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Annie Hayes

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How systems can support your HR objectives

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Keyboard and hand

Navigating your way through the fog can be testing; Nigel Holt, Nestlé UK GLOBE’s Integration Manager recounts his experiences of steering a path through the systems abyss.


I noticed the newly installed satellite navigation system fixed in my friend’s car when driving back from a meeting last week. I asked him how long he’d had it and he confessed to failing to use it at all, saying he’d “Not had a chance to read the manual yet.’’ “Don’t mind if I have a play do you?’’ I asked. ‘”By all means” came the reply.

I hadn’t used a satellite navigation system before but found the set up so intuitive that within five minutes I had it directing us back to the office. It was all so simple. The best bit for me was that I found that I could ask it for the nearest golf course and it would tell me the options of all the courses within the area. Now that’s what I call service. So what if anything has this to do with HR systems and matching them to HR objectives?

Well, I believe that there are a few things that are relevant to the topic. Firstly, if HR systems are really going to work in your organisation then they need to be ’intuitive’. They need to be there for the business not just for HR.

To be able to meet the needs of the occasional, non expert, business users then the ‘user interface’ needs to be so simple that even your MD can use it. Secondly, the systems need to not just allow service expectations to be met but to be exceeded, the golf course finder factor. My final point, at a very different level, is that before you start on any journey you should really know where you are going.

Often we believe that we know but when we check the navigation system it just says, “Take me to somewhere better than where I am.” The key is having an end point in mind and an understanding as to why you are going there.

When you arrive you will of course plot a new course and that’s fine, but don’t just wander around looking for somewhere nice.

Whilst I would love to say that the relationship between HR systems and HR objectives within Nestlé UK has always been one of clear and agreed direction it would be untrue.

At times the system has driven the navigation, and at others HR has given a direction for the systems to follow.

When things have really been fully aligned then business objectives have set the HR objectives which in turn has directed the HR systems delivery, the only sure fire winner.

So what have we done within Nestle UK and what do I believe we have learnt on the journey?

Our first steps were made as far back as 1998. At that time we provided very traditional HR services to 12,000 employees over 20 sites. We had an in-house designed HR system that provided personnel data management and payroll through 13 separate bespoke applications. The systems were for HR, not managers or employees.

Between April 1999 and December 2001 we implemented a new SAP, HR system for all our employee groups. What were the wins? Well, the things that had most impact across the business were not the big things like paying everyone each month, it was the small things that made people sit up.

For the first time all employees and managers had access to HR data via Employee Self Service and line manager access. In parallel with the system changes we were starting to re-think how HR could better support the business using the new database and processes. In effect HR was at the time being driven by pressure coming from the new HR systems and processes.

In November 2001 we reorganised our HR structures along the classical Service Delivery model of HR Transaction Processing, Expert Specialist and HR Business Partners.

The structural changes contributed to operational efficiencies and delivered better service provision to our managers and employees. How do we know that service improved?

Well we were now able to more easily measure service in the new structures and we actually asked our managers and employees what they thought. It is very unlikely that our HR organisation pre 2001 would have asked such a question as we may not have had the confidence to hear the answer.

Our single HR database and new HR structures supported the organisation but we now also need to develop other support tools to meet the business needs.

We first had an HR intranet in 1997. However, these first attempts were a little disorganised. We improved the intranet with a re-launch in late 2001 by focusing on organising the information around what the users wanted. We have continued to revisit the intranet and had our latest makeover in late 2004.

The principles we are trying to meet have not changed and each time we are trying to meet the objectives of creating an employee intranet and not an HR one. We try to keep the navigation simple and aim to meet the ‘three click’ principle.

In doing this we now find that nearly 40% of employees are finding that the intranet is answering their queries without the need to contact HR, a good and increasing trend.

Time does not stand still and since late 2003 we have worked on replacing our current domestic solutions with a single worldwide Nestlé global solution. We implemented these changes for Nestle UK in April 2005. The target is to create a single Nestlé HR database for the world, (all 250,000 employees).

The results are economies of scale on a truly global footing. Single architectures, global processes and common international support structures are all outputs of taking a global view of delivery rather than a domestic market perspective. Global systems also prompt global considerations of service delivery and provide the opportunity to unlock the potential of the whole business.

Our new global solutions do not change our local business objectives but do provide us with very different opportunities.

Any story would not be complete without a few words of caution, some stated from firm conviction and others coming from that good friend hindsight. From both I would offer the following thoughts:

  • Your development of HR systems should be seen and executed within a broader Business and HR strategy.

  • Keep to single processes. This offers ease of use and maintenance and thereby lower costs.

  • Keep it simple … for everyone’s benefit. Employees, are only occasional users of processes and will not become ‘experts’.

  • There are both cost and service benefits available to HR and the business. To deliver cost savings alone would not in my view be meeting the needs of the business.

  • Keep customisation as low as possible to reduce costs and make it easier to maintain.

  • In the early days, getting HR to think in terms of processes was a challenge.

As I said at the beginning it would be nice but totally untrue to say that we were aware of the finer points of the route we were taking back in 1998. We simply didn’t but we kept reviewing and redirecting.

I guess what we did keep constant were our principles and that is perhaps the most valuable friend and ally in any journey. When we have got real traction it is because we have had clear business objectives that have been translated into clear HR objectives to drive our systems requirements.

This article is based on a talk Nigle Holt gave at the CIPD’s 2005 HR Software Show.

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