Lessons from the Best

Bersin by Deloitte competition recognizes innovation and excellence across all spectrums of HR.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014
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The business world is entering a period of recovery, renewal, growth and -- ultimately -- innovation. New growth creates new opportunities, but it also creates new challenges for HR and related functions.

As your business grows, so does your competitor's, creating accelerated competition for people, says David Mallon, head of research for Oakland, Calif.-based Bersin by Deloitte, Deloitte Consulting LLP. Success in this increasingly competitive marketplace, he says, requires organizations to become "talent magnets" and create steady pipelines of top people.

"This attraction should reach both outward and inward," says Mallon. "Externally, organizations need to focus on building and communicating a strong and relevant employment brand, and treating every employee as a brand ambassador. And we must 'make friends' with a steady supply of new talent long before we reach the recruiting and hiring stage."

Internally, he says, employers must continuously engage their people by creating meaningful, exciting and flexible work environments; giving people lateral and vertical career opportunities; and making sure management is focused on coaching and developing, not just performance.

Leading the charge to solve all of these challenges are the "dedicated, hard-working and passionate professionals in HR and related fields," Mallon says.

"These people play a critical role in their organizations' success," he says. "We are continually amazed by the commitment, effort and impact we see created by these folks every day. We are honored to have the chance to regularly engage with the HR community as part of our research. And we take very seriously our role in shining a light on their great work."

To that end, Mallon and his colleagues present their company's ninth annual Bersin by Deloitte WhatWorks ® Awards, recognizing innovation and excellence in critical areas across the spectrum of HR, learning, leadership and talent. (This is also the second annual publication of the awards in Human Resource Executive ®'s print publication as part of a media partnership between Bersin and HRE.)

"There are many good ideas out there," Mallon says, "but the practical constraints and challenges of the real world cause many of them to end up in the waste bin. Our research has always been designed to: 1) quickly and efficiently isolate those enduring practices and processes that bring continued, measurable value to an organization; and 2) distill from those practices and processes the common, repeatable steps that other organizations can take to derive similar success.

Although there are different categories in the contest, the common thread throughout is that each finalist demonstrates measurable real-world success. This year's categories include developing tomorrow's leaders, enabling high-impact learning, acquiring top talent, optimizing talent management and transforming HR.

Mallon says the program was highly competitive this year, made even more so by a few changes. Based on feedback from its members and larger readership, Bersin by Deloitte included external experts in the pool of judges this year, as well as a sample of the HR community at large. The judges included Bersin's research analysts, volunteer subject-matter experts from HRE and a number of member practitioner organizations. Selection criteria were based on years of Bersin research and submissions this year were made anonymous before being reviewed by the judges.

Each submitting company was asked three basic questions: What was the problem? What was the solution? What were the results? The benchmark criteria used to separate the best from many great submissions was, "A demonstrated proof of positive business impact based on the change, initiative, program or process improvement described in the submission." The judging pool scored each submission based on degree of difficulty, innovation in solution and results demonstrated.

Unlike in years past, this year's scores were used to identify one finalist per category. Each finalist was invited to present its submission at the Bersin by Deloitte's 2014 IMPACT: The Business of Talent conference in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., held March 31 through April 3. Of the five finalists, four presented their programs at the conference. The conference attendees then voted on which of the four finalists they believed to be the strongest, with Rackspace receiving the most votes.  

If you are interested in applying for a WhatWorks Award in 2015, watch for the call for applications in the summer of 2014. For more information and to review a research bulletin about Bersin's WhatWorks Awards Program, visit If you want to join the mailing list for updates on program news, events and deadlines, contact

Optimizing Talent Management

The notion that integrating the various talent-related process pillars within the organization is essential in order to meet today's talent challenges is now mainstream. How do the best organizations achieve real integration, finding the resulting value greater than just the sum of the parts? How are they increasing performance and productivity through end-to-end talent management?


A global leader in hybrid-cloud technology and founder of OpenStack ®, the open-source operating system for the cloud. Headquartered in San Antonio, Rackspace operates data centers on four continents and is featured on Fortune's list of 100 Best Companies to Work For. (new copy coming for this; will keep to word count)

The advent of cloud computing has created a wealth of new jobs worldwide that IT organizations are struggling to fill. A study conducted by the IDC and Microsoft predicts this number will grow to 7 million unfilled jobs by 2016. Finding and recruiting the individuals with these skill sets is costly. It costs Rackspace roughly $15,000 per hire to fill these technical positions. In many cases, these new hires then need further training before they are ready to support customers, increasing the cost. Rackspace has been hiring the best talent in its San Antonio home city for 15 years, but finding more is becoming increasingly difficult. This drives the recruiting cost up drastically and makes it difficult for Rackspace to live up to its commitment to support the local community. The bottom line is that there is a large skills gap, and this gap is even larger in Rackspace's home operation.

Rackspace launched the Open Cloud Academy in March 2013, based on the vision that it could build a local talent pipeline using the same internal training programs it uses for its employees' technical career development. This same content could be offered under a commercial model to non-employees interested in IT careers, creating a pipeline of local talent who could start working immediately with no additional recruiting cost and with skills cultivated in an environment mirroring Rackspace's internal culture. The goal is to use the Academy in downtown San Antonio to farm local talent for entry and mid-level technical positions, while continuing to hunt for higher-level positions. After first using hiring needs to identify key roles and skills needed, and to build out the related training curricula, Rackspace then met with local government officials to share visions and request support. It also established partnerships with local workforce-development organizations to provide tuition support and other services to students.

Since the launch, more than 100,000 visitors have checked out the website and more than 5,000 people have joined the Academy community. As of December 2013, 541 students have registered and started training. The first two programs were in Linux Systems Administration and Network Operations. So far, four cohorts, totaling 61 students, have graduated. Rackspace has hired 33 graduates. Its $3,500 tuition per student covers the cost of instruction, materials, IT certifications and parking. At the same time, roughly $495,000 of recruiting cost has been avoided. The company has also partnered with two separate workforce-development programs that provide tuition and support services such as transportation, rent assistance and childcare.

Developing Tomorrow's Leaders

A consistent, vexing challenge for all organizations revolves around developing the best leaders for tomorrow. How do the best organizations build better leaders to drive agility and growth, and ensure that the right leadership is in place now and in the future to execute and innovate?

Cisco Systems Inc.

An American multinational corporation headquartered in San Jose, Calif., that designs, manufactures and sells networking equipment.

Cisco's business environment is highly competitive and rapidly changing. Supporting a future that would look nothing like the past required a steady supply of agile, accountable business leaders. To build that supply, Cisco recognized it needed to target the largest group of managers in its business: experienced (middle) managers, who could communicate and execute the business strategy. Unfortunately, they had become so burdened with execution, they rarely raised their heads to see the broader opportunities in their role to drive business performance. They sometimes felt powerless because of the uncertainty, complexity and speed of the environment. There was little time or space for collaboration with peers in other functions. Lastly, Cisco's increasingly flatter structure meant their perspective on career growth needed to adjust from simply going up to moving horizontally and into specialist paths as well.

Launched in the fall of 2010, the Experienced Manager Series was designed for managers, with at least three years in their roles, to build on their management experience and add powerful and adaptive leadership competencies to their repertoires. Each year's program is revised slightly to ensure alignment with company messaging and direction. Participants come away with an "If it's to be, it starts with me" attitude and a set of practical leadership tools to unlock the potential of those around them and drive the company's differential in the market through innovation and rapid execution. The series starts with a multi-rater communication-style assessment and is closely followed by an in-person workshop, delivered at company sites around the world. The program also includes project work with real outcomes, other skills-building sessions, and dedicated coaching and mentoring time.

Ninety-two percent of graduates from the first two years of the program report being able to directly apply program learnings back on the job and 89 percent feel they have achieved improved business outcomes since their participation in the program. Graduates achieved a higher rate of promotion (26 percent of program graduates versus 19 percent for other managers) and nearly every graduate (95 percent) recommends the program to his or her peers. They also report a gain in productivity, revenue and work time.

Enabling High-Impact Learning

Both building talent from within and learning involve so much more than training. How do the best organizations develop talent and support learning in all its forms while building an effective, aligned learning function that drives measurable impact?

Genentech, A Member of the Roche Group

A biotechnology corporation founded in 1976 by venture capitalist Robert A. Swanson and biochemist Herbert Boyer, a pioneer in the field of recombinant DNA technology. The Swiss global healthcare company F. Hoffmann-La Roche AG now completely owns Genentech, after completing its purchase on March 26, 2009.

A global five-year Roche goal is to reach the highest category of employee engagement, as measured by its annual survey, by 2015. As of 2012, it was not there, and career opportunities, and learning and development, were key opportunities for improvement. Genentech uncovered four themes in the changing career needs of its employees. Those themes include support for their career development, beyond general learning and development resources; higher-quality career conversations between employees and their managers; more work and career flexibility; and ways to learn about different types of career opportunities. Genentech foresaw short-term flat growth with a potential explosion of product launches from 2013 to 2015. From a people perspective, this suggested opportunities to focus on role mastery, job-enrichment opportunities and lateral moves as opposed to promotions.

Genentech developed a career-development philosophy, Navigating Your Career Framework, informed by external best practices from career-development theory and benchmarking with other organizations. It implemented this philosophy along with a suite of career-development services intended to better retain and develop current and future employees. At the heart of this is the CareerLab, which offers career consultation, learning labs, mentoring and career assessments. Three career-development workshops were designed: Growing Your Career, Growing Careers for Managers and Personal Mastery. A CareerLab website was also created to provide online resources and tools.

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Results of a second employee-opinion survey, deployed after the launch of the CareerLab, showed an increase in the company's people focus, up by 17 percent, and career opportunities, up 30 percent, over the previous 18 months. For Growing Your Career, a follow-up questionnaire revealed: 95 percent explored more career opportunities, 92 percent are more engaged with the direction and advancement of their careers, 86 percent are more satisfied about the future of their careers and 80 percent report they are more productive in their current work. An impact study for Growing Careers for Managers showed similar results.

Acquiring Top Talent

Of course, not all talent can be developed from within, and the market for talent has never been more competitive and complex. How do the best organizations find and attract the best and brightest? How do they find, recruit and hire the top talent necessary to fuel growth and drive new business opportunity?

Tata Consultancy Services

An Indian multinational information-technology-services, business-process and consulting company headquartered in Mumbai, Maharashtra. TCS operates in 46 countries and has 199 branches across the world. It is a subsidiary of the Tata Group.

A significant portion of TCS's hiring comes directly from university campuses. There is intense competition within IT and across other sectors to hire the best recent-graduate talent, so it's vital that TCS be able to capture the mindshare of students from the most prestigious technical and management institutes (in India). Building a strong career brand on campus today requires customizing an approach to the preferences of today's students. Apart from being social-media savvy and highly networked, this latest generation is also used to having a wealth of choices and career opportunities. In this context, TCS felt it was important to connect with potential candidates through a medium suited to their preferences that would allow them to best showcase their abilities. TCS needed to create an exclusive channel designed to maintain a constant level of engagement with campus talent. The biggest challenge, however, was figuring out how to draw in the target audience and motivate them to actively participate.

The company launched its exclusive channel in the form of an online collaboration platform, Campus Commune, which engages and collaborates with students through the entire span of their academic life cycles using a game-driven model. Each student can cultivate his or her reputation through constant participation, ultimately allowing the best to be noticed. Different TCS business units have established target communities to engage students on their related opportunities. In order to attract students, TCS has hosted contests with attractive prizes using the latest technology. The contests then culminate in a grand finale in which the top select teams directly interact with the business units and the winners are then recruited. The business units remain engaged with the students after the contests as mentors.

Campus Commune now covers more than 1,000 institutions, includes more than 700 separate communities and has more than 300,000 active users. As of the date of submission for WhatWorks, TCS had held more than 10 contests, including for mobile apps, testing, coding and engineering design. Tata's overall talent pipeline has improved significantly as a result.

Transforming HR

As the winners in this category can attest, it is an extraordinary time to be involved in HR. The best organizations understand that people are the only truly appreciating assets. But how can HR reinvent itself as a source of agility and competitive differentiation? How is the HR function being transformed into a key contributor to business results?

ConAgra Foods

An American packaged foods company headquartered in Omaha, Neb. ConAgra makes and sells products under various brand names that are available in supermarkets, as well as restaurants and food-service establishments.

The HR team at ConAgra was faced with a reality shared by most large enterprises: Gaining actionable insights from their workforce data was a costly and cumbersome undertaking. Their workforce reports were numerous, manually created, prone to error and non-standard. Their HRIS was complex, with limited analytics capability. The process for getting analytics reports was also inefficient. Requests started with analysts, but the analysts often did not know the business or fully understand the nuances in the data they were pulling. The process was too slow to provide timely insights. So ConAgra began a journey to transform from an organization that based important people decisions on intuition to one that made decisions based on fact. However, the primary instigator had no support in terms of resources or budget. He needed to find a creative path to prove the value of analytics.

The journey started with the implementation of a custom-built analytics tool using existing business-intelligence tools that the company already owned. A small "skunkworks" team, operating without a budget, developed a self-service analytics system outside of business hours to get buy-in from HR and leadership, and to demonstrate the value of workforce analytics. However, the tool was not intuitive, required significant IT support to maintain and grow, and did not offer predictive capabilities. At the same time, workforce data was difficult to access, inconsistent and changing. ConAgra embarked on a significant review of workforce-analytics technologies -- including the capabilities of a new talent-management system it was in the process of implementing -- to find a solution that would transform the HR team's role from reactive to strategic. The team built a business case for a separate, specialist solution and demonstrated the savings it would provide, such as retaining at-risk top performers and implementing laser-focused initiatives to address workforce inefficiencies.

ConAgra worked with the vendor to implement the new platform in 30 days. The system leverages four years of company data history -- from multiple systems -- to provide answers to more than 300 workforce questions. Since rolling it out, the company has gained new insights into its people, from the macro to the micro level. For example, the company identified that it was achieving world-class results in top-talent retention. However, the solution helped predict a future problem: turnover was at risk of increasing among employees in the successor-level jobs. Similarly, the HR team members learned attrition was most at risk for people with a specific age, ethnicity, gender and tenure profiles, and could better focus retention efforts. The company is now implementing a new solution for workforce planning based on its analytics solution, and has the potential to save millions of dollars by improving its resource allocation by just 1 percent.


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