How Booz Allen Hamilton is Turning its 2020 Vision into Reality

Attracting and retaining the best talent can be particularly challenging in the professional services industry, where firms are looking for people with unique skills and even security clearances. In this interview, Sarah St. Clair, vice president of people services at Booz Allen Hamilton, discusses the firm’s people-focused culture and how Workday helps support it.

Booz Allen Hamilton embodies leading-edge thinking on talent management and the employee experience. Headquartered in McLean, Va., with offices across the world, the professional services firm employs more than 24,000 engineers, scientists, software developers, technologists, and consultants. These professionals help governments and companies tackle some of the most critical issues of our time—whether it’s helping the Department of Homeland Security protect the U.S. against cyberattacks or accelerating advances in treatment for traumatic brain injury.

Several years ago, the firm embarked on a growth initiative called Vision 2020 to further invest in its people and their capabilities. In this interview, Sarah St. Clair, vice president of people services at Booz Allen Hamilton, discusses the firm’s people-focused culture and how Workday Human Capital Management and Workday Recruiting help support it.

What are some of the biggest challenges you face as an HR leader?

Every company struggles with the same thing—attracting, developing, and retaining their employees. This challenge is even more profound in the professional services industry, where we’re looking for talent with unique skills and hard-to-find security clearances. Firms need to have the right talent to support their clients, making the qualifications and subject matter expertise that each employee brings to the table vital.

When we hire new employees at Booz Allen, we look for diverse skill sets that can deliver on mission-specific client work. We have a global workforce of professionals with education levels varying from four-year degrees to master’s and doctoral degrees, and specializations ranging from biology, epidemiology, and nursing to international development, engineering, and cybersecurity. However, finding the right candidates is just the beginning. To retain great talent, we have to understand our employees’ goals and allow them to chart their own journeys.

“We sell services and solutions, not products, so we’ve always understood that our people are what sets us apart.”

At the end of the day, people want to feel appreciated and supported, so companies need to double down on that. Firms need to create an environment where employees can come into the firm, develop their skills, and grow their careers.

At Booz Allen Hamilton, your people are your business. How does that impact your approach to talent management?

We sell services and solutions, not products, so we’ve always understood that our people are what sets us apart and we’re making substantial people investments that will drive sustainable growth into the future. This people-focused investment gives us an opportunity to reinforce our leadership philosophy, build our talent base, and grow our employee’s skills. It’s important for our workforce—from new hires to seasoned employees—to deliver on client expectations. When you have good employees, you need to mold them, grow them, and keep them.

In terms of attracting talent, we’re fortunate to have a great reputation in the market, and we use a variety of methods to source candidates including employee referrals and our alumni network. I think that says a lot about our culture and the importance of preserving it. We also have significant employee onboarding programs that train our new hires throughout their first year to help them better understand our environment and what we expect from them.

After that, our employees’ career paths vary based on their interests and aspirations. If they want to continue their path forward in a technical discipline, we help them develop their expertise, providing internal or external training opportunities. Or if they want to forge a different path, then we support them in their mobility. Employees build their own future with the help of our “experience maps” and support systems, which enable them to plan and get where they want to go.

What limitations did Booz Allen experience with its previous systems?

When we embarked on our growth initiative, we quickly realized we didn’t have the right technology to enable our business. We hire thousands of people every year and need to understand their skillsets to be able to deploy them quickly to deliver to our clients. However, we didn’t have the visibility we needed to do this. We needed a system that could help us understand our talent landscape to ensure we’re continuing to meet ever-changing client needs.

Additionally, we have a global workforce and the majority of them work at client sites. They rarely set foot in a Booz Allen office, so we need to reach them wherever they are working. Some of our employees work in secure environments on our clients’ networks, so a system with mobile capabilities was critical to make sure they can still access the Booz Allen information they need.

How has Workday helped shape the employee experience at Booz Allen?

When we were evaluating our systems and technology, delivering on the employee experience was our focus. We asked ourselves, “How can we simplify what we are trying to achieve for our talent and employees at all levels—all the way up to the CEO?”

One of the reasons we ultimately selected Workday was because of our shared customer-centric, employee-focused philosophy. We wanted an industry partner that was innovating on a regular basis, and Workday has been a strategic enabler for us. We have more visibility into our talent landscape—where we have gaps now and what we’ll need in the future—and our workforce can easily access their information from anywhere and on any device.

“As leaders, we need to understand how we can not only make the most of new technology but enable our talent to adopt it as well.”

After we went live on Workday and our talent information was available in one system, we launched the “Find Worker” capability and asked our employees to update their profiles with their skills. Our managers are now able to perform internal talent searches using specific criteria and can easily facilitate moves or temporary assignments. This has also opened new opportunities for our employees to further develop their careers. We didn’t have this capability before, and we’re really excited about it.

Workday has also helped us improve employee engagement. Because most of our employees work at a client site, they may affiliate more with the client than they do Booz Allen. We also learned that employees who reported to managers with a lot of direct reports were less connected and less engaged than we’d like. In response, we launched a new job leader program to drive greater interaction between employees and their managers by limiting the number of direct reports and setting expectations around regular feedback. This approach allows our managers to be more hands-on in helping their team develop their talent, build their skills, and map out their development journey. It also helps us ensure that our leaders are connecting with their staff frequently and having regular, meaningful conversations.

What advice would you share with other HR leaders who are rethinking their talent management strategy

Change doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a constant, evolutionary endeavor. Technology is always changing and, as leaders, we need to understand how we can not only make the most of new technology but enable our talent to adopt it as well. This can be difficult when your workforce is made up of people spanning different generations and backgrounds, with different interests and skill sets. However, by changing their perspective of technology from an obstacle to an enabler, you can better engage them and help increase adoption.

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