Your performance evaluation courtesy of Siri - one more thing in the University of Minnesota Physicians' Workday

Den Howlett Profile picture for user gonzodaddy April 17, 2018
The University of Minnesota Physicians has scored big wins with Workday but it is attention to detail where users see the most benefit.

university of minnesota
Last week during the analyst tech summit, Workday CEO Aneel Bhusri was quoted as saying:

I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself, but I think you’re going to start seeing more and more of the companies talking about success, not just choosing Workday. That’s where the rubber meets the road and that’s where it took off on the HR side, when customers started saying, ‘Hey it’s not just that we bought the product, it’s working for us and it’s working really well.’

It's a prescient remark.

As I was considering a recent conversation I had with Nickolas Nyhus, VP of HR at the University of Minnesota Physicians, I was struck by the rich trove of information that customers are willing to put into the public domain.

Twenty years ago, the format for a case study followed a predictable pattern: what's your problem? how did you solve it? what was the outcome? and what are the lessons for others following in your footsteps?

We live in an era of technological change and so to the above list of questions, we can now add - what things are you doing that you could not do before?

Making HR a servant of the business

As background, Nyhus has more than 25 years' experience in HR and had recently come off a PeopleSoft implementation when he started the Workday project.

My biggest issue with HR and HR systems is that it makes life easier for HR, but it doesn't always make life easier for the employee. The employee doesn't come to work all excited to log in to the HR system. The employee comes to work to do their job. I wanted a system that makes it easy for employees to do the punch in, punch out stuff while giving leaders better decision-making tools. And I wanted a system that could do all of that, compared to a bunch of different systems. That's why I wanted Workday.

In this case, the university was replacing five major systems, none of which were well integrated and where the potential for error was too great. In short, the university had followed the classical technology acquisition path of acquiring a series of best of breed apps and then tried to make them work together. That was no longer a 'fit for purpose' approach.

Fast track implementation

The Workday implementation followed a path we increasingly see among cloud solutions. Early in the cycle, the implementation team worked with real data and with end users rather than spend time designing the system in isolation and only involving users at the end of the project.

This has many advantages, not least the fact that users become acclimated as to what they can expect, plus have a strong voice in what is delivered. Nyhus operated an iterative approach that allowed them to quickly go live with functional modules.

We went live with Core HR and Payroll in exactly six months. Three months after that, we went live with recruiting. Three months after that, we went live with performance management and compensation processes. And then, within about six months after that, we went live with learning, and now actually, we're getting ready to go live with expense management. So, in a two-year time span, we went live very quickly with a lot of things. And with very little interruptions.

To give an indication of scale, the Workday system covers around 3,000 people. Like many other universities, its employees come from both direct and contract sources but in addition, 900 of the 1,100  physicians are also dually employed by multiple universities. So Nyhus needed a system that handles a complex retirement program and complex pay conditions.

The Power of One

Workday talks a great deal about The Power Of One, an expression that describes an object model that allows for the single entry of data that proliferates to where it is needed. Nyhus describes some of the scenarios where this gives a distinct advantage over other systems:

We were able to finally use physician management and get really good recruiting metrics without having to do a bunch of manual calculations. Once a leader identifies they have a job opening, if it's filling a vacancy when another person leaves, the system asks, "Are you refilling this job?" And if yes, click the box that says "Yes", and it pre-fills the job profile from the previous incumbent. That cuts down all of that administrative time from the leader's standpoint. If it's a new job, you just input the core things one time for that job one time only.

Probably one of our biggest enhancements was onboarding. We keep what I call people "warm along the lake", so once they accept our offer, we drip them information through the onboarding tool that gives them a welcome video and then on to things like, "Give us your social security number." That way, we keep them engaged all the way up to their start date.

Today, the employee experience is a critical part of retention and here, Nyhus says that Workday's mobile UX has been a winner, drawing the most positive feedback because it means that people can get things done - consume learning for example - without being tied to a desk. He sums it up this way:

It's easy, it's convenient and users love it.

You don't hear that said too often about HR systems but how did Nyhus achieve that level of acceptance?

We've really paid attention to the needs of our employee types. Our physicians use it, which is kind of rare in the industry. So as an example, I had a physician that needed to sign up for some training. I showed her how to sign in to the mobile app, hit the 'learning' icon, and find what she needed in two minutes.

What about the role HR now plays in the organization? According to Nyhus, the HR business partners do their jobs differently because the leaders have more access to data. The HR business partners now spend their time helping the leaders interpret and analyze the people data rather than getting mired in the transaction data.

In addition, C-level executives have direct access to the information they need, without having to call someone up to prepare a report or develop spreadsheets. Those are considered big wins for HR and the business as a whole. But it is in the attention to detail where Workday scores best:

Our COO, she uses the mobile app all the time. When she's getting ready to go into a meeting, and she's never met the person before, she can go into the mobile app, look at the person's photo, get a quick history of how long they've been with the company and what they do. So then she starts having a more engaged meeting that way. It's way better than going in cold and doing the classic round of introductions.

The coolness of voice

We hear a lot of talk about voice-enabled applications but very little by way of real-world usage. Here, the University is different. Leaders can speak into the mobile app and have it run a speech to text application. Users can then edit before finalizing the evaluation. This makes performance evaluation much easier, allowing users to create evaluations that are current.

One of our leaders figured this out for herself while exploring the mobile app on iPhone. She was like "Wow, Siri can do this! I can do this while on the go."

Advice for others

As we started to close out our call, I asked Nyhus for his advice to others considering a Workday implementation.

  • Put the end user at the center of the implementation and not as an afterthought. Early involvement and buy-in are essential to success. That means making sure HR is a servant of the business and not the other way around. But make sure that HR understands the system because they will be handling the six-monthly upgrade cycle rather than IT.
  • Ensure you have an implementer that has a thorough understanding of the entire Workday suite because it is important to understand what happens downstream as you add functionality to the single object model.
  • Get IT involved where they add value. An example might be in writing interfaces to other applications. Another will be organizing the data for transfer to the Workday system.
  • Under promise and over deliver. It is easy to get excited about new systems, declaring them to be the best thing ever but you still have to deliver on your promise.
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