Transforming the Health of HR Operations

December 15, 2015

Transforming the Health of HR Operations

As a not-for-profit health system that is constantly looking to gain savings to support our charitable mission, CHRISTUS Health must ensure that we are operating as efficiently and effectively as possible. But as our system continued to grow, so did our HR department's struggle to maintain its excellent service levels to nearly 20,000 U.S- based associates.

An analysis of CHRISTUS operations uncovered that our HR teams were spending an inordinate amount of time on administrative tasks and often duplicating the work of colleagues. Each CHRISTUS region had its own full HR staff, often leading to inconsistencies. We found that nearly 60 percent of their time every week was devoted to completing necessary administrative tasks, and only about 20 percent was spent on strategy, program design, and consultation.

We also lacked a universal HR management system. Our reporting and analytics were compiled locally, and our associates had to contend with multiple website links, email addresses, and phone numbers for different tasks like performance reviews and benefits review and selection. The local HR support centers were able to help, but only during normal business hours.

A New Approach to HR Services

We realized we needed to improve our HR operations holistically, so we launched our "HR Transformation" project, which grouped HR into three key areas: 

  • Centers of expertise. These were created in talent acquisition, talent management, and total rewards including benefits and compensation.
  • HR strategic partner. We created new positions, vice president of HR Strategy and HR business partner, with updated job descriptions indicating a more strategic approach with local HR services.
  • HR shared services. This team manages general HR administration via a centralized portal and service center that automates a number of tasks and processes, including inquiries and transactions; performance management and recognition systems; and HR records and compliance and payroll.

We began by designing the processes and policies and evaluating tech vendors. We selected the ServiceNow HR Service Management cloud-based platform to automate workflows that had previously required manual processes involving email, phone calls, and spreadsheets, and created the centralized HR portal.

The initial pilot went live to about 2,000 associates in our corporate office and our physician practices. These groups were important, as corporate office Associates had grown accustomed to using email and the Web for conducting research and submitting requests or questions. Physician practice staff have more sporadic access to their computers and email while they're treating patients, and so were more likely to reach out to HR by phone.

We rapidly added more Associates to the pilot every month, and within four months we had brought on nearly 20,000 users who worked in our acute care facilities, physician practices and corporate offices in Texas, Louisiana and Arkansas.

Automating Manual HR Tasks and Enabling Self-Service

Associates can now use the self-service portal to search for policies applicable to their specific regions, submit questions and forms, search for documents, report HR issues, monitor the status of active requests, and use an instant message client to chat one-on-one live with an HR representative.

We also enabled an instant messaging, or chat, function, and I've been pleasantly surprised by how popular this form of interaction has become. It's not as personal as a phone call, but the Associate  does interact with a real person, not a robot. No more phone calls, no more being placed on hold for long periods of time, no more confusion over which website to visit, and no more being tethered to a PC. They can access all of these features and functionalities 24/7 on any device, including smartphones and tablets.

Just as important as making the user experience more simple and enjoyable was relieving HR personnel of the manual processes that were consuming too much of their time and energies. The MyCHRISTUS Life portal provides a single destination for Associates to engage with HR and to automate the processing of information requests and questions. For example, making a tuition assistance request previously required Associates to get their managers and HR to sign paper forms.  Now the process is automated, and HR is informed when they need to take action, eliminating several redundant steps and speeding up the review and approval process.

HR's work is also quantifiable thanks to the central dashboard's data collection, analysis and reporting capabilities. We can see reports in real-time and identify opportunities to proactively improve HR services. With the new surveys on the case management system, the team can analyze interaction feedback. One improvement that came through was the opportunity to add the actual vacation request form to the paid time off policy in the company's knowledge base to provide Associates with the policy and procedures to make a request in one place.

Checklist for Successful HR Transformations

Looking back over the past year, there are three lessons I've learned that may help other organizations facing similar issues: 

  • Have a vision. Spend some time thinking about what your HR transformation will look like and what it will do.  Being able to envision the new approach will guide your development.  Determine this before you start.
  • Test, test, and test again.  Start small with a limited test group of employees.  Once that goes well, expand it and test again.  Keep testing before and after the "go-live."
  • Let it go. HR professionals are in the business of helping people, and so, not surprisingly, we found a number of our team members struggled at first to send associates to the MyCHRISTUS Life portal. They were so used to dropping what they were doing in order to help.  However we've emphasized how doing that can often lead to too much administrative work that keeps us from the high value, strategic work over the long-term. 

When I think of how much effort we've put into this project and how remarkable the results have been, something the great poet Maya Angelou wrote comes to mind:  "We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty."

I can't think of a better analogy for a challenging process that has proven to be well worth the effort.

The Authors: 

Debbie Arnold is system director, human resource operations, at CHRISTUS Health.