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Workday Rising '23 - Whole Foods Market tastes success with Workday Finance, over a decade on from HCM

Stuart Lauchlan Profile picture for user slauchlan September 28, 2023
Whole Foods Market has been a long time user of Workday for HCM. Now its finance function has moved onto the same platform for enterprise transformation.

Whole Foods

Whole Foods Market is an iconic retailer with over 500 outlets in the US, Canada and the UK, employing over 91,000 people. It’s also had a relationship with Workday that dates back over a decade, when the company found itself in what Mike Hill, Senior Leader for Workday Technology Services at the firm, calls “a real pivotal place”. He recalls: 

We had an old [HR] system that we were managing that just didn't have enough functionality for us. We had separate systems for UK and Canada locations. So we were really looking for a system that was going to be sustainable, reduce the maintenance, get good functionality out to the locations. We used to get stacks and stacks of paper that were filed, that were faxed in, and our HR side would just key them all in. There was definitely an opportunity to cut that waste.

There was also a high level of customization of systems going on. What was needed was a more standardized approach, one that didn’t involve the manual effort that the existing systems required. The firm went live initially with Workday for HCM in the UK and Canada, explains Hill: 

It was definitely a learning process. I think going live with Canada and UK first allowed us to get in front of some of those things we were going to run into with the US. And, yeah, there were some things that we didn't do right, but by that time we were able to kind of pivot and make sure that the US was [ready]. But for the first time we actually started having all of our team members in one system. That laid the groundwork for us going forward.

Other lessons learned during that initial HCM rollout included using Workday as it’s designed as your first - and second - pass, adds Josh Wiggins, Whole Foods Executive Leader for HRIS: 

A lot of times when we rolled out things like recruiting, we looked at our process exactly as it was, before we even started with Workday, and we tried to build that into the system. Since then we've been over and over, trying to get that closer and closer to industry best practice. You save yourself so much pain and heartache by doing it right the first time. 

Another [thing] we learned was, initially we had a very decentralized group. We essentially had 12 processes for 12 disparate groups, and you try to build something that works for everybody. Take the opportunity to really look at your processes, make them work first, and then build that into the system so it really works well for every group.


Flash forward to the present day and Whole Foods has expanded its use of Workday to include Finance as part of a push to drive enterprise-wide transformation. Christina Jackson, the retailer’s Executive Leader, Fin Tech & Innovations, says there were takeaways from the HCM learnings that were useful to emulate: 

We wanted to give our users the same experience they were already accustomed to with our HCM modules, in hopes that we would increase user adoption quickly while reducing our change management efforts.

The Finance journey began in 2019 with the rollout of Adaptive Planning, shortly followed by General Ledger and Prism Analytics, she recalls: 

We rolled out an entirely new financial data model to the organization and we let our users learn and understand what value this data model could bring to the company, while in parallel we were planning for our Big Bang rollout that took place in April of this year.

And the bang was indeed big. In April 2023, Whole Foods went live with Banking and Settlements, Assets, Projects, Accounts Receivable, Accounts Payable, Supplier Portal and Accounting Center. Six months on, the user experience has been very positive and efficiencies are being seen, says Jackson, although inevitably there are things that the team would do differently with the benefit of hindsight: 

First and foremost, if you are going full platform, make sure that your team members on the HCM side, the Adaptive side, and your tech teams are all part of your core project and also on your steering committee. The decisions you're making impact the entire platform now, so it's important to have them as part of your governance team.

Think about your data conversion strategy, she advises: 

Only bring over data that you absolutely need to run your operations. Bringing over too much data can complicate and slow things down, especially during your cutover process. 

And keep an eye on your spend categories, she urges: 

Spend categories can be a new way of working for your organization. It has cross-functional impacts. So, bring everybody to the table whenever you're designing them, and ask your implementation partners, 'What does good look like?'. What is good in your industry when it comes to spend categories? You can, again, over-complicate it. I would recommend to start smaller and build on it. It's much easier to bring more into your platform versus going live with a lot and trying to roll it back.

One final piece of advice - don’t underestimate what you’re trying to achieve, says Jackson: 

These programs take a long time. Our journey, personally, has been two years just to get Finance deployed. Implementation fatigue is real, so be good to your people. Without your people you don't have a project, you don't have a go live, or you often have delays. So, budget money early for rewards and recognition, tie those to design session milestones or testing milestone completions, but celebrate your wins because it is a long journey.

Next up

So what’s next for Whole Foods and Workday? Hill says it’s about building off of the full platform: 

We've now got HR and Finance on there, so it's really about marrying that together and getting the best of both worlds for data and being able to leverage a lot of the stuff that is in between those.

For Jackson, she’s conscious that Finance is still “new out of the gate”, so there’s a short term focus on stablizing and growing the operating model. But there are plans ahead: 

Something we did differently during our journey is we built an agile product management team into the business, which is able to partner with the business and tech, release enhancements faster, and really bring a strong structure. We'll continue to grow that.

There’s also a desire to move further away from being transactional and more towards shaping a strategic data-driven culture, she adds: 

To do that, we're going to move our data model upstream into our source system. We've a lot of feeder systems coming into Workday Finance. We made some sacrifices during go-live and we had to cut some scope. We're going to re-focus there and re-set. Bringing that data model upstream is going to help our users really understand the way we want to run as a company and drive that financial accountability. 

There’s lots of opportunity out there, concludes Wiggins, now that everyone is on the same system: 

Even in a perfect world, getting beyond just thinking about retention data, and thinking, 'Hey, if we pilot this learning program in these five stores, and we turn $10,000 into $100,000, and we can see that all in Workday' -  that's a game changer.

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