Workday Elevate Madrid: Leaders Discuss Focus Areas for Business Competitiveness

At our Workday Elevate event in Madrid, Fermin Peleteiro, senior vice president, global field operations at Workday, discussed how businesses are embracing agility and handling the new hybrid world of work in a conversation with Alberto Torres, partner at McKinsey Digital.

Business leaders in finance, human resources, and technology recently joined us in Madrid for our Workday Elevate event. Read highlights of a conversation between Alberto Torres, partner at McKinsey Digital, and Fermin Peleteiro, senior vice president, global field operations at Workday, where Peleteiro discusses how businesses are embracing agility and handling the new hybrid world of work.

Torres: Let’s start with the importance of adaptability, as I know that agility is one of the core areas Workday has been focused on. How do you see that?

Peleteiro: I think having great agility and being able to react and adapt with low response times, it has always been there and always will be a priority. During the COVID pandemic, and especially the first three months, we had to react, and we had to help our customers react. It was inspiring to see how our customers reacted to the challenges. And now, even though we hope the worst of COVID is beyond us, there will always be challenges: supply chain disruptions, stressed labour markets, or macroeconomic policies impacting business. Then there are new competitors trying to do what you do but better and faster—that means we have to find the capacity to adapt.

What are the main attributes of agility across the organisations that are performing well?

Based on the conversations I’ve had with Workday customers and other organisations, I see a number of key areas that are helping to improve agility. One is optimising the cycle of analysis, planning, and execution. This gives business users the ability to make decisions in a more agile way. In order to make an optimal decision, you have to have a holistic view, and this means being able to combine operational business data, financial data, and in many cases, people data—because [people]normally account for 70% of an organisation’s costs.

The other thing, logically, is to continue automating things. Maybe what has changed the most in the last few years is there are more and more automation use cases that are very well tested: detecting duplications in invoices, accounting entries that are incorrect, and detecting payments to incorrect suppliers. These are standard use cases that can be applied quickly and that free up a lot of time for finance teams. Applying agility to everything that involves modification and flexibility of processes is key.

Do you have some examples of organisations that are demonstrating agility?

I think the first few months of the COVID pandemic brought this into focus. Of course, there was terrible suffering and such human tragedy, but seeing the way our customers found ways to succeed was inspiring. Workday always aims to help our customers innovate, but in total honesty, two-thirds of our new features come from our customers—they drive innovation. During the pandemic, I remember that two or three American universities moved very quickly with the [new capability] to register the appropriate security certifications to allow on-site access. Similarly, one university with 20,000 students created a hybrid model to quickly record vaccination data and integrate it with batch systems to allow site access. They did that in four weeks, and that was based on being able to quickly change processes knowing you have the technology to support such changes.

In manufacturing during the pandemic, there were unprecedented peaks and troughs in terms of production activity—from grinding to a complete stop to production moving at a million miles per hour. There are examples of customers who had to create an emergency task force to optimise resourcing and related costs. This requires a very close collaboration between finance, human resources, and other business leaders to really speed up the planning process. They went from having quarterly planning processes to weekly planning processes. In some cases, they had to replan every week. Right now, they’re at the other extreme of having peak demand. All of a sudden, you have to replan, rethink permanent and temporary staffing, and consider different variables to really optimise.

How are Workday and its customers thinking hybrid work and how it impacts business operations?

I think it’s one of the most interesting topics because it impacts almost every organisation. For many workers, they’re not returning to the office, [and some] will actually never have experienced their company’s office because they started as a remote worker. We’ve probably doubled in size since COVID, and many employees have never set foot in a Workday office before.

“Two-thirds of our new features come from our customers—they drive innovation.”

Fermin Peleteiro Senior Vice President, Global Field Operations Workday

We’re basing ourselves fundamentally on two principles. One is great flexibility in terms of how we approach the return to the office. And we adapt it in two ways. One by role, because we think that not all types of work have the same requirements in terms of where Workmates should be based. And then also by location, because there are a lot of variables there. We have generally avoided giving very strict indications of telling someone where they need to be working. We’re focusing much more on helping managers identify what we call, “the moments that matter.” Those are the kinds of activities that are much more effectively done in the office.

One of our objectives is to have as little turnover as possible because we don't want to lose good employees, and also it is very expensive. And what we have observed is that there is a very strong correlation between employee retention and three fundamental factors. One is the perception of career opportunities. Next is the employee’s perception of how they’re developing and the training they’re being given. And the third is the connections an employee has. There has naturally been less interaction given people haven’t been in the office, so that is something we’re actively focusing on improving.

As you just mentioned, employee retention and keeping workers happy is a challenge in this new world. How is Workday thinking about employee engagement and retaining talent?

I think employee engagement is very important and has to be done in the right way. At Workday, each week we send our employees several questions that they answer anonymously. That gives us extremely granular and valuable information, which allows us to measure sentiment and what the concerns really are. We use Workday Peakon Employee Voice, and because of the way it is structured, it allows the employee to be heard, with feedback filtering right through to senior leadership. 

That’s very powerful and it directly impacts the way we plan. You have to have active listening to successfully engage employees. For example, a team of people in London has a different reality to a team in Dublin, and that experience is very different to a team in Salt Lake City. Having a mechanism to listen and then having the hard data and insights to actively bring those voices to life is absolutely key to successful employee engagement.

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