Engineering talent change

Profile picture for user jmilne By Janine Milne April 5, 2016
Amec Foster Wheeler is making performance and talent management a priority using Cornerstone OnDemand.

Amec Foster Wheeler people

When we started, we very much thought this would be evolution, but actually, now we’ve got into this implementation and the culture change, I think it’s really turning into revolution.

This revolution Corrinne James, director of talent and performance management at Amec Foster Wheeler, is referring to, is a total rewrite of its approach to talent management.

The impetus for change was the acquisition of Foster Wheeler by Amec in November 2014, creating a 40,000 strong global engineering consultancy and services business operating in 55 countries.

While both companies already had in place talent management, performance management and succession planning programs, their approaches were very different. Foster Wheeler, for example, evaluated performance in terms of functional competencies, while Amec looked at it in terms of objectives.

Forming a new company was an opportunity to do something different and something better. To achieve this improvement, James points out the HR team had first:

To understand what we had got and where was it sitting and leverage it.

A simple enough people plan, but it required a lot of legwork and data gathering to make it happen.
Creating a new approach to talent, rather than one company imposing an approach on the other, was also an opportunity to reinforce the idea that they were forging a fresh company culture. HR wanted the message to go out to all line managers that performance management was key to their role.

These cultural changes were supported by a technology refresh, culminating with signing a deal with Cornerstone OnDemand in March 2015.

Many companies were in the running, but Amec felt a strong cultural fit with Cornerstone’s approach, particularly in the area of implementation. James points out “that we’d had our fingers burned” by having a third party partner implement a previous project, so the fact that Cornerstone used an internal team was an important factor for the company.

As a services business, Amec Foster Wheeler lives and dies on the quality and capabilities of its engineers and the relationships they form with clients. The earlier they can identify talent and then nurture those high performers the better.

HR has worked with each area of the business to determine what talent looks like at all levels and is giving managers the opportunity to nominate high performers.

Previously, this had been a heavily manual process, but using Cornerstone, it is far easier to identify employees with high potential, even relatively junior newcomers to the company. This capability was launched recently to everyone in the company who had direct reports. James says:

We did it so that people right down the lower end can nominate talent and therefore high potentials can be recognized earlier.

Using Cornerstone also provides the company with “global visibility” for the first time into the project experience of engineers, helping the company to use its talent more effectively.

One of the next things on the agenda is to set up talent communities using social media, and to enable people to dive down into analytics from their desktops.


Looking back over how far they have come over the last year, James is proud of what the team have achieved, and has learned some key lessons:

We’ve had some hard lessons along the way and the biggest issue for us has been employee data…We found out early on that we had 43 core sources of employee data across the world, ranging from HR systems to spreadsheets on someone’s ‘C’ drive and everything in between.

On closer inspection, they also found that the data wasn’t quite as clean and pristine as anticipated. James adds:

So coming up to deadline for the year-end performance review and our team was getting 500 requests a day for change of line manager or change of this that or the other to enable people to complete the process.

James’ team had made life more difficult for themselves by setting some hard, immovable deadlines (and hit them) for getting the new performance review process in place for mid-year and end of year.

Even with the effort required to deal with the barrage of enquiries to ensure the review process was completed on time and the dodgy data quality, she still believes it was worth the pain:

Nobody knew how bad the data was and we could have spent years sorting it out, whereas I actually think we’re better doing what we’re doing, which is implementing the things that make a difference and sorting out the data issues as we go along, however painful that might be.

To support the changes, James and her team bombarded employees with information to help them understand and learn how to use the new system. From train the trainers courses to e-learning and blogs, a real effort was made to communicate the changes.

But James has discovered that the most powerful learning tool is having someone sat in the next desk who can answer any problems. So the next round of training will be expanded to include PAs and coordinators alongside the traditional talent and HR team.

The relationship with the IT team has also changed, notes James:

We also found that it requited a different kind of IT support. We didn’t need them to configure the systems for us, we didn’t need them to provide us with a project plan, what we did need was help to get the employee data sorted and what we did need was for them to share with us their bigger roadmap because what we found on occasion what they were doing had an impact on what we were doing. So now we are working a lot more closely.

The final lesson learned is the importance of communicating the vision to the wider employee population, says James:

If I had my time again, I would definitely invest more energy upfront in helping our organization understand the bigger picture. We took the decision quite early on that we would get going as soon as we could and we would release it piece by piece but we would get going quickly.

I think perhaps where we missed a trick was selling the vision of what this was going to be like at the end of the journey for our organization and I think we’re now having to try and make up that space.