Leadership is key

The organisation

East Sussex County Council (ESCC) provides local services to approximately 500,000 people. It directly employs 15,500 and works with a further 5,000 external customers and organisations. Like all local authorities, the council is under constant pressure to deliver excellent value for money and eliminate waste from its processes and operations.

The challenge

Having already outsourced technology support, exchequer services, payroll and pensions administration in 1997, the council took the renewal of this contract in 2004 as an opportunity to replace its separate HR, payroll and pensions IT systems with a single SAP product. This would also incorporate finance and procurement processes, introducing a single e-business solution across the council.
Following an extensive tendering process, the contract for both IT support and SAP implementation was awarded to Serco. Starting in January 2004, the council successfully implemented SAP in just 12 months, including migrating about 750,000 payroll data items and delivering training to every user.

“We needed to make sure everyone appreciated the cultural change that was involved in this,” says Leatham Green, assistant director of ESCC’s personnel and change department. “The main difference would be seen in the payroll process, but the whole project meant increased accountability across the organisation.”

The solution

A total of 35 employees were assigned roles dedicated to managing the change process. This included five people responsible for transferring technical aspects of the HR function and five dedicated trainers – one already employed by the organisation, and four recruited externally. These HR and training streams reported to Green who sat on the steering group for the project, where he had direct influence over progress. “From an HR point of view, this level of involvement was critical,” he says. “It showed HR was integral to the whole process.”
To ensure employees and affected external customers were aware of the forthcoming changes and knew why and how they would happen, Green and his colleagues carried out an extensive awareness campaign, running roadshows, demonstrations and poster campaigns, sending out more than 50 different newsletters and numerous e-mail messages.

With senior management involvement from the start and inspiring leadership from Richard Hemsley, ESCC’s deputy director of finance and project director, the council ensured everyone from trade unions to partner organisations was aware of the project. There was a clear understanding that while the process might be challenging, the end result would deliver significant benefits.

The outcome

The new SAP system took just 12 months to implement. With highly-skilled trainers working from within the organisation rather than being brought in as an external resource, the training programme was designed specifically to reflect the council’s requirements. This training resource was flexible enough to cope with training over the summer months – adapting to holiday leave – while being able to respond to specific problem areas when they arose. Since staff turnover stands at around 2,500 per year, the training resource is still valuable in making sure all new employees are up to speed on the system.

The SAP system has already seen an appreciable fall in paperwork within the council. Payroll errors fell from 600 in April 2005 to 200 in June, and the new system enables mistakes to be pinpointed.

With the more transparency and greater accuracy afforded by the system, the council has been able to give its managers the professional tools they need to take greater responsibility for people and budgets.

According to Green, the next significant step forward for HR will take place later this year with the introduction of employee and management self-service. This will enable employees to deal with leave, expenses and other administrative tasks without creating extensive paper trails.

Employee perspective

Caroline Manning is the information manager at ESCC, in charge of the team whose job is to provide workforce information to management and for national surveys.

Manning and her team underwent ‘a well co-ordinated programme’, which included short introductions to the new system as well as a five-day training course dedicated to their particular needs. She says the new payroll system performed very well, with only minor problems relating to data migration.

With the new system in place, Manning’s team can now run information reports during the day – rather than only overnight – and on an ad hoc basis, offering faster, more accurate reports to more areas of the organisation. “The culture is beginning to change,” she says. “It will continue to change because of the new processes and new ways of working. It’s a gradual shift as people realise we no longer need to do some of the tedious things we used to.”

Learning points for HR

“A lot of the success was due to the strong transformational leadership which came from Richard Hemsley,” says Green. “He had absolute belief in the team and made sure everyone understood it was possible to achieve our goal.”

Green also notes the council assembled the very best team it possibly could to drive the change through. “We used the best people we had,” he says. “And that did cause problems operationally. However, unless you have the best people planning, you don’t get the best out of the system,” adds Green.

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