The ambitious journey to modern HR - talking risk, retention, and SuccessFactors with Corning's Christy Pambianchi

Jon Reed Profile picture for user jreed November 29, 2017
Modern HR is a worthy goal, but for a company of Corning's scale, it's an ambitious undertaking. Corning Incorporated's Christy Pambianchi told me her secrets to strategic HR - and how her team pulled off a big bang SuccessFactors rollout this year.

For an enterprise scribe like me, there's a downside to a crazy conference season: a few stories slip through the plane seats. That holds true for this dandy interview I conducted with Christy Pambianchi, Senior Vice President, Human Resources at Corning Incorporated.

Fortunately for me, the views of Christy Pambianchi on modernizing HR, talent, and risk management are timeless. Pambianchi was a popular speaker at SuccessConnect 2017 Las Vegas, and for good reason: she's coming off a big bang SuccessFactors implementation, and able to speak to her company's impressively low 3 percent turnover rate.

For research positions, that number drops to 1 percent. Pambianchi:

We work really hard to keep our people. If I have a scientist resign, I have to explain to the CEO: how come we didn't keep them?

From snail mail to HR collaboration platforms

Corning's scale makes those retention stats more compelling. A manufacturer of glass, ceramics, and related materials, Corning now operates in 38 countries, with 70 manufacturing plants and 45,000 employees. They went live on an ambitious "big bang" SuccessFactors implementation last July.

SAP has talked about boardroom-of-the-future concepts for a while now - with HR earning a seat at the boardroom table. So how has Pambianchi achieved that type of relevance? How has HR changed on her watch?

When I started [my HR career] in June of 1990, there weren't computers, or LANs, on my desk. There were no cellphones. There was a mail bag; you got snail mail.

Fast forward to ubiquitous connections:

The evolution of email, and then texting, and then social media and collaboration platforms have made everything ubiquitous. That has a lot of impact on how people work together, and how talent, and the world of work, kind of come together. And that has had a profound impact on HR.

But even more important is what hasn't changed. People still need community - and purpose.

People still need, in a workplace environment, values - and ethical ways that they deal with one another. People want to feel like they belong to something, that their work is meaningful, and helps give them purpose.

Pambianchi says our tech needs to be balanced against that:

We need to balance how awesome the technology advancements are. We still need thought around human needs as well, like how does the technology enhance, but not replace all human contact.

Oh, and don't forget the non-negotiable matter of HR reliability:

They still need payroll processing. Everyone wants to be paid on time, and they want to make sure we honor our commitments.

The evolution of strategic HR at Corning

HR can't fulfill these roles if it isn't a strategic priority. So where is Corning on that journey? Pambianchi:

When I joined Corning, in 2000, the function was kind of a mixed bag. If there was credibility, it was sort of individual-based. There were pockets of respect for - or inclusion of - the HR function in business planning, and strategy, but over the 17 years, we've really changed that.

Today that's changed:

So I report to the CEO, I'm a member of the leadership team of the company, and on the growth council, where we look at and manage all of our growth programs. I work closely with the three operating segment heads, and the HR leaders that are on my team, dedicated to their businesses.

HR has to think differently:

We are constantly focused on: what is it the business needs? What is the business strategy? And then, what are the talent requirements to enable that strategy, and to enable Corning to be successful?

Pambianchi says that strategic HR has two key elements:

  • Business-driven - "HR has to be driven by the business. We need to really understand the business, and how the talent pools and operational systems need to work flawlessly."
  • World-class services - "We're a service function, and so we have to be world class at the services we deliver."

This isn't about an overnight proclamation that HR has a seat at the boardroom table. Earning the trust of the business takes time:

You gain, step by step, actual respect as being a credible partner. And so, I would say yes - we think that we've got a strong, strategic tie to the business.

But that doesn't mean it's all picnics and bonuses. Communication is a discipline, and problems do arise:

We're an engineering culture, so that makes it kind of safe to say: we're not perfect. Nobody's perfect. Our operations aren't perfect, so we ask constantly, "How can we be better?"

Turn negative feedback into a dialogue:

Instead of "X, Y, or Z stinks," or "The HR department, fill in the blank with negative comments about HR," I like to say, "Okay. I can't do much with that. So what specific process, product, capability, are we not delivering, that is failing to meet your needs, and let's attack that together, because we're all on the same team?"

The HR tech push - why SuccessFactors?

Technology factors in also. Prior to SuccessFactors, Corning was running an on-premise HR system they put in between 2003 and 2005. The system's limitations were exposed by modern HR needs:

In our old HR system, we had a Cognos database. Maybe four of my top HRIS folks could use it. It was never something that became was usable by the masses.

Reporting was limited and cumbersome. The older system did have one virtue: broad HR functionality. So when Pambianchi's team went with SuccessFactors, they went for just about the whole suite, big bang style. That means everything from Employee Central to Compensation Management to Succession Planning.

A big bang project brings risks of its own:

I don't have the luxury of putting one thing in the cloud at a time, which is what a lot of on-prem customers are doing... Believe me, if I had that luxury, I would've done it, because the risk I took on was quite significant.

Pambianchi's team mitigated that risk with heavy testing and interface prep. In August of 2016, they ran 7,000 test scripts, which led into defect resolution through the end of the year. Meanwhile, programmers were developing needed interfaces, which also needed testing. May and June 2017 were taken up with mock data loads, then system integration testing. Then the go-live in July 2017.

To avoid the kind of problem Corning ran into with a supply chain project, they also had a complete rollback plan:

The other interesting thing we did is we built a complete rollback plan, because of the big bang. So, we did dual entry into our on-prem system for four weeks, until we ran all payrolls worldwide, successfully, from a SuccessFactor feed. And then on August 4th, 2017, we made the decision to cut off, and officially roll over.

Pambianchi credits their partnership with SAP for pulling off this ambitious go-live:

The SAP chief customer office were great. They brought in, at no cost to us, a full quality assessment. They came in last September and October (2016), and then they stayed with us, doing check ins the whole time, on our weekly steering committee calls. And then I said, "Hey. Do me a favor. We're going to flip the switch. Give me one last look." And they said, "You have turned over every rock of what could possibly go wrong."

So the switch was flipped. And when I talked with Pambianchi, it was so far, so good. There was work ahead, with a focus on stabilizing systems, moving to a new outsourced payroll provider, and putting in an HR operations team that will manage the SuccessFactors upgrades.

One thing that hasn't been an issue: training. Though Pambianchi's team put together a comprehensive SuccessFactors training program, for some roles, no training at all is needed:

We have not done any training for line managers, or employees. The product is so intuitive.

There are some big changes, but mostly the kind that excites users:

If you're going from something you can only access on your desktop, something that looks like it's straight out of the '70s, to the most recent version of SuccessFactors, and mobile, it's a huge change. And people are really excited about it.

The wrap - early HR analytics results and next steps

It was too early after go-live to talk about business ROI. But Pambianchi has already seen analytics and efficiency gains:

We deploy position management, globally, for all payrolls. That's really where you get a lot of the downstream analytic capabilities, and a lot of the work efficiencies, because you set up a job, or a position, in the system, and you assign all of the normal attributes to it... Now you can drag and drop, and do in one action, what might've taken somebody 17 or 18 steps before, where they had to enter codes, and make errors, and now it's dropped down, and you set the positions up, and then you drag and drop people in and out.

Improved data visibility will lead to more analytics projects, which users are vocalizing:

We're doing daily calls with the HR community, and they're screaming now for, "Give us more training on how to use the data analytics capability."

With those priorities, no surprise to hear SuccessFactors Workforce Analytics is on deck, it's "just a matter of timing." Add Jam for collaboration to the wish list as well. I suspect the bigger post-live benefits are still ahead, so I'll make a point of checking back on this one.


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