocate them with too much process, too much bureaucracy, too much culture, and you don't do it right, you can potentially break that business, and that's not good for anybody and it's certainly not good for our share holders, so a lot of the time would be assessing their strengths, identifying their weaknesses, and looking at a mutual collaboration to bring about the change that was needed, and we would routinely do that in a way whereby we could be operating differently in German versus France, and it's all down to the maturity of the business that we've acquired, and the level of support they need.
Brian Friedman: I was gonna say, and how big is your HR function now, so to look after all that?
Michael Arkins: Yeah, you know what? It could be bigger, and it is a bit of a gripe, if I was honest. So, we kind of fell into this world of craziness, so to speak, so I've only a team of four people that report directly into me, and we try our best to leverage various corporate functions within Verizon, we partner with the right people to get the job done, but it's a very small team.
Brian Friedman: So, you have HR business partners in the units, do you?
Michael Arkins: HR business partners, yeah, but we would set up a center of that relationship, so if you look at all the legacy organizations that we've acquired, it'd be somebody on my team or myself that would be the go-to when anything goes wrong or whatever it may be, and then it'd be on my team to connect in with the compensation and benefits team, the TA team, or maybe the culture and engagement team, which is a small team based out of the U.S., but we would orchestrate that chaos on behalf of their stakeholders, and we would do what needs to be done to get the job done for them. It can be tough, and it can be extremely busy most of the time, but we understand the importance of making sure that we have engaged leadership in all of these countries, and especially in some of these companies that we've acquired, because without that, it can be a struggle to do what needs to be done.
Brian Friedman: Okay. I said in the introduction that you adopt a continuous improvement focus that ensures the HR contribution is valued and fully serves the business with ROI in mind. Can you tell us a little bit more about how you bring in continuous improvement in practice, and indeed, how you define or measure ROI?
Michael Arkins: Yeah. So, there's a number of ways we do it. The first thing I would say is that it's very important that everybody on my team embrace ambiguity, and they also need to be comfortable in what I call an ever-evolving role. So, before I can answer the question, it's important that that's laid out because I think a lot of HR professionals out there tend to have a very rigid and stagnant approach to the role their in, and it's all about making sure you maintain the status quo with the preservation of what exists today. I don't think that serves business very well, and it certainly doesn't serve technology businesses very well. So, the whole continuous improvement approach for me is done in a variety of ways. A measurement is a major component of that. So, one of the things that we do on a quarterly basis is we measure what we call ENPS, or Employee Net Promoter Score, and it's very important that we get a regional and functional view as to what the employment experience is like across all of our locations, how does that stack up on the previous set of results, and what comments can we extract from those surveys that can help us design interventions and programs that will improve the areas that need to improve. So, what we do is we look at employee experience, we also look at what the HR metrics are telling us. So, this is some of the more data around absence management, how many people have a development plan in place? What performance management stats are coming through on the system? Are we healthy? We try to diagnose on a monthly basis where we may have a bit of pain in the organization, and then the whole idea would be for me and my team to sit down and remedy that pain with the people that we need to speak to. So, continuous improvement is keeping your eyes on what the organization is feeling and experiencing, and making sure that the interventions are fit for purpose and appropriate to that particular pain point. So, what we do is we look at that on a monthly basis, we dedicate a day at the end of every month to do a health check on the business, and we design recommendations and remedies around that. Some of the results and outcomes that come from that is we have what we call HR Squads. So, every quarter we would sit down with Senior VPs and Senior Directors and we would give them a health check on what their function is doing and saying, and we would highlight some of the things in there so they can get behind the change that needs to happen, where it needs to happen. So, it's important to audit everything you do, and it's also important to know that you might think a certain process or policy is fit for the business today. I encourage my team to challenge that thinking on a regular basis because, as the business evolves, so should we, and routinely you see a lot of things just become redundant or stale, and they need to be looked at, as well. So, that's what I mean by continuous improvement. It's staying very close to the business, listening to what's happening within the business, and then jumping in to deal with what needs to be dealt with when you see that crop up.
Brian Friedman: Your company's obviously very forward thinking and your experience in your company is very much into tech, telecoms and technology. A lot of people are asking the question, but how do you think technology, I'm thinking here things like artificial intelligence, robotics, virtual reality, data analytics, et cetera, et cetera, how do you think that's going to impact your organization over the next, say, years?
Michael Arkins: Yeah, so it's interesting because from a product portfolio perspective, we're involved in a lot of that AI work, we have a lot of big data, we're looking at how we can monetize that data, we're looking at ways to inject deeper artificial intelligence into our products themselves. So, a lot of our reports that are customers receive are a lot more detailed and relevant to that particular business that we sit in.
Brian Friedman: What about in the HR function itself?
Michael Arkins: Yeah, so in the HR function, it's interesting, and I can only give you my opinion on this. I've seen a lot of attempts at automation within the bigger Verizon world, and I can see why automation is important, so when you look at the variety of systems you have available to you on a daily basis to do the job that needs to be done, I think sometimes automation can help when it comes to presenting information back to the likes of myself or my team. We've a ton of automation built in to our reporting systems, so it makes it a lot easier for us to go and do what we need to do to get the information we need, but I still feel today there's a heavy need, especially in the world of people strategy development and stuff, you still need somebody who is socially connected to the organization they serve, somebody who is at a level of emotional awareness that they understand the dynamics, the complexities. I don't think technology will replace that very soon because you're almost putting on the assumption or the premise that everything operates equally within a company, which is just not the case. So, a lot of times critical thinking, it's all based on what you know of the business, and it's actually very hard to articulate that. You can't sit down and put this into a presentation or a report. You have to sit in the middle of it and know what the business is saying and what the business needs for you to do what needs to be done. So, I think automation, I think AI, I think there is a place for them in the HR world. I think a lot of it is down to just reducing some of the ambiguity I think we tend to see in the HR world, allowing us to better comprehend what we're dealing with, so we can then use our brains and our smarts to design interventions and programs. So, I don't know if that makes sense or if that answers the question, but I still believe there's a solid place for thought leaders in the HR space to sit and lead businesses, and automation will help, but it certainly won't replace any time soon.
Brian Friedman: Okay, that's saying something. I get different responses. Some people are out there and saying we are gonna be all replaced by HR bots or the series of this world, then others are sort of rolling back, but let me just step back in time. Let's just go back to Mick and the early days.
Michael Arkins: Yeah.
Brian Friedman: Who would you say inspired you in your career, and what was it that they taught you? What was the inspiration you received?
Michael Arkins: So, this is an interesting one because a lot of people would expect to hear somebody who probably sits in the business world or the academic world or wherever it may be. The person that comes to my mind, and he's actually one of my best friends today, but it's a guy I met when I worked in New York with a non-profit called Trailblazers. So, way back when I was doing my degree in HR, I would spend four months of the year in a non-profit organization in New York that would help under-serviced kids in New York and New Jersey, and I came across a colleague there, a guy called Juan Sepata. He was an immigrant in New York City from Columbia, went there on his own when he was 12, his parents sent him over to stay with his aunt, didn't speak any English, and he basically taught himself the ability to speak English over the course of four or five years. When I met him, he was kind of at the end of that journey, so we had various conversations about his experience moving from Columbia to New York. What resonates with me the most with him is he has a phenomenal tenacity when it comes to what he wants to do in life and where he wants to go, and he didn't come from a lot, so he wasn't paid big bucks to be working at this non-profit. At the time I met him, he was a volunteer. He had an amazing sense of humility and never really settled for the situation he was in. So, when the rest of use was feeling exhausted or tired with the work we were doing, he was always up and jumping about and saying we could be doing this better, I wanna do this, I wanna go there, and massive amounts of energy behind him, and I think the one thing that really stood out for me, and he's kind of validated this recently, and I'll explain why in a bit, but he had these enormous dreams, and I remember at the time thinking, you're really shooting high there, mate. Best of luck if you get there, but you should probably come up with something a little more achievable, and over the last 12 years knowing Juan, he's grown into a successful entrepreneur. He's based out of Los Angeles now. He has his own dance business and has gone on tour with various artists all around the world. So, from being an immigrant in New York with not a lot going on, volunteering at a non-profit because he wants to gain a bit of experience to become a self-made success in a short time frame, and somebody who's very well profiled in his respective space, it blows my mind today. So, whenever I'm having a bad day or whenever I'm feeling like, you know what? I could be doing better, I could be doing more, I always think about what he went through and the difficulties and challenges that he went through, and always had a smile on his face.
Brian Friedman: What would you say, to narrow that down, what would you say is the lesson he taught you? To shoot high? To dream the impossible? To have tenacity.
Michael Arkins: So my lesson has always been don't seek out excuses for your lack of commitment to growth or your lack of commitment to doing better for yourself. I think a lot of people, subconsciously, they like to be comfortable in what they know and where they are. They don't wanna disrupt that too much, whereas I would be out there actively disrupting everything. I think everything needs to be challenged and everything needs to be talked about, and so on, and I think that was the lesson for me. He could've easily sat by and he could've easily followed the track that you'd expect somebody in the circumstances to do. Statistically, you'd look at him and say, there's no way you're gonna become what you are today, and that's just a fact of life, in many respects. He never settles, and I don't think anybody should. So, the lesson from me is not to settle. The lesson from me is to know where you'd like to be, and actively push to get there, and don't expect somebody to tap you on the shoulder and bring you there. You need to be out there. You need to be visible. You need to be vocal.
Brian Friedman: I share that. I know people sometimes use the phrase opportunity knocks, but the answer is, I think, it doesn't. You gotta go out and find it.
Michael Arkins: Yeah. It's 100%.
Brian Friedman: It's never gonna tap you on the shoulder. You need to be the one that grabs it. And I see it all the time. I love that. Don't seek out excuses.
Michael Arkins: Yeah, and that's what I gained from him. I see it all the time in my own personal, professional life. I just come across a lot of people that don't really realize that they're sitting still, and they may be successful in their own rite, but I just... And I don't have high expectations of anyone, but I like to see a spark in people. I like people to be dreamers. I like people to be out there trying their best, and positioning themselves for success and not just waiting for it to come by.
Brian Friedman: And when you're hiring people, obviously you're looking for that yourself, you're looking for people who might be the future, the dreamers, the people who are curious about the world. How do you go about looking for that? How do you go about finding the people you think have got that X-factor?
Michael Arkins: Yeah, so the first thing I would tell you is it various, right? So, we've had a lot of high volume recruitment, and I guess we have a spectrum of sophistication when it comes to selection because we're hiring a developer in Dublin, we have a lot of technical tests, so we wanna make sure that they can do the job that needs to be done. If we're looking for somebody in a critical position and a leadership position, we adopt a lot of various strategies. We have lab profiles that we give people where we assess them prior to the interview, gives us a little bit of an indication as to what they're all about in terms of drive, we have a lot of scenario-based and competency-based interview techniques, so we train all of our managers on how to do those interviews, and structure those interviews to give us the information we need on the individual's background, and we care more about that than the ability to do the job in some extents because it's very hard to modify behavior. We all know that. So, it's a bit of a cliche, but we hire for attitude and we train for skill. We do that through the interview process and the selection process itself. Sometimes, we even go in and we recently did this with a senior position in New Zealand, is we do culture fit interviews, and a lot of those interviews would be ran by somebody on my team, they'd be very scenario-based, but we would be trying to get in to the person's psyche in various scenarios and what they would do in those scenarios, because that would give us a strong indication as to what type of person they are and how consistent that would be for what we deem to be a grade A leadership profile. So, we're very diligent and very delicate when it comes to selecting those types of people, but like I said, we don't do that for everybody that joins the organization because some roles would require technical proficiency above everything else, and as long as we have that, we're good, but on the back end of that, we do have a bespoke development program that we've designed called LEAD, It's Leadership Through Education and Development, and it's a series of modules that we give all of our people, employees and managers. We have them go through this on a regular basis and it includes things like subconscious bias, how to effectively profile a network within the business you're in, how to influence people in a constructive way, and we try to actively keep that relevant on a regular basis, so we have a ton of learning and development interventions that give us the outcomes we need too. So, if we don't get them at selection, we certainly get them when they come through the door and get into a development plan of sorts.
Brian Friedman: Okay. Now, one subject I know is very dear to your heart and it's obviously very dear to our heart here at Benivo, too, is the question of experience, and everyone's talking about employee experience, customer experience, assignee experience, that trip. What does your company do, what does Verizon Connect do to enhance employee experience, and what's your views on the whole experience, phenomenon at the moment?
Michael Arkins: So for me, it is probably the most fundamental experience upon the employee life cycle, and I think a lot of organizations don't pay adequate attention to it, and it blows my mind when I come across a mindset that doesn't fully understand the value of an experience for people. When I joined Fleetmatics, we had no onboarding program at all. You would come in and you'd be given a bit of a walk around, then you'd shake a few hands, and you'd be at your desk, and pretty much on you to figure it out. You'd get all the resources you need, but they'd be everywhere and anywhere, and just wasn't a good experience for anyone. I came across that need very early on, and a lot of what triggered it was we had a story to tell. Fleetmatics had a phenomenal story to tell, and it was a story that we wanted to share and preserve, so we came about with the design of an onboarding program that we titled Launchpad, and we built various components into Launchpad that would have a series of touch points with applicants before they come into the business. So, as soon as you receive and acceptance offer, you would effectively be put onto the Launchpad track and you would receive a lot of information prior to coming into the business to get you excited about that. So, we would start explaining to you what you can expect on day one, what development opportunities are in line for you, we also send out some culture and engagement information on the social side of employment at Verizon Connect, and then when you come through the door, we sit down for about two and a half hours and we go through the origins of Verizon Connect, we talk about our products, we include demonstrations, we talk about our various markets, and we bring them on that journey so when they leave that presentation, they know everything they need to know about the business, and we don't do it in a corporate-style set up. It's interactive, it's engaging, we try to put a bit of fun into it, and that's how we win their heart from the start. We get these guys brought in. We want people to walk out on day one saying, do you know what? I'm really glad I said yes to that job, or I chose Verizon Connect over everyone else. Then, when they go into their team on day two, we have that same structure in place. So, all of our managers, they understand the onboarding standards, they know what needs to be adhered to, the comprehensive list of stuff, but again, we don't wanna bog them down with that. We just say to them, as long as the standards are being adhered to, you can do this in your own way that makes sense for your team. We also have socialization built into that. We give all of our new people what we call questions to ask, and we break them up on a color code system where we say, between now and the next four weeks, you need to go and find these people, and you need to ask them these questions.
Brian Friedman: What sort of things might they be? What sort of questions?
Michael Arkins: Well, for instance, one of the questions is that we have them go and find a VP on site and the question is, what is the strategy of the business? So, it's better to come from our CPO or our VP of Development than it is to come from me or someone else. So, it's an opportunity for our senior leadership to get to meet with some new people when they come in,15-20 minutes, articulate the strategy to them, and have a good one on one conversation with these guys, and it doesn't matter what level you're coming into the organization at, we actively encourage this because it's a great way for senior leadership to meet them, and it's also a great way for them to get the true message as to what we're trying to achieve as a business, so you're not siloed into your own little team doing your own thing. Another example would be, we would have them say to their own manager, what are the prevailing attitudes of the team? What am I coming into? What is the dynamic? And it prompts managers to be aware of these questions and understand the importance as to how that feeds into the experience. So, not only is Launchpad about improving the experience for new people coming in, but it's also to enrich the experience for managers so they know what they need to be mindful of when it comes to their role in that experience. So typically, the Launchpad program, it lasts on average about five weeks, and at the end of it, we would go and we would ask them for some feedback on what the experience involves, where can we improve it? What do we need to do better? And we also bring them into an experience called a learning map towards the end of it, as well, where we visually represent the evolution of the business on a big piece of paper. It's almost like a giant-sized board game, and we do that with six other recent starts, we keep the group small, and then what we do is we go through this program for about four hours. It's interactive, there's a lot of questions asked about the business, what they understand on their limited knowledge of the business so far, and it's a great program because it gives them, I guess, an enhanced view as to what Verizon Connect is all about. We talk about our competitors, we talk about or technology in depth. Like I said, there's a competitive element to it, so we have two teams facing off against one another. It's all amicable and friendly, but it's a great way for information to stick, and they just buy into the business a little bit more than they would have normally because typically after the third or fourth day, you're in your team and that's about it, and it's restricted. We try to break that open and create opportunities for these guys to socialize a little bit better. But yeah, onboarding tools, it's a major, major, major component to the experience and everything we do after that kind of adopts the same strategy when it comes to standards being established that everybody can get behind. So, it sets the tone of the relationship, and if we do it well and we do it right, you typically see quicker outcomes, quicker productivity, higher levels of engagement, and that all comes through in the metrics. When we pull down their ENPS results, we can see that the people that have come in within one to days are highly engaged because their getting the information and support they need.
Brian Friedman: That's amazing. I'm loving all this. We could certainly talk for a long, long time on this whole question employee experience. Sadly, we're actually pretty much out of time now.
Michael Arkins: Oh, no.
Brian Friedman: I did just wanna ask one last question though, and as I said, we're a bit short of time, so if I could just limit you to a quick answer, is that where do you see the employee experience going? Where do you think, in terms of what you're doing at the moment is amazing and very groundbreaking, but I'm sure, as a dreamer, you're still thinking about where it's gonna go, and if we looked out, say, 18 months or so, what do you think could be done to make it even better and stronger than it is already?
Michael Arkins: For me, quickly and simply, I think businesses need to do a better job of branding in isolation, almost, branding that experience as something special and something remarkable.
Brian Friedman: Got it.
Michael Arkins: It's a point of differentiation, and it can make all the difference if companies really think about what mark they can make on their new people coming in. That will speak for itself if it's done right.
Brian Friedman: Okay. Well as I said, we are out of time, but Mick, I must say, I've thoroughly, thoroughly enjoyed the conversation today, and I'm sure all our listeners have. It's very inspirational hearing about your journey, hearing about your friend who inspired you in the early days, but also, to me and somebody more so hearing about what you're doing with the employee experience and the way that you're putting so much weight and emphasis on such an important aspect that, sadly, is all too often ignored. So once again, Mick Arkins, thank you very much for being a willing participant in The View from the Top.
Michael Arkins: Thank you very much. It was an absolute pleasure.
Brian Friedman: And thank you to everyone who's listening. We hope you've enjoyed all the series of The View from the Top, and there'll be more to come, so thank you everybody and goodbye.