Carolyn Clougherty Flannery – Keolis North America
The adage “less is more” has been a guiding light in Carolyn Clougherty Flannery’s career.
That, paired with her years of experience managing and leading large, complex HR projects, made her an ideal fit for Keolis. So, in July 2019, the North American arms of the international transportation company hired her as the first vice president of human resource services for North America.
Each Keolis division supported its employees with separate payroll, talent, benefits and human resource information systems—as well as specific vendors, staff and benefit brokers. Clougherty Flannery introduced a shared services model that now allows all divisions to be under one system, creating efficiency and savings.
“We already had a wonderful system in place,” she says. “I interconnected our divisions, creating one digitized HR plan that helps us grow our operations and passenger services across the U.S. and Canada.”
Globally, Keolis operates everything from buses, trams, trains and rapid transit to rental bikes, car parks and even water taxis. It has 60,000 employees globally and 6,000 in North America; and transports over three billion passengers a year throughout the world. Its annual revenue surpasses $6 billion.
By centralizing administration and pooling resources, Clougherty Flannery says the company “freed human resources to engage even more closely with employees and focus more on guiding and advising our business.”
Still, it took some doing.
Within a year, Clougherty Flannery had integrated several new digital systems by UKG. The systems centralized our HR management systems, payroll, time and attendance, talent and benefits. It also allowed employee and manager self-service, meaning employees can request time off and their direct managers can approve it.
Around the same time, Clougherty Flannery consolidated to one benefit broker, one benefit administration system and one benefit service center for all four North American divisions.
She then helped to create a company-specific employee portal: “Me@Keolis.” Once in the portal, employees can easily access tax forms, pay stubs, submit time off or update timesheets. This portal was part of the effort to go mobile, as many Keolis employees aren’t working from desks and can now access these features from their phones.
For employee health benefits, she helped select Bswift, a benefits administration system. Using Bswift, employees can enter their information in an online portal. Analyzing inputs, from the number of dependents to deductibles, the system recommends care choices—for example, whether to enroll in a Benefit’s plan.
“It helps employees make the right decisions for not just themselves but their families,” she says.
New systems like these have not only increased employee engagement and self-sufficiency, but also have allowed the HR team to refocus, she says. For instance, Clougherty Flannery and her HR team can now onboard hundreds of employees in little time, allowing the company to mobilize quickly when it wins work.
“We’re continually enhancing our processes with the constant aim of creating the best experience for our employees and those we serve,” Clougherty Flannery says.
Recruiting a bright future
For Clougherty Flannery, the employee experience begins with candidates, which is why she’s made it possible for them to apply quickly and easily online. This has led to her and her team filling roles in approximately 30 days—instead of the 65 days it traditionally took.
“In the wake of the pandemic quarantines, everyone in human resources across the world was just making best guesses,” Clougherty Flannery says. “My team and I changed the entire candidate experience—and are still learning and adapting as we go, creating new ways to attract talent amongst fierce competition.”
For instance, she and her team of recruiters may use a virtual reality test that quickly shows if someone has the basic skills needed to drive a bus. They then conduct an on-the-spot interview. If the candidate meets all the requirements, they provide an offer contingent on a background check.
In fact, in January 2023, at a 3-day job event in one of Keolis’ largest locations, she and her team hired over 118 people. They’ve even partnered with a third-party to assist employees with commercial driver’s license certification courses.
“Ideas like this help us stay one step ahead of our competitors,” Clougherty Flannery says. “The pandemic and the great resignation have really made us think in different, unique ways.”
Clougherty Flannery works closely with executive and union leadership, as well as with the finance, information technology, business development, operations and human resources teams. Six directors report to her and she has a staff of 30, including partners and third parties to support Keolis employees across North America.
This sort of collaboration has defined Clougherty Flannery’s career—and her life. She grew up in South Boston, where she says the entire community raises children to be independent, resourceful, loyal, respectful, helpful and confident.
“Resilient is a word that describes me perfectly,” she tells Vision.
She’s faced more than her fair share of challenges and obstacles, working a full-time job in 1996 while taking accelerated night courses at a local college. However, before she could earn her undergraduate degree in business administration, she gave birth to her first child in 1997 and second in 2000, deciding to focus on motherhood instead of obtaining her degree.
“Without a college degree, it took me longer than others to become an executive, but two wonderful mentors gave me life-changing opportunities,” she says. “That combined with my pure determination helped me reach my career goals.”
As she starts her fourth year at Keolis, she still loves the company, as it gives her the opportunity to work with an international team reporting to Paris offices. Her “rockstar team” shares her passion, especially to “follow the data.”
“I want women to know that you can be anything you want to be—a mother, a wife, a sibling, a friend—and a successful executive,” Clougherty Flannery says. “My advice is to never change who you are; always stay true to yourself.”
View this feature in the Vol. III 2023 Edition here.
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