On a mission to align the company’s contingent workforce and statement-of-work consultants, AstraZeneca’s talent acquisition team began exploring ways to embed hiring and classification principles at the front end of the process and create visibility of the total workforce. Further, the company wants to drive strategic workforce planning as a mindset throughout the organization, and they are turning to technology for an automated, consistent and integrated solution. Will Dempsey, director, talent acquisition at AstraZeneca, discusses with SIA the process of obtaining buy-in, implementation and the benefits — some unexpected — to the team, HR, engagement managers and the business as a whole.

Will Dempsey, Director, Talent Acquisition, AstraZeneca

What big problem are you trying to solve for your workforce that led you to look at new talent sourcing technology? What was the thinking?

The main problem was a misclassification between our contingent workforce and our statement-of-work consultants — or what we refer to as our outsource service provider workforce. That was the first part of the business case for pursuing a new technology.

Secondly, we want to drive strategic workforce planning as a mindset rather than an occasional conversation. We needed the way hiring managers thought about resources to be an everyday mindset. What is the best vehicle for those skills? Should we hire that in and have those people employed by AstraZeneca? Do we just need them for a short period of time to deliver a specific project, or is there an opportunity to deliver that through outsourcing and to put it under a statement of work with a good partner?

Additionally, deciding what’s the best way to bring in that skill or capability once the vehicle has been decided is another thing we needed to incorporate.

The opportunities to identify the best solution were few and far between, so we wanted to create a digital experience to enable us to do that. Another important factor is consistency around decision-making. Having decisions based around some well-defined logic — mainly from a classification’s perspective — and deciding what type of worker everyone should be will help us achieve that consistency. We wanted to bake in the principles and a total workforce mindset and then embed that into our processes through a digital experience — and that’s the direction we’re moving in.

Why was it important to address this challenge now?

In general — and the pandemic obviously accelerated the need for this — it was really important for us to know who is where, what they need, whether they should be on-site or off-site, and whether they should be tested for Covid-19 before coming on site. And if we were supplying those tests, they needed an identification number, and our chosen technology helped us to deliver that through downstream integrations.

We want to ensure that AstraZeneca remains an employer of choice. So, we were also keen to address things like how our workforce should be made up. Our approach had to underpin our commitment to inclusion and diversity to best represent the communities we serve, provide us with the greatest agility, drive innovation and mitigate risk.

When we think about approaches to strategic workforce planning, we use something called the “four Bs”: build, buy, borrow and bot. For example, if we’re thinking about a particular capability, should we build it, buy it, borrow it or “bot” it — use automation to complete that task?

The “borrow” box has always been a bit of an enigma for our team; I hear that from my peers in the industry as well. The ability to identify opportunities to borrow those capabilities when appropriate wasn’t, there, and we wanted to address that. Meanwhile, we want to create efficiencies and cost savings, etc. — and we wanted to identify those opportunities to borrow more frequently.

What buy-in was required to bring in a new technology? Tell us how you went about getting it and if you used a specific business plan.

We had to engage quite considerably across our HR leadership team, given the link with strategic workforce plans as well as our executive leadership team because ultimately, we were going to open up a wider and more detailed picture of the workforce.

We gained their support by explaining the first step to achieving more control of the workforce was to make it more visible. We wanted to have a single place to go to view our workforce and pull data out to analyze and understand what the workforce is doing and what value it is delivering, etc.

While this wasn’t part of our original business case, an added benefit of this change was the simplification of some of our systems architecture. We had a complex matrix of systems that managed our identity management and provided AstraZeneca workers access to our IT systems, buildings, facilities, etc. Simplifying that information flow, in turn, simplified the ID management systems.

Additionally, integrating the technology with our central HR system enabled us to build in the self-service that our managers are used to. We were used to supporting them quite carefully with their outsourced service providers, or OSPs, whereas they were very much used to great levels of self-service with their employees and their contingent workers — making changes and moving people around, etc. Now they can do that for all their talent quite easily.

Discuss the implementation process, including any challenges you and stakeholders overcame.

From initial conception to building the business case, it was about a two-year process. And selecting the right partner and solution to go-live took between 10 to 12 months.

We took a lot of time to map out the end-to-end process. We have many systems, processes and touch points that hang off this one system. There were many impacts we had to consider, so we had to engage with various different stakeholders to understand their perspective. We invested a lot of time to get a clear and succinct “as is” and “to be” process and understand each end of the project so we could build the plan to get from A to B.

We also spent quite a bit of time building those classification principles as well — mainly, again, to help with the classification between contingent workforce and statement of work. This included building that logic, testing it in real-life scenarios, talking to the business, user acceptance testing, etc., which all takes time.

What have been the benefits of this new tech for the program and the organization?

First of all, visibility. That was one of the main things we wanted to achieve. We now have our total workforce in one place. Everybody’s visible. Everybody’s under a very dynamic organizational structure, which literally changes minute by minute in some cases. And that’s fully integrated and working within our human resource information system as well so we have one source of truth.

Data now plays a key role in optimizing our talent acquisition strategy. This increased visibility of our workforce has given the business and our HR colleagues access to more information than we had before, such as the number of people, employees at different locations, their seniority and the roles those people are carrying out. It provides us with an understanding of the true organization design, rather than an overview of who our full-time equivalents are. Having everything in one place has been a real win.

Supplier self-service has been a big benefit we weren’t expecting as well. Our big suppliers do a lot of the onboarding and offboarding of their workers now. It’s not on us in talent acquisition to do; it’s not even on the business — it’s on the supplier, and this is often the most efficient solution.

I believe this kind of visibility and access to data has collectively moved the needle with regard to our total workforce mindset. You know, when people think of their workforce now, included in their thinking is, “Are there outsource service providers?” Previously, they were more focused on FTE and contingent workforce. It’s a much more comprehensive, more robust approach to organizational development and design, and their end-to-end strategic workforce plans.

Share one or two lessons learned in this process.

I’d like to have started the change program earlier. We did a lot of work on the technical elements and the process mapping. I think we could have started to engage our key audiences sooner.

As an example, some of our regional HR teams that were transacting parts of the onboarding and offboarding of these workers weren’t going to need to do it in the future because we were introducing this new system and approach. And, on reflection, we told them too late, so they were still doing things after we had gone live, or they were getting questions from the business saying, “Should I still ask you for this?” or, “Should I be using this system that people are starting to talk about?” We could have taken those people on a more robust change journey earlier on and anticipated their needs to factor into our approach and delivery.

What plans do you have regarding workforce planning for AstraZeneca?

We’re looking to use the technology to further embed the strategic workforce planning principles at an enterprise macro-level — how the organization decides what capabilities we are going to bring in and what’s the right vehicle for that. We want to evolve the functionality beyond, “Should it be a contingent worker or OSP?” or, “Is this a build, buy, borrow or bot opportunity for us? What’s the right thing to do?” Even at a micro-level, however, we’re looking at taking the front-door concept and possibly creating micro front doors to embed resourcing principles for our big projects.

So, we’re doing a big shift of our financial systems and architecture in that regard and are building a project team to do that. That’s going to be a three- to five-year program. We need to make sure that we deliver the right hire in the right place at the right time and at the right cost. And we’re going to do that through some robust resource principles. Again, we would like all of that to be a very regular conversation or even people’s default mindset, rather than just something we will do at the start of the program and then expect to still be there in five years’ time. We’re trying to create more of that kind of digital experience at a micro-level.

We want to use the data that we’ve now got our hands on to help us further understand our total workforce. So, look at the split and start to question, “Is that right? Should we change that in some way? Do we have opportunities to be more efficient and deliver more to our patients?” and so on. Certainly, we’re starting to ask those questions and overlay that with some of the information that we already have been looking at regarding our workforce insights and analytics — how quickly our workforce is turning over and those sorts of things.

It’s really the true sense of intelligence and using our total workforce data to do that. We plan to continue the education process around statement of work as a vehicle for talent, understanding where there are opportunities to do that more effectively, and look at how fit for purpose our statement-of-work practices are and whether we need to evolve those at all.

The end goal is to deliver more for less, always with our patients in mind.

What one piece of advice would you give to buyer organizations looking to bring in a vendor management system or extended workforce solution?

Don’t hesitate! That is probably the best piece of advice.

Visibility alone has already had a tangible impact on our mindset. It’s created more curiosity around total workforce and, really, the power is in the data, right? So, my advice would be to get ready for that. Lay those foundations of change as early as possible, making sure people understand that it’s not just about seeing these people or where they are and what they’re doing, but it’s more about what questions does that then allow us to ask and to start thinking about those questions now, so when you do get your hands on the data, you are ready to really get the benefit from it, gain insights and create actionable strategies to benefit the organization as a result.

Finally, set yourself up for success. Think about the digital systems and processes you want to harness. Think about what that world will look like and what opportunities you will have and start laying the foundations for that before the system is ready. Start thinking about that sooner rather than later.