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WHRT 2019: How Workday harnessed the power of data

Three female execs shared the company’s success stories at the opening session of the Women in HR Tech Summit.
By: | October 1, 2019 • 5 min read
Workday's Cristina Goldt, VP, HCM product management, with Erin Yang, VP, Platform Technology Product & Strategy, and Carin Taylor, Chief Diversity Officer, opened the Women in HR Technology Summit this morning at the Venetian, Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2019, in Las Vegas. (Photo by Isaac Brekken for Human Resource Executive)

Today’s HR leaders are drowning in data—but just having the numbers about the workforce is only the first step toward maximizing their full potential, said the keynote speakers at today’s opening session of the Women in HR Tech Summit.

A trio of female leaders from Workday dove into how data can drive career development, improve leadership and enhance the feeling of belonging throughout an organization during the first event of the HR Technology Conference and Exposition, being held in Las Vegas through Oct. 4.

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Personalization is Key

When she started at Workday, Cristina Goldt—now the vice president of HCM products—said the organization only had 500 employees, and everyone wore many hats. Throughout her career, she held roles in solution architecture, product marketing, pre-sales and other areas—navigating her career path “without a guide.”

Now, however, HR leaders have a treasure trove of workforce data at their fingertips, which, with the right amount of personalization, can help employees—and employers—more deftly travel these paths, she said.

“Why shouldn’t data be able to help people navigate through where they could go—or, where they should go—next?” she asked. When employers can learn about their workers’ skills—the “connective tissue” that makes an organization run, she said—they can better match them with opportunities to promote internal talent mobility.

As an example, she referenced a retail customer that Workday worked with to build an Opportunity Graph. “It was a fancy name for ‘What’s your next move?’ ” she said. The initiative highlighted potential paths for all employees, showing them how colleagues have moved throughout the business and also giving them the tools to understand how to get to there.

“Who are the people I want to connect with? What are the skills I need? What are the learning opportunities I need? And, if I’m ready, what open roles can I get into?” were all questions the graph sought to help employees answer, Goldt said.

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A Lens into Leadership

When she started at Workday, Erin Yang, vice president of platform technology product and strategy, said she struggled to understand if she was an effective manager, acknowledging she was just “winging it” and hoping for good results. About four years ago, the company conducted its first Great Place to Work survey of employees, which surveyed Workday teams about their leaders and compared the data across the organization and to GPTW benchmarks. Yang learned where she was succeeding and areas for improvement, such as helping employees establish a better work/life balance and making expectations clearer.

“Now, I had a benchmark, I had data I felt like I could trust and I knew the areas I was underperforming,” she said. “That was a big milestone for me.”

Later that year, the organization launched pulse surveys that asked employees two simple questions every Friday, which, Yang said, helped illustrate to managers ongoing issues and trends.

“Being able to get that data in my hands in a dashboard I could check whenever I wanted, that was game-changing,” she said.

A team of data scientists drilled down into those numbers with the Best Workday Survey report, shared with employees, and that data also fueled the creation of the Workday Cloud Platform Culture Committee, in which employee volunteers started meeting last month to take a more active role in team performance.

“There’s so much energy, and you can really see that, when people can be empowered to make the change,” Yang said, “they’re quite excited to do so.”

Moving from Diversity to Belonging

Data have long fueled efforts around diversity and inclusion, but at Workday, that focus has shifted more to the concept of belonging, said Carin Taylor, chief diversity officer.

“We’ve gone from just representation to diversity of thought, inclusion for everyone,” she said about the evolution of using data to drive diversity. “The story, and what we’re trying to solve for now, is very different than just counting numbers.”

Inclusion, Taylor explained, is akin to being invited to a dance—while belonging is when you feel comfortable to actually hit the dance floor. “You can be included,” she said, “but still not feel like you belong.”

To tackle that concept, Workday launched the Belonging Index, which measures across five areas—gender, level, generation, ethnicity and location—to understand how comfortable employees of all different backgrounds and experiences are bringing their whole selves to work.

“[The data gathered] allow us to pivot and figure out where we may need to implement different programs, put different focuses and create different development opportunities for employees,” Taylor said. “It’s an opportunity to dive deep around how to solve diversity and inclusion beyond representation.”

This summer, the company launched a full week of events—labeled VIBE Week, for value, inclusion, belonging and equity—focused on building a culture of belonging, with team activities, keynote speeches, panel discussions and development opportunities. “What we didn’t realize is the impact on our culture and that sense of belonging that this would actually have,” she said. “It built connections far beyond what we thought could have been built.”

In one instance, workers built prosthetic hands for people who couldn’t afford them. After the session, one employee approached Taylor and thanked her for the opportunity—noting her 7-year-old nephew had lost three limbs the year before.

“Those were the types of connections that you wouldn’t think of with a ‘normal’ view of diversity—but these are the connections we want to bring into the workplace,” she said.

Jen Colletta is managing editor at HRE. She earned bachelor's and master's degrees in writing from La Salle University in Philadelphia and spent 10 years as a newspaper reporter and editor before joining HRE. She can be reached at [email protected]

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