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Stuart Lauchlan

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Is HR too helpful?


Is HR too helpful? HR’s service-led culture is hampering the department in the business and preventing HR making its life easier, claims HR director Ed Golitko.


"HR people are very service-oriented and you have to break them of that." So says Ed Golitko, human resources director at technology firm EMC and the man currently pushing through an HR systems transformation to move into the Cloud.

Of course there’s nothing wrong with wanting to be of service, but when taken to endemic levels this can limit potential. "HR people are by their very nature service-oriented people," Golitko explains. "If a manager calls them and says ‘can you help?’ then from their point of view they have a customer and they end up over-supporting instead of showing them how to do it. We have to train HR people to say no. That’s the biggest challenge we face. HR people will say that they love serving people and that this gives them a sense of purpose."

EMC is one of the world’s largest data storage and information management firms with a corporate tag-line of: ‘Where information lives’. This ubiquity is mirrored in the firm’s new approach to its HR strategy as it moves away from cumbersome technology run in-house to a more flexible and cost-effective alternative accessed via the internet aka Cloud Computing.

"The Cloud is about having information in one place where you can access it, instead of having to keep it one place. This is where EMC is, says Golitko. "With traditional ERP systems, it takes three years to put it in so you end up with three year old technology. Then you’re behind on the upgrades. We had PeopleSoft 7.5. Our systems were rather like an old Volvo – we could keep it running forever with care. PeopleSoft 7.5 was a Volvo. We kept it alive for two or three years and could have gone on keeping it alive."

But alternatives were explored, with an initial decision to look at implementing systems from German applications giant SAP, but this proved to be something of a dead end. "We were in the same position as many other firms in having an old Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system and we had to decide whether to invest in it or go forward with something else," recalls Golitko. "We took a run at SAP and we shut it down. Finance didn’t want to go through with the SAP roll out and IT loves Oracle so they didn’t want to do it. So we wrote it off and said that we’d wait for a software as a service (SaaS) company to come along."

EMC had some very precise requirements for any chosen alternative provider. "We wanted to go with SaaS. After the implementation costs, it runs about even. And the true ROI is the value you get when employees are able to execute more effectively," says Golitko. "We want to be best in class for processes and procedures. We want a single view of our employees which allows HR to be more strategic. We needed global consistency through using Cloud technology. We wanted to work with best-of-class providers. We didn’t want to work with someone on the downturn. We wanted to avoid unnecessary complexity and keep it as simple as possible. We wanted to avoid fads and one offs."

Two main contenders as a systems provider emerged: Workday and SuccessFactors. "We looked at Workday," says Golitko. "That had a solid core. It went after the same market and view that [founder] Dave Duffield had done when he founded PeopleSoft. There was a core with benefits and payroll solutions. There are companies that this works very well for and meets their requirements. But Workday didn’t have the emphasis on talent or the development of individuals inside the company. For us, aspects such as talent management and succession planning weren’t as strong in Workday.

"SuccessFactors had the talent management, succession planning and goal systems that were uncanny in how close it was to ours. Their employee profile was very strong. Recruiting was critical. You have to be able to bring in the employees that you want. By integrating performance and recruiting with your core, you can get at that information quickly. SuccessFactors was a company that was successful and growing, but it didn’t have the core. But [CEO] Lars [Dalgaard] has committed his best resources to developing this."

The result is a wholesale move over to the Cloud via SuccessFactors which will see a ‘big bang’ switch-off of PeopleSoft later in the year. There has inevitably been some resistance to such dramatic moves, but Golitko urges HR people to embrace change. "If I was in HR’s shoes now I’d think that this would be a great skills set to add to a resume. Those who don’t want to make the transformation, well, if they leave we wouldn’t be sad. Those who stay we know will be talented," he argues.

For those who do want to be bold, Golitko offers some advice. "There are lessons that we learned," he admits. "You need to determine who your key stakeholders are early on. Find people who can be advocates of what you do. This is not just about automating what you’ve previously done. There will be a lot of people who like ‘what we used to do’. There will be those who will be road blocks to what you’re doing. You need to convince them and educate them. You are changing processes for the better. Be persistent – there will be naysayers. If I had shut this down every time someone told me it couldn’t be done, then I wouldn’t be here. I had a list of everyone who had to sign this thing off. You do have to be persistent and be the evangelist. You also need to communicate, communicate, communicate.

"You’re also going to need support from the business executives. The first module that we rolled out was succession planning. A lot of companies would have started with goals. But when senior executives were able to see who were the high performers and who were not, that became the sell for us. Every country used to have a different way of presenting their succession planning which meant endless hours of HR people moving data around whenever there was a re-organisation. Now everyone has the same data."

Ultimately it comes down to setting out a business case. "It’s all about cost effectiveness in the long run. How do you calculate the return on investment (ROI)? I have a finance background so I do speak the finance language which not many HR people do," he concludes. "We want to lead, not follow, in HR. Some of the criticism I’ve had throughout my career is that I’m too much of a risk taker. That’s good."

One Response

  1. Is HR too helpful?

    Of course HR is helpful.  The Ulrich model – at least as it has been interpreted and applied by most of British business – is of HR as ‘a service to the business’.  Is HR too helpful?  Absolutely yes, but the solution is not to teach everyone in the profession to say no.  The solution is to throw out the model of HR as an internal service.  Otherwise, HR should not and, I believe, cannot, contribute in an effective, commercial way while ‘the line’ (a.k.a. other parts of the business) is considered to be the customer.  In most organisations, HR should not have internal customers.  (The exception I would make to that is HR service centres – the clue’s in the name).  Even Ulrich and his colleagues are now extolling their clients and readers to focus on the external customer.  ("To Serve the Internal Customer, Focus on the Real Customer", Jon Younger, RBL Group, Huffington Post, 29.3.10).  Note Younger’s use of the word ‘real’ – not ‘external’.

    In my view, HR is on a hiding to nothing if it tries to serve two masters.  If we understand and focus on external customers then, de facto, we meet the needs of other parts of the business because, to most of them, the customer is external.  (If that’s not the case, then why not?  And if not, then it should not fall to HR people to manage the conflict!).  The concept of the internal customer is a very popular one, particularly for HR, but it is by no means a proven one.  Throw out the internal service model, focus in detail and constantly on the external customer and not only will HR people start to speak the same language as their colleagues, they will also contribute far better to the commercial success of their businesses.


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