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How Kiewit Centralized its HR Operations

By John Shaw, Vice President of Human Resources, Kiewit Corporation

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John Shaw, Vice President of Human Resources, Kiewit Corporation

It was 2006 when several strong college candidates attended a career fair at the University of Nebraska. Kiewit Corporation, one of the largest and most respected construction and engineering firms in North America, topped the list of companies with arguably the biggest presence at the event. Virtually everywhere candidates turned, they saw Kiewit. Unfortunately, that wasn’t a good thing.

It didn’t take long for candidates to realize that Kiewit’s multiple booths weren’t about the company dominating the fair, but an actual competition between its business units – what Kiewit calls “districts” – for talent. In more than a few cases, candidates felt the love when Kiewit districts began competing with multiple offers for their services. With the company’s decentralized structure at the time, this obvious problem was something that just happened.

Today, the good news is that a number of candidates from the 2006 fair are successful engineers and construction professionals helping Kiewit thrive. In a sense, all’s well that ends well. However, it’s even better news that the changes that Kiewit has made in HR the last three years have erased these issues and brought a cohesive, dynamic structure to virtually all facets of this important function.

Resetting the Bar

At the end of 2015, a select group of HR leaders and I were challenged to bring together a decentralized HR group to better support all Kiewit operations through a shared-services model. The task was fairly simple to describe: Create a “1Kiewit approach” in all facets of HR that improves service and results, while significantly reducing costs. It might have been simple to say, but it was a massive directive.

The decentralized framework across the company had led to an even more decentralized HR structure, where districts independently performed virtually all of their own people-focused services, from recruiting and onboarding, to compensation, talent development, and performance management. The road to change would be challenging, but as with all Kiewit initiatives, once we set the course, we get it done.

Within one year, we achieved more than $11 million in savings, established a significantly streamlined HR structure, and earned high satisfaction marks from leaders across the organization. The savings were significant as labor was 70% of HR’s total operating cost.

"Our model was set up to move from having siloed District HR Manager roles tousing centralized HR Business Partners (HRBP) as the primary broker of services for districts"

The journey started with the creation of an elevator speech so anyone in HR could answer the questions: “Why 1HR?” and “Why now?”The vision was focused on three basic tenets:

• Ensure consistency and fairness
• Drive and share best practices
• Reduce costly redundancies

From there, carefully selected project teams began framing and establishing multiple Centers of Excellence (COE):

• HR Business Partners (to support operating districts)
• Compensation
• HR Analytics and Reporting
• Employee Services (HR Support Center)
• Talent Development and
• Employee Relations
• Craft Strategies and Recruitment
• University and Experienced Recruiting

Our model was set up to move from having siloedDistrict HR Manager roles tousing centralized HR Business Partners (HRBP) as the primary broker of services for districts. These were very different roles demanding different skills. The changes we implemented required new HRBPs to focus much more on district strategy while better using defined subject matter experts in COE s to execute behind-the-scenes services.

It was clear that extensive change management skills were needed among the entire Kiewit HR team to get this done. We regularly asked for feedback from internal clients and spent significant time training HR leaders on how to drive and support change in the districts. Feedback channels and frequent progress updates were necessary for company-wide buy-in. Nothing was more important than measuring our progress and knowing what was working – and what wasn’t.

My responsibilities also became much more sales-focused to drive faster adoption and to clear as many hurdles as possible. This led to many meetings and interactions with people across the business, listening to input, ideas, and concerns. The feedback sometimes initiated specific“action,” while other times it required “teaching” if the leaders or employees sharing it didn’t fully understand what we were trying to achieve – and the business case for this reorganization.

Today, our HR organization is operating at a very high level, with the support of the entire business. Our company-wide Compensation strategy has significantly reduced the time our operations team has to spend on researching and planning salary decisions. As an organization, we speak the same language. With our mobile and dynamic workforce, we’ve aligned our practices across districts and markets.

The HR Analytics and Reporting group has become a one-stop shop for all people-focused data. HRBPs now have standardized data sets that they use in district operating reviews. All HR data now comes from one centralized team to ensure accuracy and drive focused action plans.

TheEmployee Services group handles HR inquiries from all employees. The team is available each business day from 7 a.m.-7 p.m. CT to answer virtually any people-focused questions through chat, call or ticket submission in multiple languages. Many questions that employees ask are now easier to find through self-service enhancements, such as knowledge articles that are updated regularly with the latest company information. Last year this team fulfilled more than 50,000 inquiries.

One of the hallmarks of Kiewit for decades has been training and developing staff and craft talent. No other company in our industry invests more in training per employee. In the last three years, we have combined and updated hundreds of training modules used in various districts and at the corporate level into one Talent Development Resource Library, driving even more online, flexible learning options for people. Our classroom-setting locations – Kiewit University near our corporate headquarters in Omaha, and our state-of-the-art Craft Training Center in Denver –are centralized locations where thousands of our staff and craft employees arrive each year to develop their skills and interact and collaborate with peers from across North America.

The Employee Relations group provides access to subject matter experts who consult and support HRBPs, managers, and other employees regarding important, often sensitive personnel matters. By consolidating this group, we better provide service for performance management, employee leaves, and accommodation requests; investigations; EEO training; and oversight of the company’s Affirmative Action program.

And remember those issues we had in recruiting, which not only duplicated efforts, cost, and time but also didn’t do our company reputation any favors? Those issues are a thing of the past, and our efficiency and effectiveness on the recruiting trail have never been better. Our recruiting strategy has grown to fill more than 3,400 openings annually. In the first half of 2019 alone, our accept rate is up 43%, while our decline rate is down 5% from last year. As important, our intern conversion rate is at 57% – an all-time high – for what has traditionally been the lifeblood of how we infuse new talent into the company each year.

Our HR transformation has relied heavily on implementing more cohesive, streamlined services, executing more effectively and increasing companywide usage rates of our services. In 2019 and beyond, we will spend the bulk of our time and energy on further refining and delivering best-in-class services. Our primary initiatives will focus on filling increasingly larger needs for talent to accommodate company growth in new and existing markets. We also continue to work hard on enhancing our internship program, creating an engaging onboarding experience from pre-hire to 180 days, implementing progressive diversity initiatives, and reducing turnover.

I’m proud of what we’ve achieved as an HR organization, not only through our service levels but also the camaraderie we’ve developed as one, unified unit. Our regular update meetings and HR-wide calls are more inclusive and more value-added than ever before. Transparency guides how we communicate vertically and horizontally – and open dialogue and candid feedback are encouraged and expected. We never want to stop trying to improve.

HR needs to continue to be a strategic partner offering up solutions to the business. Quality experiences and interactions with HR are crucial to our success, but we also need to continue finding new, better ways to measure our performance to show how we move the needle at Kiewit both operationally and financially. The growing role of people analytics will be at the center of this for our HR team.

For those thinking about or beginning an HR transformational journey, remember that communication and relationships are still the greatest driving force in success or failure. We need to capably and concisely explain the why and what around change. If we can’t communicate the burning platform and a better path forward, then even the most dynamic strategy will ultimately fall flat. The value placed on HR in every organization has always been in our hands as HR professionals. Let’s all work together to show exactly how valuable that is.

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