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Four Seasons and Workday: Managing Talent Worldwide

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Tuesday, November 1, 2011
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A global hospitality company with a world-class brand. A bench of management talent that is the envy of the industry. Fifty-five hotels in development. And 50 different HR systems.

That's what started the conversation between Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, and Workday.

"Talent management is the real business of Four Seasons," says Mary Sullivan, vice president of corporate human resources. "We have two sources of competitive advantage: our brand and our people."

"When we go into a new location," she says, "it's vital that we bring our service culture with us. That's the most important thing we deliver to our clients, and so we need to be able to mobilize our talent around the world to provide it."

Critical Issue for Rapid Growth

But keeping track of this premium pool of talent was not easy with a tangle of disparate HR point solutions.

"We lacked visibility into our talent around the world," Sullivan says. "It would take us an enormous amount of time to aggregate information, from the simplest things, like how many people work for us, to complex things, like what we are doing to manage talent."

These information gaps were becoming major barriers as the company made plans to expand. With 55 hotels in development, the company needed to know what its critical talent needs would be in the future and what preparations needed to be made now.

And how did Workday enter the picture? "I started to hear a lot more about Workday in the press," Sullivan says. "But we honestly didn't think, at first, [that Workday's Human-Capital Management and Talent-Management solutions] would work for us. It seemed almost too simplistic to deal with our organization, operating in 35 different countries, with very different rules around the world.

"But ultimately we all came to the conclusion that this was absolutely the best solution for us," she says. "This is a nontechnical way to describe it, but it's light. There's no infrastructure -- servers and so on -- that comes with an enterprise system. It's very easily accessible from wherever you are. And it's flexible."

Workday's "lightness" comes from its cloud-based technology, which provides enterprise-class operations without the weight of on-premises solutions.

Because the company was burdened with multiple HR systems, a key aspect of its decision to move to Workday was the simplicity of having everything together in one system -- human resource management and talent management. "Having it all together in one place is very important so we have the ability to predict what's coming," Sullivan says.

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Because Four Seasons employees travel extensively, Sullivan is especially pleased with the Workday iPad application. She thinks it will provide new accessibility into the system for executives on the move.

"They can study up on the hotel they're going to next," she says. "It's incredibly easy to use and it's in a format that's going to be most effective for them. "

Four Seasons believes that technology should be easy, both for its guests and its employees. "We use in-room technology sparingly, just to the extent that it makes life easier for our guests," Sullivan says. "We want it to be apparent how to use it, and it has to be useful to them.

"The same is true for our employees," she adds. "Technology has to be easy. It has to allow them to focus on the thing that's most important to them. For employees, it's about 'How do I get out from under all of this administrative burden and make our guests the happiest they can possibly be and give them an experience that's going to be the memory of a lifetime?' "

HIGHLIGHTS

Organization: Four Seasons

Headquarters: Toronto

Primary Business: Manages 84 hotel properties in 34 countries around the world.

HR Technology Challenge: Four Seasons needed to find a talent-management system that could help it navigate its extensive global reach and bench strength, and pull disparate HR systems into one central system, yet still maintain the user-friendliness and simplicity it is known for.

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