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Human Capital Management

Persistence of Vision

Smart HR IT brings new insights to age-old HR challenges.

by Aaron Lazenby

February 2015

In the age of digital disruption, there’s plenty to distract executives from their core mission. Chief human resource officers (CHROs) are no exception; new technologies (such as big data analytics, social recruiting, and gamification) have the potential to transform the people function. But executives have to balance the adoption of new technologies with the demands of maintaining the current business.

For Joyce Westerdahl, CHRO at Oracle, the key is keeping her eye on the business. “Stay absolutely focused on what’s happening at your own company and in your own industry,” she says. Here, Westerdahl talks to Profit about how she assesses her department’s technology needs, how she approaches new IT trends, and what HR managers should be paying attention to in order to succeed.

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Profit: What drives Oracle’s talent management strategy?

Westerdahl: Our main focus is to make Oracle a destination employer. We want this to be a place where people can grow their careers; a place where employees are challenged but have the support they need to get the job done. And we want our employees to stay—for the sake of their own professional development and the growth of the company. Having the right technology in place—to automate processes, improve the employee experience, and add new insights—is a key part of how we make that possible.

But when I look at the talent management challenges we face at Oracle, for example, I don’t think things have changed that much in the past 20 years. There has always been a war for talent. Even during tough recessions, we are always competing for top talent. We are always looking for better ways to recruit the right people. What have changed are the tools we have at our disposal for finding and engaging them.

Profit: How has Oracle’s HR strategy influenced the products the company creates?

Westerdahl: Our acquisition journey has created an incredibly diverse environment, from both a talent and a technology perspective. When we add companies with different business models, platforms, and cultures to the Oracle family, we have a unique opportunity to learn about other businesses from the inside and translate that into new product functionality. Integrating and onboarding acquired employees and transitioning the HR processes and technologies becomes a stream of knowledge, best practices, and requirements that feeds into product development.

When I look back at two of our key acquisitions—PeopleSoft in 2005 and Sun in 2010—I am reminded of how big a difference technology can make in HR’s ability to support a robust acquisition strategy. The offer process is complex and critical in an acquisition. With PeopleSoft, we created 7,500 US paper offer packages for new employees and loaded them onto FedEx trucks for distribution. It was a resource- and time-intensive, manual process that took three weeks. Five years later when we acquired Sun, we used technology to automate the process and it took less than an hour to generate more than 11,000 US offers. We were able to generate and distribute offers and receive acceptances in about a week.

We are always looking for better ways to recruit the right people. What have changed are the tools we have at our disposal for finding and engaging them.”

Profit: How are trends like big data affecting HR?

Westerdahl: The volume of new HR data has become astounding over the past couple years. Being able to harness and leverage data is critical to HR’s ability to add strategic business value. When we develop an analytics strategy for Oracle HR, we start with a strategy around what the business wants to achieve. Then we translate that into data requirements and measures: What do we need to know? How can we measure our efforts to make sure we’re on track? What are the key trend indicators, and what is the process for translating the data into actionable HR efforts?

There is tremendous value in being able to use data to improve the employee experience so we can attract, engage, and develop the right talent for our business. For example, an employee engagement survey we conducted revealed that new employees were having a hard time onboarding at Oracle. We could also see this reflected in data that measures time to productivity for new employees. But with the survey, we had another measure that showed us not only the productivity aspect but also the employee frustration aspect. It’s a richer view of the problem, which helped us shape the right solution.

Profit: What do you think HR managers can learn from Oracle’s experience?

Westerdahl: I think the challenges HR faces are mostly the same as they always have been: how to recruit the best talent, how to onboard recruits when we are growing quickly, and how to retain and develop employees. But now technology supports new ways of doing things, so you have to decide how to use IT to solve these age-old HR challenges within your business. The key is turning things upside down and viewing things from a fresh perspective. There is no one-size-fits-all approach.

Photography by Shutterstock