Karie Willyerd was in a pickle. The general manager, executive and leadership development, for H.J. Heinz in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, had to present her succession suggestions to the CEO in January. She just signed an outsourcing agreement in December. Could the provider meet her inexorable deadline?
With today’s world moving at Web speed, requests like Willyerd’s are becoming the rule rather than the exception. To paraphrase Anthony Hopkins in MI:2, outsourcing providers today have to transform a mission impossible into a mission tough but doable.
Willyerd’s job is to identify leadership in her organization. She brokers positions, ferreting out the right people to fill empty executive slots. She is on a star quest for Star Kist, a Heinz brand. To do her job, she has to know the skill sets of the players. She has to be able to point out the heavy weights at Weight Watchers, another Heinz brand. When she joined Heinz a year ago, it had no enterprise-wide applications to help her do this.
The company felt it was necessary to accumulate this knowledge because Heinz was a company that took its slogan of 57 varieties seriously. The corporation typically purchased companies throughout the world, leaving its leadership in place. Now the home office wanted to know the strengths of its players in a search for synergies.
One of her first decisions after joining Heinz was to decide whether she should build her own department or outsource the task. The first consideration was staffing. Willyerd had come from a Lockheed Martin plant in Fort Worth, Texas, where she had 100 employees and contractors working for her; she knew first hand the pros and cons of being the boss. “You end up with people who were the right people at the time they were hired, but who, over time, don’t fit,” she explains. “That’s a difficult management position to be in.”
The Decision to Hire No Staff
In addition, she came to Pittsburgh to create a position that had never existed before. Her only staff member was her secretary. If she wanted to build her own staff, she probably would have needed more than nine lives to do it in a timely fashion. Willyerd felt outsourcing was the best option. “I decided I was only going to add staff as a last resort,” she says.
Her second consideration was technological. She had specific applications she wanted to use to get her job done. Could the Heinz infrastructure handle their operating requirements? After close examination, the answer was no. That meant a unanimous vote for outsourcing.
The search for a software solution provider began. Willyerd asked her peers at the American Society for Training and Development, where she sits on the board of directors, as well as fellow members of the International Society for Performance and Instruction how they kept track of their executives.
Willyerd says she heard the names of two outsourcing suppliers again and again. Trusting her colleagues, she immediately narrowed her search to those two vendors.
She called the suppliers to schedule a live demonstration in Pittsburgh. In addition to her boss, Willyerd invited a member of the IT group, an executive from the North American group and one of her peers to the presentations.
She selected HRSoft. “It was easy to decide. It wasn’t even a close tie,” says Willyerd. Because Heinz owns companies throughout the world, she knew the Web was the only way to distribute information around the globe with the click of a mouse. The application she wanted had to be a Web-based application. HRSoft, based in Morristown, New Jersey, was the only supplier that fit the bill.
One of the Fastest Implementations Ever
HRSoft’s applications had all the functions Heinz wanted plus “additional features we hadn’t thought of that we realized would be beneficial,” says Willyerd. One of the bonus features was the ability to create an organization chart.
By the time Willyerd had signed an outsourcing contract, it was December, 1999. But she needed a world wide roll out the next month. “This was one of the fastest implementations ever,” she reports.
The first step was to send an email to every manager to ask them to collect specific data. “I needed this information whether the system went live on time or not. My time frame was not going to change,” she explains.† However, if the system was not up and running, Willyerd knew she would miss a whole year before the next planning season began.
HRSoft installed its ExecuTRACK program, which supports succession management and leadership development at Heinz. At first, the backend database couldn’t handle Heinz’s larger than anticipated volume, which crashed the system. HRSoft upgraded the database, solving the problem.
Remarkably, she was able to present her succession plans to the CEO using the provider’s software at the January meeting. “We would have had zero chance of getting this done internally in two months,” she observes.
Since Willyerd could only provide limited training for ETWeb, the Web-enabled version of ExecuTRACK, she suggested her managers call HRSoft’s help desk. Sometimes the managers couldn’t get help because the help desk was closed when their businesses across the globe were open. Willyerd predicts “we will see more 24 hour help desks” as business becomes increasingly international.
Keys to Outsourcing Success
Willyerd says the outsourcing relationship is successful because both parties are “brutally honest” with each other. In addition, the outsourcing provider has taken a personal interest in the relationship. Willyerd says it’s unusual for the provider’s salesperson to make sure she is happy long after the sale has been consummated. If a problem arises, she calls both her sales contact as well as the head of the implementation crew. “I know I have a safety net. I have two routes to get a problem solved,” she says.
In hindsight, Willyerd says she was “too aggressive” on the implementation schedule. “I erred on the side of speed in every case,” she says. The executive realizes now she would have had more time for implementation if she had pushed harder to complete the contract cycle.
She is still amazed that the vendor met her mission impossible deadline. The $50K, three year contract is renewed annually.
Lessons from the Outsourcing Primer:
- If you have a fixed deadline that is rapidly approaching, negotiate the outsourcing contract in a timely fashion so there is more time for implementation.
- Consult your peers when searching for an outsourcing provider.
- If a buyer has worldwide users, make sure the help desk can answer call 24 hours a day.