Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Technology, Automation, and Talent Case Studies

I found this article in CFO Magazine’s online Fall 2005 issue. The full text is quite long and located here. It is a well written piece by Scott Leibs from September 15, 2005. Anything in block quotes below is a direct excerpt. There are so many good examples of everything we’ve been discussion over the last few weeks I had to take a few “case studies” and post them. Also, here are some previous posts that relate:

The truth about what “integration” means
Employer branding, talent and engagement Part 1
Employer branding, talent and engagement Part 2
Employer branding, talent and engagement Part 3
Technology's role in performance management

Often described as "the right person in the right place at the right time at the right price," workforce optimization combines managerial discipline with newer forms of information technology to produce, in theory, everything from perfectly staffed assembly lines to efficiently deployed consultants to well-crafted succession plans. At its most basic, it builds on earlier time-keeping and attendance systems in order to improve staff deployment. At its most sophisticated, it is essentially synonymous with human-capital management (HCM), a "full life cycle" approach to employees that encompasses everything from recruitment and hiring through training, career development, and compensation. While the ultimate goal — greater productivity and efficiency — is certainly in a company's best interest, many facets of workforce optimization are explicitly designed to improve the career prospects and job satisfaction of employees.

Case Study 1: The tie between Talent Management, Automation and Employee Engagement

That's where technology comes in. As Kimberly-Clark's global team developed the new process, it also shopped for software that could support it. A suite of HCM applications from SuccessFactors Inc. now helps speed the review process, in part by supplying a "robot" that provides thousands of sample phrases and assessments to help managers write reviews. Buthman says a review that once took him six or seven hours to prepare can now be done in a third of that time.

"Every employee needs a clear line of sight between what they do each day and how it relates to our global business plan," Buthman says. "That's how they understand the contribution they make. That's part of what makes them feel engaged by their jobs." And engagement, Buthman and others say, is critical to productivity, even if it can be hard to quantify. "

The connection between employee engagement and productivity may be opaque, but the link between performance and pay is much clearer — or could be. One problem with performance reviews, many experts say, is that managers often lack visibility into an employee's achievements throughout the year and instead tend to make decisions based largely on what the employee has (or hasn't) done lately. Many HCM software companies cite this as a reason to buy a full suite of products that can address everything from hiring and performance management to compensation and career planning. As Buthman says, "The ability to differentiate among performers and match those differences to pay really completes the loop."

Case Study 2: Business Intelligence

Randy MacDonald, IBM's senior vice president for human resources, says that as companies apply new kinds of technology to HR issues, they must also apply new measurements. "The CFO gets to see the CEO faster than anyone else," he says, "because he or she can show a series of metrics. HR is now doing the same." Some of those metrics are old hat, such as time to hire, attrition rates, and revenue per employee. But increasingly, HR departments are looking at other facets of the labor market. IBM, for example, looks at everything from the percentage of summer interns who sign on for full-time work to a rolling three-year forecast of anticipated labor needs. HCM software companies have added various metrics capabilities to their products, or partnered with business-intelligence firms that offer a range of "workforce analytics" applications.

Case Study 3: Competency Management Systems

The "all employees are not created equal" message is sometimes anathema to HR executives, but it reflects a new pragmatism taking hold at many companies. Advance Auto Parts, a retailer with more than 2,500 stores in North America, began to "recalibrate" its workforce three year ago in response to poor performance.

It developed a talent-management process that it implemented manually at first, then automated last year (with software from Authoria that integrates with an underlying system from Oracle/PeopleSoft). "The system gives us data we can analyze to see where competencies are strong or weak," says Bryant.

Case Study 4: Talent Acquisition Automation

Susan Burns, operational vice president for employment initiatives and college relations, says that while the front end of Retailology is essentially informational, the back end is a heavily automated candidate-tracking system that replaces a once intensely manual task, freeing HR staff to address "talent-opportunity areas." For example, if a promising candidate applies when there is no suitable opening, a Federated recruiter will maintain a dialogue with that person and alert the individual when an opening occurs. "Handling that kind of follow-up was virtually impossible when everything was paper- and phone-based," she says. Today, more than one quarter of the 100,000+ employees hired by Federated apply via the Web, and that percentage is growing. "No doubt it's a very cost-effective way to extend your reach," Burns says. "We expect the talent market to get even tighter, and we'll need more tools like this in order to keep the pipeline flowing."