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An unreasonable woman - an HCM lesson in breaking Oracle's toys

Jessica Twentyman Profile picture for user jtwentyman October 5, 2014
Silicon Image scrapped traditional performance management to link goals and compensation more directly - and ‘broke’ Oracle Fusion HCM in the process.

This is about an exercise in unreasonableness.

It's a blunt declaration from Nancy Hauge, vice president of global human resources at semiconductor company Silicon Image.

Nancy Hauge

She's talking about how the Sunnyvale, California-based company came to implement cloud-based applications from Oracle Fusion HCM - but, in reality, there’s way more to this story than that.

For a start, it’s the account of how a straight-talking human resources (HR) head managed to scrap traditional performance management processes at their organisation. That’s the kind of step that many HR professionals would love to take, but wouldn’t dare.

Hauge, however, is clearly not your average HR head: a very early Sun Microsystems employee, a veteran of five IPOs and the author of the irreverently named ‘Consulting Adult’ blog, she’s clearly a person capable of fighting her own corner effectively, but with great humour and charm.

At the same time, it’s also the tale of how HR and IT professionals worked successfully together to take a cloud-based product and so entirely reconfigure it to suit their purposes that Hauge told Oracle execs upfront:

We’re going to take your brand new toy and break it.

But first, let’s rewind to May 2012, when Hauge first joined Silicon Image, inventor and manufacturer of technologies that allow devices such as televisions, PCs and smartphones to handle high-definition content.

What she found there, she says, was a bunch of management practices that hadn’t changed much since the company was founded almost 20 years earlier. The situation put her in mind of a quote by George Bernard Shaw:

The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.

At Silicon Image, progress was needed in HR and Hauge decided to take what to many might appear an unreasonable path. As she puts it:

We needed to be unreasonable. A pivotal moment came when I sat down and said, ‘I don’t care about performance management. I couldn’t care less. It’s the most colossal waste of management time and we’re not doing it'.

Instead, what she had in mind was an approach that more directly linked the attainment of specific goals by individual employees with their salaries, bonuses and equity.

The new stack

Working closely with Silicon Image’s senior director of IT Shahab Muhammad, the HR team was able to identify software they could use to implement the process they had in mind. The Oracle Fusion HCM modules they settled on were: Goals Management, Talent Review and Compensation Workbench.

The new process, meanwhile, works like this: Goals Management is used to set and manage quarterly employee goals and measure their attainment. Every July, it feeds each employee’s annual goal completion percentages into the Talent Review Module.

There, this performance score is combined with a manager’s ratings of the employee’s potential (judged by less tangible but still important measures as initiative, ambition, reliability, attitude and so on), to give an overall Talent Review score.

By plotting Talent Review scores for the whole workforce on a 9-box grid, where the x-axis represents performance and the y-axis represents potential, HR is able to get an overview of where everyone stands in relation to their colleagues. Silicon Image’s high-performing stars will appear in the upper-right quadrant, while those facing a swift departure will feature in the lower-left quadrant.

Talent Review scores are then routed to the Compensation Workbench, where salaries are calculated, based on the employee’s Talent Review score and their position in their salary grade range. Bonuses, meanwhile, are calculated twice yearly in Compensation Workbench, from information that comes directly from Goals Management.

Not the way it's supposed to be

But, says Hauge, this process is a far cry from how Oracle intended these modules to be used:

What did we do that the systems weren’t designed to do? Everything. Goals Management wasn’t designed to talk to Talent Review, and Talent Review wasn’t designed to talk to Compensation Workbench. The integration work that needed to be done was a Herculean effort.

That’s why any HR head looking to emulate this approach, she says, “needs to have a best friend in IT.” She also praises Silicon Image’s systems integration partner, Intelenex, for going the extra mile on this project. Both the internal IT department and Intelenex’s consultants, joined in with the process of ‘what if’. Hauge says:

They were willing to sit down and really think in new ways about how these three cogs that make the system work could be brought together.

The resulting system, which went live in the last month, is unorthodox, maybe, but it works for Silicon Image.

That makes sense, given that unconventional thinking among gifted but non-conformist personalities (in other words, engineers) is something that has been unlocking new inventions at the company for over two decades.

Sometimes, it’s the seemingly ‘unreasonable’ path that takes you to the most interesting destination.

Disclosure: at time of writing, Oracle is a premier partner of diginomica. 

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