Creating an HR Data Culture

HR Tech speakers share how GBW Railcar Services uses HR analytics to help managers in the field achieve better business outcomes.
By: | September 13, 2018 • 3 min read

Having the right HR tools is great, but how do you get them to the people closest to the work being done, the ones who can actually use them?

During a Wednesday session at the HR Tech Conference titled “Empowering Managers: Using People Data Analytics for Retention and Business Growth,” Lisa Maxey, director of compensation and HRIS at GBW Railcar Services, explained how the company partnered with ADP to connect its managers and workers in the field with the right technology to improve business objectives like talent management and data management.

GBW Railcar Services was the largest independent railcar repair network in North America (until two weeks ago, when it was reabsorbed by its parent company).

“It’s simplewe fix trains,” Maxey said.

But the company was intent on fixing how managers attracted, managed and retained the right employee mix, especially for hourly employees who are critical to the organization’s success.

With $300 million annual revenue across 35 U.S. locations and 1,500 employees distributed remotely, the company employs a mostly non-desk population of skilled laborers. Indeed, 75 percent of all jobs are hourly positions held by “low-tech-savvy” men with an average age above 40.

The tight labor market and a lack of workers with the required skills for the job, such as mechanics and welders, added to the company’s challenges.”It is so difficult to find any type of workers that, if you are looking for someone, you’re trying to take someone from another job,” she said.

Hiring and retention of workers with specialized skills is key for GBW because, Maxey said. “If you’re having a problem with turnover, it’s going to impact your other metrics because our employees are the ones generating the revenue.”

Before the ADP adoption, Maxey said, managers were lacking “visibility” in regard to hiring goals.

“We were terrible at it,” she said. “Our managers might hear about a hiring goal in a meeting once a year, but they’d lose focus because they didn’t see it every day.”

ADP’s Mobile Insights allowed them to see interactive, real-time dashboards on their smartphones because “90 percent of day most managers are away from their desks and out in the field.”

Dashboards included metrics such as headcount, overtime, turnover, and “cool” things like the average tenure of a team, in real time instead of  in a monthly report, she said.

The company required its managers to log in daily to ADP Insights to look at time cards and job costing and to ensure they had everyone clocked in correctly. The organization also encouraged managers to “look at your dashboards and then you can say, ‘Maybe I need to get back to the recruiting team to schedule some interviews because two people just left unexpectedly.’ ”

The faster you can get people through the recruiting process, the better, and after getting access to Insights, the company was able to decrease the time between application and offer letter down to 20 to 30 days.

“Some months it had been 50 to 60 days,” Maxey said. “We were able to really flatten it out to a consistent level.”

One of the lessons learned through the process, she said, was to ask if its data structure is the right one.

“How does your business look at data? You should map it parallel to how your whole organization looks at data.”

Indeed, before the ADP adoption, GBW used 57 different operations codes to define separate job activities, including many for differentyet very similartypes of maintenance tasks.

“A high-level executive wanted us to use all those codes,” Maxey said. “But when the data showed that 30 of those codes hadn’t been used in the last six months, we were able to say: ‘I’m not just telling you it’s a bad idea [to have that many codes], I’m showing you it’s a bad idea.’ ”

The company now only uses approximately a dozen codes, she added.

As for the lower-level managers, Maxey said, they were initially struggling with the adoption because many were first-time managers and hadn’t gone to business school. “So we learned you need to talk about the ‘why’ of the numbers, not just the numbers themselves.”

To that end, during rollout, the company focused on interpreting data with managers and business leaders, she said, and it made all the difference.

“You don’t have to be a data expert to use these systems,” Maxey said. “The front-line people are the experts, so leverage their experience and knowledge to achieve the outcomes your organization needs.”

Web Editor Michael J. O’Brien has been with HRE for more than a decade and holds a degree in economics from Boston College. He can be reached at [email protected]

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