Interview: Hans-Petter Mellerud, CEO of HR outsourcing firm Zalaris

09 April 2018 8 min. read

Zalaris is a provider of HR consultancy, managed services and payroll services to companies in Western Europe, the Baltic region, Central Europe and Scandinavia. At the helm of Zalaris sits CEO Hans-Peter Mellerud, who back in 2000 left Accenture to found the Norway-headquartered company. Having guided the company through stellar growth in recent years – the firm today has over 800 employees – sat down with the CEO to discuss the changing nature of the labour market, its impact on productivity, as well as what he believes is the key to Zalaris’ success.

The workplace is changing and we're seeing more and more people working in the gig economy. How is this impacting the way businesses manage staff?

“Gig workers, freelancers and temporary staff are increasingly being used when businesses are rebounding from a downward cycle with layoffs and staff adjustments. Given their increasing number, we’re seeing businesses implement solutions to better manage the sourcing and administration of this work pool, for example SAP Fieldglass. Our own research found that organisations are struggling to meet the challenges of paying gig economy workers. Just over half (56%) of private sector decision-makers in the UK and little more than a third (39%) of their public-sector equivalents believe their payroll can meet the challenges, despite 74% agreeing that changing staffing models require new ways of paying workers. It is because of this that Gig workers are increasingly being considered as ‘traditional’ in cloud based HR solutions.”

How is this likely to evolve in the future?

“Most research predicts an increasing Gig workforce. This is being portrayed mainly as a choice: people’s wish of independence and variety of work. However, a large number of Gig workers are those that have lost their jobs and have little other option. In many cases being seen as ‘second class’ with little job protection or any of the other benefits associated with a permanent job. However, we expect that the Gig economy will flourish and that services will develop to support both the buyer and contractor side, especially as regulation increases.”

Hans-Petter Mellerud, CEO - Zalaris

Much has been written on the growing role of cloud technology. What are the major costs/benefits to businesses moving their HR function to the cloud?

“Cloud computing is a proven technology that’s no longer a mystical IT term - business leaders understand the potential it offers as a platform to secure greater value from mission-critical applications like payroll. The technology, the services and the consultancy available to support its deployment is more mature. The future of Human Capital Management is in the cloud, because this is the simplest way organisations can harness the power of their people. But while simplicity is the goal, getting there is far from simple. Many organisations underestimate the integration work required to ensure that the cloud solutions work flawless with other retained IT systems such as payroll, time and attendance, travel expenses and accounting.” 

What about the role of outsourcing? Where does this fit into the equation and how do you see it evolving in the coming years?

“Increasingly companies are focusing on activities that have strategic impact. Those standardised activities that can be performed by others more cost effectively are increasingly being outsourced. Going forward, we believe that outsourcing will continue to flourish and expect to see platform-based, end-to-end mobile-enabled processes supported by intelligent automation and robotics to further reduce costs.”

Data is becoming a huge driver for businesses. How can business leaders and those in the C-Suite best capitalise on it?

“Executives must understand what data is available and what is relevant for their own business. Most do this through defining KPIs and in many cases, particularly in HR, they must be flexible enough to cater for local needs and business practices. Measuring diversity, for example, varies from country to country. The complexity of combining data into information is frequently underestimated. Defining what information is available and to who is a next important challenge, particularly as we approach GDPR.

Being able to measure the value of human capital has been difficult in the past. With digital Human Capital Management, organisations are provided the information, metrics and analytics for a deeper, more accurate and more dynamic understanding of their people than ever before. This enables quicker and better decision-making on strategic issues ranging from recruitment, development and succession to compliance, staff deployment, rationalisation and expansion.”

Much is made of European workforce productivity. What does this advent of data mean for wider employee productivity?

“Data means it is easier to measure and identify areas for improving productivity. Through implementing better processes and training to allow employees to work smarter but also through digitisation and implementation of intelligent automation and robotics.” 

Quote Hans-Petter Mellerud

What trends/differences are you seeing across Europe when it comes to worker happiness?

“This is a complex question as happiness means different things to different people. Being engaged, involved, informed, treated fairly and with respect are key drivers. We measure employee happiness in quarterly surveys across our organisation. We have identified a key driver of happiness in our organisation to be to ‘what extent employees feel informed and involved by the whole organisation and their managers’.” 

You are from Norway, famous for having one of the happiest population in the planet – what's the secret, and can you transfer it into businesses?

“A key benefit of living in Norway is that most of us spend little of our time commuting and have relative effective workdays. Add to this a peaceful and democratic society and fantastic nature with clean air and lots of space. A generous welfare system, modest pay difference between C-level and the rest of the employees enable us to spend much of our free time and income on ourselves and our families. We will seek to bring our Nordic values – for example, respect for the individual; relatively flat organisational structure –  to our new geographies with the goal of being seen as a Great Place to Work and with that hopefully contributing to the happiness across our larger organisation.”

Zalaris was one of the highest performing companies on the Norwegian stock exchange last year. It's clearly doing something right. What is your secret?

“In addition to working with a great team of dedicated and skilled colleagues, I believe the key to our success has been our long-term focus and endurance and willingness to invest in customer satisfaction, with the goal to create long lasting customer relationships. A focused strategy leveraging our technology relationship with SAP combined with a focus across the Zalaris organisation on delivering innovative and effective solutions to maximise the value of people have also been contributing factors.” 

Finally, you're taking part in the Absa Cape Epic, 8-day bike race in South Africa at the end of March and currently training for the Norseman Xtreme Triathlon in Norway. How are you finding time to train and where does improving the happiness of the European workforce rate as a comparative challenge?

“I see a strong correlation between my ability to perform at work and being in good physical form. Exercising is a great stress reducer and contributor of positive energy. We actively promote physical activity on all levels at Zalaris through our work with the charity Active against Cancer. I was lucky to be invited to do the Norseman. It was offered to me as part of winning the Entrepreneur of the Year competition in Norway in 2018 and, with only 250 places available, it was a now or never moment. This is also the first time that I will do any stage races at the Absa Cape Epic mountain-bike race as I only have so much training time. However, the key for me is to find time for training in my daily routine, such as cycling to the office. Of course, having a wife and family who support me with this training helps considerably too.”