SuccessConnect EMEA - 'Largest in history' HR transformation at HSBC

Phil Wainewright Profile picture for user pwainewright June 5, 2019
HSBC is coming to the end of an award-winning, 'largest in history' global HR transformation project involving 275,000 people worldwide on SAP SuccessFactors HCM and payroll

SuccessConnect EMEA 2019 Alex Lowen HSBC receives Klaus Tschira Award from Greg Tomb SAP SuccessFactors
HSBC's Alex Lowen receives award from SuccessFactors' Greg Tomb

HSBC took to the stage at SuccessConnect EMEA in London yesterday to talk about its recent and ongoing global roll-out of SAP SuccessFactors HCM and payroll. The banking giant brought the core EmployeeCentral HR system live in a single big-bang implementation in August last year to 275,000 employees and contractors across 65 countries. It quickly followed up with performance management and compensation and is now in a phased roll-out of payroll. That's historic, even in a bank that's more than 150 years old, says Alex Lowen, Group General Manager and Head of Group Performance, Reward, People Analytics and HR Transformation:

The scale and complexity means that it really is the largest transformation that's occurred ever in history.

The scale of the project has earned HSBC this year's Klaus Tschira HR Innovation Award, an annual award which commemorates the SAP co-founder's vision of helping organizations unleash the full potential of their employees. Last year's winner was pharma company Teva. Alongside the award, SAP is donating €10,000 ($11.2k) on behalf of HSBC to the National Autistic Society, the UK’s leading charity for autistic people and their families.

Last year's big roll-out was the culmination of an HR transformation journey at HSBC that began in 2015. The first module to be deployed was learning management, which enabled HSBC to bring all of its training content online. A pilot of succession management came next. The experience of going live with those two parts of the system provided a lot of learning that the team was able to take forward to the larger project, says Lowen.

Achieving global consistency

The goal was to standardize and simplify HR processes across the global organization to bring them in line with the expectations of the digital consumer, he explains:

We started from the premise that we wanted to make HR simple, we wanted to make things consistent. So we redesigned all of our processes, all of our policies. We made them more global.

That's a huge amount of effort at first. Effectively to simplify what we have and what we do, to allow us to focus on the things that are going to become more important in the future.

Achieving that global consistency was a painstaking process that started with a central group looking at best practice and approaches across the global organization. They then took the results out to the bank's major markets to work with teams there:

We literally sat in rooms for weeks, until we decided the best way to do something. It was fascinating in terms of how that worked. Take a country like China, where we've got multiple entities, obviously a very different culture. The view was, as we went in with the global design, 'That really won't work in China.' And by the time we left the room, two to three weeks later, everyone was very excited about the change.

Taking that time with the various local teams was crucial to the ultimate success of the project, believes Lowen:

I think it's time, and it's not trying to rush it, and it is engaging people and making them feel involved in that process — not to impose something but engage and do it together.

I think that was a big part of the success, which has then made it easier when we came to roll things out. People had already been involved and they helped us design it, so from that perspective, they felt bought into it.

Analytics, returnity and being brave

After bringing the core HR system live last August, performance management was next to roll out, one month ahead of the annual review cycle. Compensation followed, with fixed and variable pay processes, through the end of the year. The first quarter this year saw the introduction of goal setting. Next up was payroll, starting with Middle East and North Africa, and then last month, the UK, which of course is one of the largest payroll instances. The relief at getting to this point is palpable:

We're very happy with where we are and we're very excited now — happy to be on the other side of that — to think about the future and what we can now do with what we have.

There's a lot of potential around analytics, he believes, and the team is also looking more holistically at end-to-end processes, such as 'returnity' — when employees take parental leave and then come back after an absence:

It starts from the employee through the manager, through to what you do when someone's out of the office. How do you return successfully? How do we think about that full journey and the communication of that best practice?

So there's a huge amount still left to do and I think there's constantly going to be a pull on each arm in terms of supporting the business to help with these types of problems and solve them.

Lowen ended with some words of advice for anyone else contemplating a large-scale transformation:

Be brave. These programs are enormous, they're very scary as you start them. We had lots of conversations with our management board. We got time with them on a regular basis to talk to them about what we're doing, why we're doing it, the risks of doing it, the benefits of doing it, what it means for the future.

We had moments where we wobbled, but we kept going and kept talking to them about it. I just think [it's about] having that confidence, being brave, maintaining the conversation. You've got to have sponsorship and leadership in order to drive change this big, I think that's really important.

My take

Over the years we've had quite a few conversations with HSBC about various transformation projects, such as how it creates new digital banking solutions, the automation of paper-based processes, its plans to build new cloud-native banking applications, and move back-office systems to the cloud. There's obviously a lot going on at the bank, and this HR transformation illustrates the scale of change that's being undertaken.

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