The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is deploying enterprise-wide self-service HR, helping to keep USAID’s 11,000 employees focused on delivering humanitarian aid on a global scale.

“Our employees are changing the lives of people across the world and we want them to focus on changing the lives of people across the world,” said Lindsey Willis, Division Chief for HR Systems Division (HRSD) at USAID at ServiceNow’s Knowledge 19 conference.

In 2015, committed to delivering the best possible support to team members, USAID’s HRSD sought feedback on the agency’s HR processes and systems. Willis and team identified a number of areas where they could improve.

Willis said they found process inconsistency and as a result – an employee might ask the same question to different members of the HR team, and get different answers. Employees were frustrated with HR customer service speed and the time required to process basic transactions.

At the same time, experiences at home were translating to higher expectations at work.

“[Employees] want information at their fingertips,” Willis said. “They want answers immediately and they don’t want a long paper process that takes forever to complete the basic transaction …and, they don’t want to provide the same information on a form that they provided last year. They want something modern.”

“…HR doesn’t want to be bogged down in these processes, either,” adds Willis. “HR wants to focus on high-value work.”

The HRSD team wanted to add self-service options for HR information to take some of the weight off HR, and wanted to ensure that HR is transparent and accountable.

To help create easier, faster employee experiences, and improve transparency and workflow, USAID evaluated, selected, and implemented ServiceNow, creating the USAID LaunchPad – a one-stop shop for employee HR needs.

“LaunchPad is the foundation of a new HR operating model for USAID where we can flow work in a way that makes sense, and we can provide transparency into processes and requests,” says Willis.

Willis shared how LaunchPad is making an impact in the context of specific employee challenges.

The first was very basic – helping employees (think global workforce) who don’t know how to contact HR. The LaunchPad portal provides an easy, consistent resource for HR interaction.

The second challenge was keeping employee information updated and correct. LaunchPad enables employees to review their own information. In the first month alone, USAID received 400 requests for data correction. “This is great as it was now a shared responsibility for HR data between the employee and HR,” says Willis.

Employees also needed help when they had a major life event – previously, needed steps were not clear. USAID created, “Moments that Matter” on LaunchPad, where employees can view significant life events – for example a change in marital status. They see a collection of tasks they can perform because they have the life event. They don’t have to take the actions, but they know the options.

Willis emphasized USAID is not trying to replace systems that work. “We are trying to direct employees to where they need to go. For example, to update your direct deposit, our payroll system has that functionality, it works…we didn’t want to replace it…and spend money there when there is no value add, but [with LaunchPad] the employee doesn’t have to remember how to get to the payroll system.”

Prior to LaunchPad’s rollout, employees didn’t have transparency into status for HR requests or their own required tasks related to HR activities. The HRSD team created a place where employees can view all open HR requests, see status, view the history, add notes including attachments.

They can view all of the associated tasks they need to take (if any) – and they can get in touch with their assigned HR specialist.

One of the biggest needs prior to LaunchPad was a centralized, searchable repository for HR information. Willis and team created “My Resources” within LaunchPad – the USAID HR Knowledge Base. “We have more than 300 articles, and plan to keep building,” Willis says. “These are short articles about the most frequently asked questions we get in HR, so employees can get answers on their own.”

HR uses the answers when responding to employees to drive consistency; and can see article view trends to better understand employee needs across the organization.

Willis explained that an important area of functionality supports employees during the process of seeking a new post and completing the move – one-third of the U.S. Foreign Service moves every year.

Previously, bidding on new positions could be challenging, and the process to move to a new post was complex. Employees felt they were providing the same information too many times.

“There was a lot of information that would go back and forth via paper – lots of PII (personal identifiable information) – because it’s not just the employee that we’re moving across the world, it’s their whole lives. The whole family, the dogs, their cars, everything,” Willis said.

USAID created an interactive tool for employees to bid on foreign service posts within LaunchPad. Employees can search for assignments, favorite, bid, and look up relevant information. (i.e. Is there a language requirement? Is training required?)

USAID’s HR team can now collect data to analyze foreign service assignment trends and

bidding behaviors – to understand which positions are most popular, which require a more specialized approach or incentives to fill, who seeks out different open positions, etc.

“This is critical in future position management,” Willis said. “So we can figure out what people might do when we advertise positions that aren’t getting favorited and how can we incentivize people to bid on those.”

Employees are turning to the portal. Willis shared that in the last three months alone, there have been 104, 993 hits on the application dashboards; and 4,602 views of articles in the Knowledge Base. Looking specifically at the Foreign Service bidding tool – 517 unique users have visited the tool. They have favorited 524 positions, sent 752 contact requests, and submitted 406 bids using the new tool.

USAID has collected a lot of metrics over the past year.

Across the different use cases, LaunchPad is improving employee experiences – helping the HR team manage workload more efficiently. Willis explained that due to a hiring freeze and attrition, HR staffing levels are down by approximately 33 percent, and the transactional staff is down 50 percent.

Despite the reduced staff, the HR team is effectively managing a 33 percent increase in HR cases – a positive, because employees now have a centralized place to file cases with HR and are taking advantage of the resources available.

Before the HR transformation, employees would seek out someone they knew in HR to help with an issue or question and as a result, managers did not have visibility into their team’s workload and availability. “There was no way to know, as a supervisor, if Person A had 50 tasks on their plate, or if it was 500,” Willis said.

Cases created by email are down 10 percent, and survey scores show a 14 percent increase in the timeliness metric, a direct result of the HR’s team ability to understand and better manage workflow.

Looking at one important metric related to employee moves, or “getting to post” in Foreign Service terms, USAID has cut the time required to process a requested action (a cable), from three months to 22 days.

“We’ve heard a lot from our customers about the value LaunchPad brings,” says Willis. “We have been able to equip employees with data in one centralized place. We know employees can view their data and let us know if not accurate…and we’ve been able to empower HR staff with this data.”

Thanks to the new HR operating model and LaunchPad, USAID now has a Tier 1 Help Desk for HR. “They resolve 25% of inquires at this point, without escalation,” Willis shares. For the other inquiries, USAID has a defined and structured escalation process, as well as enhanced self-service options.

“We have a lot more transparency,” Willis says. “We know where the workload is, we know where we need to shift the workload, and we can see the trends in the workload.”

USAID plans to continue the transformation. The team is working on adding features to current applications – including a live-chat agent, and expanding role-based views. They are also working on new applications to ease recruiting and hiring, and employee on boarding/off boarding – adding automation and streamlining the process. They plan to add robotics in some cases, “so the HR team can focus on high-value work vs. basic transactions,” says Willis.

Willis shared advice for others on a similar journey. “Don’t automate for the sake of automating…if the process is bad – don’t automate it,” says Willis. “We spent a lot of time redesigning processes up front that needed to be redesigned to ensure they were efficient and effective.”

The USAID HRDS team says that securing buy in from leadership, key stakeholders, and partners was key to success. “To break down silos we needed buy in from many groups,” Willis shared.

She also emphasized the need to stay flexible and open. “Don’t put the roadmap in permanent marker,” Willis emphasizes. “Things shift and priorities shift. Sometimes when you automate something, you find something else.”

To drive engagement and adoption, Willis and team engaged employees at every step, using working groups, surveys, webinars, and communities of stakeholders. “We needed the different perspectives, and brought [stakeholders] in as early and as often as possible,” Willis said. Even with best efforts, she cautions that things don’t change overnight. “Change is hard for employees, and the HR team,” says Willis. Moving forward “takes time and repeating things over and over in different ways. Stay flexible.”

USAID will continue to find new ways to enhance and deliver positive employee experiences, building on success to date and supporting USAID team members as they change lives around the world.

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Jordan Smith
Jordan Smith
Jordan Smith is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.