Jeremiah Barba: Before going live on Workday in 2021, Washington State University was using paper and computer systems from the 1970s to manage its finance and human resources. As you might imagine, that was less than ideal. And it spurred them to launch what they called the “modernization project” with Workday. My guests today got up close and personal with this project, and they're here to share what they learned. Gerik Kimble is the director of financial modernization at WSU. And Jennifer Klein is the director of human resource management systems, as well as a project manager on that modernization project. Gerik and Jennifer, thank you again for joining me.
All right. Could you tell me a little bit about yourself and your role at WSU? Gerik, you want to start us off?
Gerik Kimble: Sure, I grew up in the Pullman area. That's where WSU is in Washington State. I've been there for 15 years. That's where I graduated from college. I am a true “Coug.” Prior to my role at modernization, I was the associate controller. I experienced what it was like to work in our legacy systems, archaic processes, trying to figure out where paper went. Yeah, kick it over to you, Jennifer.
Jennifer Klein: I am not a Pullmanite, as they say. I have worked at WSU for about 15 years, and I've had a variety of roles within human resource (HR) services. I worked with our employment services team. We did a lot of classification, compensation, and training. I worked with the benefits team. I worked in our leave of absence group. I've got a lot of experience just within the body of work with HR. And then, very similar to Gerik chasing down paper, wondering where things are, and just trying to get a handle on the day-to-day operations, even with things coming and going out of HR.
Barba: That's a great segue into the first question, which is what you've talked about a little bit already. What were the challenges that you were experiencing before Workday and these systems? You've talked about tracking down data and using these outdated systems, what were the core issues that you were dealing with there before Workday?
Kimble: I think a big one was there's just not a lot of control. A form could be routed inside multiple times, there could be signatures in the margins, and you just don't really know where that form had been and how long it had taken. And if you extrapolate that out, it's difficult for us to measure any sort of performance with strength or thought. We just had to guess where we were at all the time. It's like, “Oh, we think this particular form was routed and went to these four stops and needed to get signed by these three people.” And what we drove for in Workday was a consistent business process where everybody had the same approvals, and we could measure success and the time it takes to complete that.
Barba: Anything you want to add to that, Jennifer?
Klein: Just very similar. We had disjointed systems. Our systems never talked to each other. We have processes starting in one system, then some starting in another system, and hoping that it all funnels together and comes together for outcomes. In HR, we're dealing with people. We want to make sure that there's a person standing at the end of all these transactions. What's happening there? Are they getting paid on time? Are they accruing leave on time? Those are some of the challenges that we had. And a lot of paper, just reams and reams of paper everywhere. It was really challenging, like Gerik said, to track down that paper, understand where things were, and how long it took to get somewhere.
Barba: Let's talk a little bit about your transformation goals. What were your top transformation goals that you had heading into that implementation? And then why did you choose Workday to help accomplish those goals?
Kimble: From the finance side, I think a big thing was over the years with our chart of accounts (FDM), we had developed multiple purposes per element. So how can we use this element in a different way? And we got away from the idea that each element should have its own purpose. And so that was the big thing with Workday that we embraced was, can we stick with worktags and have one purpose and not mix the outcomes, like we did on our legacy systems?
Klein: When we talk a lot about the goals that we had and call them our “Five Es.” They are ensure, engage, embrace, end, and encourage. We really took those goals with us into the project. And we're looking at things like establishing continuity, ending inefficient processes, and the way that we can make data-driven decisions. These are the types of things that we went into the project wanting to have in terms of our outcomes, and really to transform the work that we do across HR, finance, and payroll grants platforms at the university.
Barba: Got it. Looking back on this implementation, what elements contributed the most to its success? Is there anything that you would do differently? Jennifer, you want to kick us off on this one?
Klein: One of the things that made us successful were our teams within the Modernization Initiative. The teams within the other units across the university are coming together to work on this project. We talked a lot about our teammates being the models for the work that we were trying to do. We really empowered them to make decisions at that lower level, and then bring things up through an escalation process. With Gerik and I, that gave us a lot of opportunity to be able to work with our team and be able to bring forward important decisions up to executive leadership. And then I think we did some unique things in our project. We stood hard on our project management group. And then that was unique to the way that projects kick off. There wasn't a one-to-one PM relationship. There was a four to one, three to one relationship with our partner from Deloitte. It was some of those things that just made our project work for us. We're also wanting to do things a little bit different, maybe a little bit more our way, if you will.
Kimble: I just wanted to say and reiterate that our teams are fantastic. We hired well. The next leaders are within our teams. And they can do a lot of things. And that's a lot of the reason that we're successful. Jennifer did also talk about, I think we call that the ways of working, which was driving those decisions down as far as we could. And what did that do? That developed better leaders within their areas. And they were leaning on those leaders as we tried to optimize. And so that has been fantastic. In my mind, those two things are probably what made us the most successful, that dedication from those groups. And then I think the last question was about what we could do differently. We could do a lot of things differently. I think one area was reporting. We could have spent more time on reporting. My only thought on that is what would we have taken away from in doing so. But we always put reporting as a back seat, and we struggled. We didn't really deliver on a budget statement for our users right away. And it took us almost 14 months to catch up to that. If we did spend a little bit more time thinking about those end users, and what reports they needed, we'd have been a little more successful in that area.
Klein: As we were working through testing, and then training, we were 100% virtual. We had a very different plan going into how we were going to test and then how we're going to train. I think that is something that we wish that we could have had an opportunity to do with the user community. Really sit in those testing labs and sit through those instructor-led, very personal, hands-on labs that we wanted to do. I think that was something that if we had to do over, we would follow that plan.
Barba: As you've changed over from a legacy system and paper over to Workday, how did you approach change management, in particular, the focus on user adoption and empowering decision making?
Kimble: I think that's a great question and one that we took very seriously in our project. We had a change team; we still have a change team. And they sit side by side with our analysts in our meetings, trying to recognize change points, how to communicate those change points, and how to move the community forward, why the business analysts are trying to make the configuration enhancements. Fortunately for us, and Jennifer I don't know what you think about this, but our community really responded. I thought in a time of COVID, where even if you weren't on the project, people were happy to help, happy to jump in.
Not everything was roses, of course. But I commend the community and all those workers out there who helped us move that forward. But I think that the change team did a fantastic job. From a PMO perspective, placing them strategically in all those meetings really helped us. It didn't lean on the business analysts who are already tremendously busy trying to get Workday up and running.
Klein: I absolutely agree with that. During our project, I think that our website that we had propped up communication. And we just did constant communication with the user community so that they understood where we were and what we were doing. As far as our implementation, I think that was really great. Other things that we've done in change management since then. I mean, Workday is an evolution. You go live, and then a whole bunch more stuff happens after that. Release two just came out. It's constantly moving and growing. And so beyond just implementation, Gerik and I go out and we do listening sessions with our units. And we're constantly receiving feedback. I would say that another thing that we work hard to do is to hear where the problems are at the unit level, because Gerik and I don't always get that. It's a great opportunity for us. We engage with our user groups, and we listen. There are tough days. Everything is not perfect, but we listen, we write things down, and then we work to get better in those spaces.
Barba: That’s great. Listening is essential with change management for sure. And that's a great approach to it. Let's go into success stories. Anything you would want to share around the results that you've seen and then tied into that. What role does tech transformation and Workday play in those transformation success stories?
Kimble: Yeah, so Jen and I have a fun one that I'll share. I think you've heard it from me a few times over the years. In grant management, we have what's called effort certification. And it's a process where traditionally you send out paperwork, and they certify that their effort was complete and send it back. At WSU, for years since I've started, we produce these on this old green bar paper with the perforated edges that I remember when I was a kid, I used to make necklaces, rings, and stuff out of them. So that's what we were doing effort certification on at WSU in 2020. As we are a land grant institution, we have locations in every county--40 locations across the state of Washington. And we take those forms, and we mail every one of them out four times a year. We never knew who got them. We knew which ones we got back. Other than that, we really didn't know where they were at, whose desk they were on, or who was holding it up. What did we do with Workday? We utilized the effort certification system and did a couple things. We now have electronic approval, and we can track any effort certification, where it's at and we can follow up.
Now after Workday, we have a 96% completion rate, and we’ve reduced the number of effort periods from four to three. Our faculty must certify that in Workday on a computer, just three times a year instead of four times a year. We thought that's a pretty good story.
Barba: That's a great example. I love that, Jennifer, anything come to mind?
Klein: I know Gerik has heard this from me before on the HR side. What I used to do, as a HR consultant, is help people with positions—who reports to who, like what does the structure look like? And then what are your position descriptions? What are the duties and responsibilities? How are we delineating this out? Like who goes where? And we're always asking, “Who does this position report to? What position does it report to?” For us being able to see that supervisory organization in Workday is huge. I used to accept an org structure on a cocktail napkin, like just give me something to look at here. To be able to see that in Workday and to be able to understand an organizational structure may sound like a simple thing. But when you get to see that on the screen, it's great for us.
And then I would say the other thing that is amazing for us is just to be able to reduce that paper. Every month, people are certifying their annual leave and sick leave balances, signing off on those and sending those to supervisors, it doesn't work like that anymore. We've completely been able to remove those types of processes, and then time work to make sure that all that information is getting certified, and put into a different system. We have these processes now that are working for us that are really going back to what some of our goals are, changing some of those inefficient processes, being able to see information in real time. Those are just some of the things that are maybe little things, but they've had a huge impact for us.
Barba: So finally, let's look to the future a little bit. It's been a challenging few years, for sure. But it's exciting for me to hear how that spirit of collaboration really has come through in difficult times. What do you see the future of higher ed looking like in the next few years?
Kimble: Yes, I think as many people know, there's enrollment challenges. I think some institutions are finding some success, but a lot like WSU are seeing enrollment decreases. One of the issues in higher ed is we're good at adding departments or adding programs, but we're not as good as sunsetting those programs when they maybe need to be. So that's one area that I would look at. The exciting thing about higher ed is I'm confident that the people can solve those problems and move forward, as they’re a great group of people. And they're consistent when you come to a conference like this (Workday Rising). They're everywhere, the passion, it's amazing. And so that excites me, but I do think we have some challenging times ahead.
Barba: That's great. Jennifer, any thoughts on that question?
Klein: We've seen just huge changes in the workplace. What is the workplace now? We are looking at a lot of recruitment and retention challenges. And as we continue to see these changes, we’ll define what a workplace is and what a team looks like. Gerik and I have team members that are all over the country now. We started in Pullman, and now we're everywhere. And so I think that those will continue to be challenges. But to Gerik’s point, I think that people are always excited to take on those challenges. And I think that really solving those problems together. I think the higher ed community really comes together. We see that when we interact with our colleagues all over the country on a consistent basis, especially in the Workday space. We will just continue to take on those challenges to be successful. But Workday Rising is a great place to be able to connect with those folks and be able to say, “Hey, I have this problem. How are you solving that? How are you working on that?” I think that type of trend will just continue.
Barba: That's great. Yeah. I always enjoyed seeing and experiencing that spirit of collaboration when I worked in a higher ed adjacent space. I really appreciated that. And this has been great, Gerik and Jennifer. Thank you again for joining me today.
Kimble: Thank you for having me.
Klein: Thank you.
Barba: We've been talking about higher education transformation with Gerik Kimble and Jennifer Klein from Washington State University. Be sure to follow us wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts and remember, you can find our entire podcast catalog at workday.com/podcast. I'm your host, Jeremiah Barba, and I hope you have a great workday.