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Driving lessons towards effective talent management from Welcome Break

Jessica Twentyman Profile picture for user jtwentyman May 1, 2014
At UK highway service station and hotel operator Welcome Break, HR is working in tandem with IT to produce the meticulous planning needed to get the company where it needs to go.

Karl Jolly

Back in August 2012, SAP announced the latest customer for its newly acquired Successfactors talent management apps business: Welcome Break, the motorway service station and hotel operator.

“We are extremely excited about our new partnership with SuccessFactors,” said Karl Jolly, director of people at Welcome Break, at the time, “as we feel it will help us provide a really strong foundation for where we want our business to go in the future.”

Almost two years on, we caught up with Jolly to discuss the company’s progress to date in rolling out SuccessFactors across Welcome Break’s 4,500-strong workforce - and the lessons he’s learnt along the way.

Lesson One: Break up your journey

A phased implementation was important to Welcome Break: “We went from having pretty much nothing at all to a whole suite of people-related applications, so it was important to us to take our time and think things through,” he says.

Today, he adds, the company has been live on SuccessFactors for around 18 months. “We took care to use a logical, step-by-step approach, identifying areas of function that would best lay the groundwork for others,” he says.

Phase One, which went live in March 2013, involved deploying SuccessFactors’ core human resources management system (HRMS), Employee Central, along with its recruitment modules, “so that new people entering our business could be fed straight into Employee Central.”

Welcome Break also deployed the SuccessFactors social communication platform, Jam, to help drive adoption of the new applications by the workforce.

Since then, Welcome Break has rolled out learning and development apps, which went live around two months ago, along with performance management tools, to coincide with the start of the company’s financial year on 1 February.

“For the first time, we’re in the position that everyone knows what’s expected of them. From employees on the frontline team, right up to the chief executive, everyone’s goals are now in the system and updated on a monthly basis,” says Jolly.

Lesson 2: Put HR in the driving seat - but prepare passengers for the journey ahead

“From the very start, it was my intention that HR should drive this project,” says Jolly. But that’s not to say that executive buy-in wasn’t important, he adds: “Our choice was between a traditional HR system or a more expansive, business execution-style system from SuccessFactors.

"So I took the time to look the rest of the senior team in the eyes and ask, ‘Do we really want to go this way? Do you want me to make such a big change to our business - because if we do go in this direction, we’ll be rewiring the way our business operates on a day-to-day basis?’."

Once he was sure, however, that the rest of the management team were along for the ride, he and his team have remained at the forefront of pushing the project through.

Lesson 3: Pick your co-driver well

Fundamental to this project, Jolly says, has been the close working relationship he enjoys with Welcome Break’s IT team, led by CIO David Willock.

“My challenge as people director is on making our employees more productive and their work more enjoyable. IT’s focus is on systems, process and security. But we’ve worked together to marry the two approaches, get the balance right and plan the pace of our implementation to suit our business.”

When SuccessFactors releases quarterly updates to its applications, for example, Jolly works with IT to identify those new features and functions from which Welcome Break might benefit, as well as those it might be better to leave switched off for now.

“The IT team do a very good at tempering my enthusiasm,” Jolly jokes. “Many of the quarterly updates are pretty significant and pretty attractive - but because of where we are in our implementation, we can’t deal with all of those changes quickly enough. So we need to be selective and IT’s advice is really helpful here.”

Lesson 4: Deck out your vehicle in team colours

A bit of branding goes a long way in gaining employee acceptance for new IT systems, especially if they work in a number of different ‘flags’, as they do at Welcome Break. There, employees may be working under the Waitrose, Starbucks or Burger King brands - but it’s still important that they feel part of the wider Welcome Break family, says Jolly.

“It’s something we put a lot of thought into: what’s the purpose, values and goals of Welcome Break as a group?”

By branding the new SuccessFactors system under the name ‘Drive’, Jolly says that it’s been easier to create a sense of ownership around the applications. “The name ‘Drive’ works for us on so many levels,” he explains. 

There’s the connection with the 80 million drivers (and their passengers) that visit Welcome Break sites every year, of course, “but it’s also about making things happen in our business to maintain momentum and focus.”

From the start, he adds, he always felt that the new system should have a name specific to Welcome Break, “and having done this early on in the project, and seen the benefits in terms of giving us a common language to talk about the applications, it’s definitely something I would encourage other companies to explore.”


Disclosure: at time of writing, SAP is a premium partner of diginomica. 

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