posted 18 Apr 2005 in Volume 8 Issue 7
Nestle UK: Information on demand
Meeting the demands and needs of employees through the development of an employee self-service intranet. By Nigel Holt
Day one. I’m here. My first day. I wonder how things are organised around here? What’s the environment really like to work in? How will I find out what to do? Where is the canteen? Why is that person at the desk over there staring at me? Questions, questions, questions, something we all have when we start a new job.
Knowledge is power, as Francis Bacon said in 1597. No, this is not an article of historical philosophy, but the quotation is relevant to the question in hand. I only have to think back a few years to remember people who believed that one way of making themselves irreplaceable in an organisation was to be a font of knowledge. To accomplish this, they had to ensure that the process of finding the ‘font’ was equal to that of the quest for the Holy Grail. Having invested so much into your quest for information you were only too willing to infer on the provider the status of ‘information guru’. You were now in an inner circle of people who knew where to find the information. You, too, were ‘in power’.
In some organisations I can recall that information was freely available, indeed so freely so that you had little chance of determining which form you had to complete to request the form to request the loan of the paperclip. Again, the all-seeing person who invested the time in understanding the system and information flow is the ‘expert’ everyone looks to for guidance.
Whichever memory strikes a chord with you, I doubt that anyone reading this article fails to recognise or recall a personal experience based on one of the models to which I refer. Employee self-service is our answer to the knowledge-is-power phenomenon. At the simplest level, employee self-service is about making information (power) available to everyone. This means making information available to people when they need it, and in a format they can easily work with to meet their need, whatever that need may be. It is really the same as the ubiquitous customer-service promise: whatever, whenever, however.
The HR database story
I’d like to say that we at Nestlé
Our first steps were made as far back as 1998. At that time, we provided traditional HR services to 12,000 employees across 20 sites. The HR system was designed in-house and provided personnel data management and payroll through 13 separate, bespoke applications. The systems provided good data management, but were not integrated. To obtain an accurate headcount for the business required the extraction and merger of no less than 13 different files – consequently, people did not request such information regularly.
The systems were designed for HR, not managers or employees, so any questions or requests for information had to go through the appropriate request, sanction and supply routes. Will a week on Tuesday be OK for the answer?
During this same period, the rest of Nestlé’s
Having decided to join the change party, our first steps were to identify what we wanted to achieve from this change process. The key themes at the time were:
Simplify HR business processes;
HR should own its own core processes;
Improved information and reporting for HR and managers.
By April 1999, we had implemented the new SAP HR system for all staff and managers. Over the next two years, the company’s factories followed suit, and by the end of 2001 all employees were listed in a single HR database.
So, what were the wins? Well, what had the most impact across the business were not the big things like paying everyone each month – it was the small but significant things that made people sit up and take notice:
For the first time all employees had access to their HR data via ESS and online reports. Factory employees had similar access via ‘kiosks’;
Managers had online access to their staff’s personal data;
Organisation charts produced directly from the HR database were available on the intranet. More than 1,800 users log on to the site every month to use it as a ‘who’s who’ information source. A spin off benefit from such high usage levels is that the database is kept up to date.
The database journey was now well underway, but this was not the department’s only development. We were starting to rethink how HR could better support the business using the new database and processes.
The HR re-design story
In March 2000, we started to question whether the company’s HR structures really met the needs of the business. The prompt for review came from two different sources. Externally, we were seeing some of the early considerations of HR service centres, mainly coming across from the
The structural changes that we implemented produced significant operational efficiencies, resulting in annual savings of £1m, as well as delivering better service provision to managers and employees.
But how do we know that service has improved? In addition to being able to more easily measure service delivery through new systems and tools, we asked our managers and employees what they thought. It is very unlikely that our HR department pre-1999 would have asked such a question.
The results were extremely favourable, with satisfaction levels well in excess of 90 per cent.
Our single HR database supported the new organisation, but we now also needed to develop other support tools to meet business needs.
The HR intranet and support-technology story
The company launched its HR intranet in 1997. However, it’s fair to say that our initial foray into this domain was a little disorganised. Each division and HR department decided what it wanted to say and published accordingly. The variety of styles and approaches to knowledge management was, to say the least, exciting. The significant downside, however, was that very few people had the patience to enter this information maze.
To iron out some of the early problems, in late 2001 the HR intranet was re-launched. The new intranet organised information according to what people wanted to see. Initially, the HR teams found it hard to put aside their desire to sell their HR teams and instead sell the services from the buyer’s perspective. We have continued to revisit the intranet – the latest makeover took place in late 2004. The principles we are trying to meet have not changed:
The intranet should be more user friendly and ‘employee facing’ (it is an employee intranet NOT an HR intranet);
The intranet should be easier to navigate to allow employees to find the information they are looking for quickly and easily (we don’t always manage to meet the ‘three-click’ principle, but we always set out with the aim of doing so);
Maximising the usage of the intranet to ensure that employees are fully informed about initiatives and key information;
Reducing employee queries to HR through the increased accessibility of information.
In terms of reducing employee queries, almost 40 per cent of employees are finding that the intranet is answering their queries without the need to contact HR, a good and increasing trend.
The intranet is also home to a variety of other tools and means of employee information delivery. In 2001, we established an ‘intelligent’ frequently-asked-questions (FAQ) application, which has proven to be a very helpful tool. With any new initiative or change, we ensure that new FAQs are added to the database. This, in turn, makes the site more attractive as the likelihood of receiving relevant information increases. The application is ‘intelligent’ in that the enquirer can ask a question in normal conversational language and the system will offer an answer based on the analysis of the text. If the answer does not meet the query then an operator may try further answers before the system passes the query onto the Service Centre for response.
In 2002, we used the intranet to introduce ‘Flexible benefits’ to all our employee groups at a very low cost (less that £30K in total). Our prime objective in introducing the scheme in January 2003 was to enhance our current reward package without increased cost to the business. We offer about 12
benefits each year, including PC lease, share purchase and childcare schemes, all of which offer tax and benefits for employees. The scheme is offered to employees through our employee intranet and is fully administered within our HR Service Centre and Shared Services Payroll Centre. It’s very well received by employees and has a take-up rate of around 20 per cent. In similar fashion, e-learning, e-recruitment and e-expenses have all found a natural home and easy employee-delivery route through the employee intranet.
An area of technology support that we cannot let pass unnoticed is telephony and case management. When we first established our ‘Information and advice centre’ in November 2001, we knew that we needed capable tools in these areas to manage the traffic and provide the capability to track and manage individual cases and overall HR performance. These toolsets do not come cheaply and, again, we leveraged existing contracts from within our consumer-services areas to provide cost-effective solutions.
The story today
Time does not stand still, and since early 2003 we have been working to replace our current domestic solutions with GLOBE, a single worldwide Nestlé SAP solution. We implemented these changes for Nestlé Purina Petcare
No story would be complete, however, without a few words of caution, some stated from firm conviction and others coming from that good friend, hindsight.
From the conviction stable there are several issues worth noting. First, it’s important that the development of ESS and HR services is executed within a broader business and HR strategy. To achieve this, you need buy-in from both your senior HR team and your business-leadership team. Second, HR systems need to integrate with other business systems and must not be viewed as a standalone function. Third, while it seems obvious, keep things simple – employees are only occasional users of processes and will not become ‘experts’. Finally, while there are both cost and service benefits in ESS, to deliver cost savings alone and not deliver service improvements would not, in my view, be meeting the needs of the business.
Hindsight has kindly provided me with the following thoughts. First, keep customisation to a minimum – don’t buy software and then redesign your own solution. If you want to keep costs down and ease ongoing maintenance, then keep it standardised as far as you can. Like many companies, we initially started out with an approach that was focused on personalising solutions. Early experiences nudged us in a different direction. Second, it will come as no surprise to many that HR, and HR systems in particular, are not the centre of the business. As such, HR will often find that it needs to leverage existing contracts and services within the business to make business cases work. We should offer no apology for this, but use the overall strength of the business to our advantage. Third, in the early days, getting HR to think in terms of processes was a challenge. It was almost as if there was an in-built HR mechanism that saw processes as something for sales or finance, not for us.
A final word of advice is to manage as a whole, not in isolated events. It would be nice but totally untrue to say that we knew most of the route we were taking back in 1998. We didn’t. Rather, we kept reviewing and redirecting. Notwithstanding this, we stuck to our principles throughout the project, which this is perhaps the best ally in any journey.
Nigel Holt is Nestlé UK GLOBE integration manager. He can be contacted at email@example.com.