Roche and Workday on the Science Behind HR Transformation

Headquartered in Basel, Switzerland, pharmaceuticals and diagnostics company Roche is focused on advancing science to improve people’s lives. The Roche Group operates in over 100 countries and employs more than 94,000 people worldwide. With a rapidly changing business environment demanding more flexibility across systems and processes, the company’s leaders decided to launch a strategically important transformation in the HR space. Margaret Greenleaf, head of group HR strategic initiatives at Roche, spoke to me about the project and the organisation’s future HR management plans.

Roche is a huge, global organisation—can you give us an idea of how the business operates and how it manages such a complex HR landscape?

Margaret Greenleaf - Roche
Margaret Greenleaf

Employees are spread across the globe, with large, mid-sized, and small affiliates in every region. In the past, we dictated the timing and templates for our global HR processes centrally. We sent guidance to the affiliates about when to implement processes, where to capture data, and how to enter it into what system. But we realized this does not empower leaders, nor does it account for the variety of business needs and requirements across Roche. We want to help our managers and leaders to be able to decide what is important and what to focus on—this means a change in the way we approach HR.

From a day-to-day perspective, what HR challenges was Roche facing?

I think most organisations would point to similar challenges. These include getting complete, accurate data from legacy systems on a timely basis, thinking about how we work across multiple teams and locations, understanding the role HR plays in transforming culture, and setting expectations and building accountability in HR and in our managers. That also includes reinforcing and embedding change, which is becoming increasingly important.

Can you tell us about the decision to transform your HR processes and how that looked from an IT and a business perspective?

We took a decision to transform our HR processes into people practices that are business-centric. At the same time, we had a vision for our HR IT landscape that would provide a tool that is designed around the way people work. That meant we wanted a system that was easy-to-use and intuitive, mobile, cloud-based, and that could provide analytics-based insights and an ongoing ability to drive simplification. On top of those requirements, it had to support our move to our new people practices.

“Workday is an accelerator for our cultural transformation, not just a system deployment.”

You selected Workday to implement global HR processes. What exactly does the deployment include and how does that fit in with your broader IT infrastructure?

The deployment covered all global HR processes, including compensation, recruiting, talent and performance, reporting and data conversion, as well as employee life cycle events. Within our broader IT landscape, we required the implementation of middleware and integrations with legacy systems. And for the near term, we also required data maintenance to support local payroll, time management, and benefits across our biggest sites.

You talk about this not being an HR deployment project but a response to a business need. Can you tell us about that and how Workday fits into that outlook?

Workday is an accelerator for our cultural transformation, not just a system deployment. We are approaching our deployment differently by fully engaging with the organisation during all stages of the project, including the identification of the needs and design of the processes, as well as the system roll out. Ownership sits with the business—this is not an HR system deployment project. The process redesign and the configuration of Workday have been in response to business need. And the implementation is about transformation—in the way managers and employees interact, and the way managers and leaders lead their people. The introduction of Workday was one component of this transformation that has come towards the later stages.

How successful has the deployment been so far and what benefits are you seeing from Workday?

We are now through the initial stages of deployment and can see where we have opportunities to continue to drive process simplification, behavioural change, and adoption. We see the benefits for employees having the ability to drive their own growth and development in new ways—through connections and greater transparency in Workday. And, as the data builds in our system, we anticipate managers and HR being able to increase their level of independence through dashboards with greater accessibility to HR data and real-time data management. We are also looking forward to our first round of compensation reviews in Workday.

What advice would you give to other organisations considering moving their HR processes into the cloud?

Assess, understand, and explore Workday as much as possible before starting the journey.

They should also consider how ready HR is. The earlier the HR function is engaged, sees the system, and understands new ways of working, the better. If the deployment is global, then having local representation on the project team is absolutely key. I’d say it’s important to spend time ensuring design principles are understood and signed off by all key stakeholders. It will make design sign-off and decision-making faster in the long term. Finally, be agile and open to change, and ensure you set clear expectations across the business.