Big Bang HR proves big success for Rolls-Royce


Engineering and aerospace firm rolls out Workday HR to 55,000 employees.

Rolls Royce
Rolls Royce

In October 2015, engineering and aerospace firm Rolls-Royce went live ‘big bang-style’ with a cloud-based Workday HR solution to 50,000 employees in 46 countries.

This was clearly a massive undertaking, but Mark Judd, HR IT and Service Solutions Director, is in no doubt that it was the right decision to take an all-or-nothing approach:

In hindsight, it was scary and difficult putting all your eggs in one basket… And I’d do it again and again and again.

It took 15 months of hard work to get to this ‘go-live’ point, but having a fixed date across the organization meant that everyone was totally focused on the event.

Hearing stories from colleagues in companies that had taken a more phased implementation approach strengthened Judd’s conviction that this had been the right decision.

He discovered that those following a phased route had much longer implementation times.  It also meant that when a new country was added, any changes requested had to be trickled down to all the other countries already live. Judd adds:

So what took us 15 month to get everyone everywhere at the same level, took other companies two or three years.

The decision to scrap its old technology – a mixture of an SAP in some areas, plus various smaller systems and spreadsheets – was seen as essential to help the company’s growth and expansion plans. Judd explains:

We didn’t have the scope and capabilities to grow our business and the consequence of that was we were constantly challenged about meeting and driving business performance.

But gaining backing for a multi-million investment requires some convincing arguments to win over senior management, however clear the business case.

The key to those discussions, notes Judd, was to present those senior stakeholders with the view that this was a new business idea rather than an HR system. Rather than replacing one technology solution, it presented a total change of direction.

Adopting a cloud-based approach would bring unprecedented visibility into its people resource and enable the company to be far more agile than the previous technology platform allowed. At the same time, it would reduce the admin burden on HR internally. Judd observes:

You’re getting across the idea that it is like moving across form the best typewriter you’ve ever had to a laptop – you’re on a different path and it’s a different concept altogether.

Management expectations

A key element of Judd’s argument was to push home the idea that this is not a fixed technology, but a solution that was constantly evolving and innovating.

Senior management had high expectations. They didn’t want a system that required lots of handholding and guidelines, but stipulated they wanted something as easy and straightforward to use as the website of major UK retailer John Lewis.

So Judd tracked down the creator of the John Lewis website, showed him Workday and then videoed his positive remarks about the technology. He then played that at the next management meeting.

He also fought hard to turn round an initially skeptical and influential internal critic into an advocate of the technology, which helped convince others that this investment would pay off. 

With senior buy-in secured, Judd and this team were able to push forward with the initiative.

The company used the Workday adoption as an opportunity to standardize HR processes globally. This was something Judd says the team was very strict about. If any group wanted to deviate from the plan, they had to fight hard and prove their case.

While Workday fitted most of Rolls-Royce’s requirements, there were still a few areas where it didn’t do things exactly how it wanted.  But Judd says that “the great thing was, when we highlighted some of those issues, you can start to see some movement” and those suggestions tended to end up on Workday’s agenda for the future.

It’s still early days, but some of the business aims of the company include greater access to real-time analytics to help with hiring and sourcing and comparing capabilities between different parts of the business.  Self-service capabilities will also be extended to mobile devices as well as desktops.

My take

Taking a big-bang rather than softly-softly approach makes sense, but it must be hellishly hard to do, so it’s always great to hear from a global company of Rolls-Royce’s size and reputation that have taken on such a gargantuan task.

Image credit - via Rolls-Royce

Disclosure - Mark Judd was speaking at HR Tech World in London. At time of writing, Workday is a premier partner of diginomica.