This case study introduces a new human resources director, who is responsible for developing a more strategic human resources function. As she begins in the role and starts to implement changes, she is facing many challenges and much resistance. The case study showcases the need for strong communication and change management when introducing both small and large changes within an organization. It also deepens the understanding of change management, the implementation process, and the behaviors and organizational factors required for success.
The Grant Corporation is a financial services firm based in Chicago, Illinois. Its revenue exceeded $1 billion last year, producing a net income of $530 million. It has just over 1,000 employees. Although the organization has been in business for almost 10 years, it has experienced rapid expansion in the past two years due to tremendous business growth and a merger with the Enelrad Group, another local firm. Managers have had difficulty keeping up with this growth, especially in the HR department, which has been stretched thin to keep up with staffing needs and other, mainly administrative, duties.
Six months ago, the CEO, Todd Jackson, recognized the need to expand the size and functionality of the HR department and hired Julia Woodland to be its director, reporting directly to him. This was a newly created position, and its incumbent would replace the HR administrator, who had previously reported to the VP of Finance and who decided to retire when the new HR position was announced.
When Woodland was hired, Jackson told her that she would have “full reign” to create a more strategically focused HR department that would be better equipped to handle the organization’s needs. She had quite a bit of experience at her previous company and was eager to take on the task.
Although the organization used advanced technology for its business applications, HR was still using a basic payroll processing software program and Excel spreadsheets to track various categories of employee information, including personal data, benefits enrollments, performance evaluation schedules, and compensation. All payroll and benefit information was manually entered into these respective systems, and much of the information had to be entered into multiple spreadsheets when there was a change. The department could not keep up with the information needsnew hires were getting paid incorrectly, or not at all. Benefits enrollments were delayed or contained mistakes, and performance evaluations and pay raises were late. The printed employee handbook, benefits binder, and orientation materials were in serious need of updating. In addition, the company had 16 open positions and stacks of resumes everywhere. It was no wonder that the HR administrator had decided to retire!
Julia Woodland spent long hours trying to determine what she could do to address the immediate and long-term concerns of her new department. She brought in a temporary employee to help her staff file, process paperwork, and enter data. She focused on hiring two higher-level HR representatives and a payroll clerk. She turned to a staffing agency to help the firm identify candidates for open positions, including those in HR. Finally, she proposed the purchase of an integrated payroll/HRIS that was capable of integrating with the finance department’s system as well as with the organization’s benefit and 401(k) providers’ systems. The proposed software solution also offered the option of a Web-based employee portal, which would allow employees to view information online and change their personal data. Jackson responded favorably and told her to “go ahead and do whatever she needed to do to fix the mess.” The next day, Woodland contracted with the HRIS provider.
Woodland spent the next week meeting with her new HRIS vendor representative to discuss the installation and implementation of the system. Because she was so overwhelmed and wanted to get the new system in as quickly as possible, she didn’t have time to discuss the project with her staff right away, but she knew that employees would be excited about the new system and the opportunities it would open up for them as the burden of administrative tasks eased. She closed her door during the meetings, so participants could concentrate. She wanted to be able to implement the system by January 1, so that the company’s year-end payroll data were accurate and managers could track other data on an annual basis with a full year of data. Since she had been through the process in the past and was familiar with such systems, she figured that she could manage the implementation with the help of IT and her staff as needed. She would make all key decisions to move the project along and meet her deadline.
The current HR staff consisted of an HR assistant and two generalists who seemed to function as clerks and recruiters. They had all been hired at the same time more than five years ago, when the HR administrator was the sole member of the department. They were very proud of how they had worked so hard together to build HR and keep up with the increasing demand. They were just getting used to working with Woodland but thought that she was very nice and had high hopes for the improvements and new strategic focus that she would help them implement. Day by day, the staff watched the vendor representative come and go, along with a parade of candidates sent over by the staffing agency to apply for the new HR positions. They soon began to wonder about all the changes that their new boss was making and what these changes would mean for them. They started making assumptions that had them very concerned.
Woodland contacted the IT director to tell him about the project. He expressed concern over the ability of the server to handle the new system and wondered how they would address firewall issues with the portal. Furthermore, all his staff members were tied up with a critical upgrade to the customer service system, which had caused more than its share of problems. He demanded to know why he and his staff had not been involved sooner and told her that it would be unlikely that they would be able to participate in the implementation or help her meet her deadline. Upset, she called Todd Jackson, who advised her not to worry about ithe would tell them to get it done.
When she contacted Finance to obtain information that the HRIS vendor needed to link the HRIS to that department’s system, the finance manager was more than willing to helpbut she did not know where to get the system information from and did not understand how the information would flow from one system to another. She asked why they couldn’t just keep the systems separate and enter the necessary data into the finance system from reports provided by HR. “That’s the way we’ve always done it,” she said. “It doesn’t take long, and it will be much simpler that way.”
In the meantime, morale was declining in HR. Whenever Woodland asked HR employees for information about payroll or their Excel spreadsheets, they seemed uneasy and never provided her with exactly what she was looking for. She didn’t understand their antiquated forms or their backward processes but decided she could fix those after the new system was in. Also, it felt like the rest of the company was suddenly treating her differently.
They had all made her feel so welcome six months ago when she came on board. Now, employees approached her with caution, and managers always seemed abrupt.
Julia Woodland began to wonder if this was the right role for her. Why were things so difficult? She thought that everyone would be thrilled about the new system and its efficiencies and would be eager to help. Was it her problem or theirs?
She thought that perhaps people didn’t realize the impact she was making in the organization. She decided to make an announcement about the exciting new system that would help make things more effective and efficient in HR and help the employees simplify their lives as well. She sent out a company-wide e-mail announcing the new payroll/HRIS and outlining its ability to interface with other systems and its Web-portal capabilities. To her disappointment, no one seemed to understand the significance or even pay attention. A few employees asked her if their paychecks would be delayed as a result.
She wondered how she would ever get through this project and what she needed to do to get everyone on board.
Case Study Questions:
1.Overall, what did Julia Woodland do right? What could she have done differently?
2.Were the correct people involved in the process? Whom would you have included and why?
3.What errors did Woodland make with her own staff? What impact might these errors have had on the success of the implementation? What should have been done?
4.Discuss the cultural issues involved in this case. Are there things Julia Woodland should have taken into consideration prior to starting the implementation? Why are they important?
5.If you were in Julia Woodland’s position, what would you include in your communication plan for the implementation?
6.How can training be used in this case to make the implementation more successful?
7.How can the Grant Corporation increase user acceptance of the system?
8.Discuss the potential benefits of process reengineering in this implementation. What impact might it have had?
9.After the implementation, what steps should the HR department take to ensure proper maintenance and support of the system?
10.What can Julia Woodland do now to “get everyone on board” and increase the likelihood that this implementation will be successful?
Used at least three (3) scholarly sources correctly.
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