At Their Service

When workforce management and staffing company Kelly Services conducted an employee engagement survey in November 2009, it revealed low engagement levels, and executives were concerned about the impact on client service.

“An engaged workforce ultimately affects customer service and the success and profitability of the business,” said Nina Ramsey, senior vice president and chief human resources officer for Kelly Services. “Employees who feel connected to the company strategy, their role, their leaders and their team are far more likely to give discretionary effort and stay with the company.”

Founded just after World War II, Troy, Mich.-based Kelly Services delivers workforce services to 90 percent of Fortune 500 companies globally. More than half a million people worldwide worked for Kelly in 2010, and it is managed by an internal network of 8,000 full-time employees.

In response to the results, Kelly’s management team made a commitment to create a high-engagement culture among its global workforce and overhauled its processes for engagement throughout the employee lifecycle in 2010.

Mapping Out the Future
At the time, the company didn’t have a unified human resource information system, leading to inconsistencies, duplication of effort and disconnects throughout the function. The company was not prepared to engage the workforce, develop employees, identify and prepare future leaders or tackle other talent management challenges.

Technology for key learning and talent processes such as Kelly’s on-premise LMS was either nonexistent or outdated. The global learning and HR teams saw an opportunity to invest in comprehensive talent management software that would allow the company to better address human capital management.

Rather than assemble a best of breed solution using different technologies, the team wanted to invest in one vendor for learning management, performance management and succession planning. This would help ensure integration and an easier single sign-on user experience. Further, investing in a software-as-a-service system was essential to provide convenient and consistent access to Kelly’s global workforce.

Investing in a comprehensive technology system was just one piece of the puzzle, however. It also required integrating siloed functions and shifting from a top-down, paternalistic approach for learning and HR processes to one that was more employee-centric.

The company kicked off its people management transformation in late 2009 by rolling out its new LMS, which was designed to encourage an accessible and interactive approach to career development. Single sign-on access made it convenient to access the system, saving Kelly employees and help desk workers time. Unlike the previous LMS, the new system didn’t require additional hardware or IT support and boasted a lower cost of ownership than on-premise technologies. The newly developed Kelly Learning Center (KLC) gave employees 24/7 self-service online access to more than 3,000 free courses in 15 different languages, and content is continuously updated.

Each employee has a customized KLC home page featuring selected or required learning modules or courses. The system links to multiple competency models for leaders and individual performers to help users better identify relevant courses and action steps to further development. Employees also can seek out learning to take charge of their own career paths by identifying skills and expertise needed to advance into new roles.

“People want a voice in their careers and we are encouraging them to have one,” Ramsey said. “Technology helps us foster the dialogue and enables the process.”

Kelly employees are encouraged to draft career profiles, highlighting their experiences, aspirations and factors such as willingness to relocate. Succession management and career management functionality in the software, which Kelly introduced internally in 2010, automated this process, creating a destination for employees to market themselves and enable talent mobility.

To aid the process, Ramsey and her team developed career maps for every position so people can identify potential opportunities across the company. Using an organization chart format, the career maps depict roles by level with an accompanying role description. They allow employees to better understand the range of roles that exist for career exploration. When new positions become available, the employee self-profiles are the first resource tapped for recruiting.

While creating online career profiles is voluntary, approximately 3,000 people have done so since the option was offered. Ramsey said this indicates employees’ interest in managing their careers.
Automating the process and collecting information about employee needs and interests helps arm managers with the right insight to have career development conversations with employees, as well as to centrally align goals and career development needs with training and work experience. “It has really opened the door to help us have continuous and meaningful dialogue with our people and learn what is important to them,” Ramsey said.

To ensure Kelly is engaging potential leaders within the organization, Ramsey’s team uses the platform’s succession management tools to identify the top 200 successor candidates and recommend additional training based on competencies and other metrics. This integrated review process helps build the leadership pipeline, ensuring Kelly has a deep bench from which to draw talent for pivotal, revenue-producing roles that have a differential impact on the company. It also provides top talent with an opportunity to grow and advance.

In 2011, Kelly launched the Leadership Fitness Challenge, a month-long online development program deployed through its social networking platform. All new hires are given an orientation to the social networking tool and are encouraged to use it to share best practices. Kelly is planning to launch a second challenge in late 2012.

Engagement Begins on Day One
Ramsey’s team found employees who took advantage of the Learning Center were not only more empowered and engaged, they also had the potential to make a positive impact on the bottom line. Kelly research indicated Learning Center users made significant contributions to the company’s 2009 revenue and gross profit. Employees who took training produced an annual revenue increase of 18 percent, compared to 5 percent among those who didn’t. Similarly, average gross profit increased 19 percent among participants, compared to 6 percent among non-participants. However, new employee turnover remained at 15 percent due to an inadequate on-boarding process.

New hires typically spent a few hours learning about the company, its policies and procedures, and were left to absorb any remaining learning on the job. For some new recruits, that was sufficient for them to stay with the company and succeed. Others quickly left the company or floundered in their new roles.

Recognizing that many of its new recruits were millennials, the talent management team set out to discover more about this group’s needs and expectations. They discovered that millennials want to understand their employer and how they can personally contribute to the company’s success. Millennials also were found to value flexible work hours, cutting-edge technologies, teamwork and opportunities for growth and advancement.

To establish an early connection with young employees, the company developed an on-boarding program called The Kelly Experience. The program borrowed content and concepts from a program already being used in the Technical Services Group. Designed to help new hires understand how they fit into the Kelly picture, content was divided into five sessions focused on topics such as company history, business lines and strategic initiatives, perks and policies, employee benefits, career development and an introduction to Kelly Learning Center.

Piloted in the Americas to 186 new hires from June to December 2008, The Kelly Experience was offered in virtual and face-to-face formats. Those participating in virtual sessions met online in small groups for two hours a day for one week. The face-to-face group met all day for four days in a meeting room at a regional Kelly office.

Six months after piloting the program, Kelly noted an 85 percent decrease in turnover among new hires. The face-to-face group exhibited a 2 percent turnover rate, while those who participated in virtual on-boarding exhibited a 3 percent turnover rate. That is in contrast to the 15 percent turnover among new hires who did not participate in either group. The Kelly Experience continues having a positive impact on retention and attrition rates. Ramsey estimates there is a 10 percentage point difference in turnover rates between employees who participate in the on-boarding process and those who do not.

The Kelly Experience has been deployed throughout the Americas, EMEA and APAC. Nearly 760 employees in the U.S. participated in the program in 2011, and turnover and productivity gains have held steady.

“Whether through on-boarding, training, career development or aligning performance goals with business strategy, we want to foster an environment at Kelly Services where our people feel included in the decision making that affects their daily lives,” Ramsey said. “We want them to feel connected to the organization and understand how they contribute to the overall success of the company.”

Frank Ricciardi is vice president of global account services for learning and talent management software provider Cornerstone OnDemand. He can be reached at