Workday Podcast: Taking a People-First Approach Toward Digital Transformation in Government

Nole Walkingshaw, chief innovation officer at Salt Lake City, discusses how the city’s innovation team approaches digital transformation, and why modernizing decades-old technology requires a people-first strategy.

Audio also available on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

Should a digital transformation strategy be led by a team of people who admit they’re not technical experts?

That’s what’s happening in Salt Lake City. And it’s making all the difference in creating lasting change.

“So my team, we’re not necessarily overly strong in technology,” says Nole Walkingshaw, chief innovation officer at Salt Lake City and leader of the Innovation Team, which is tasked with streamlining and implementing technology projects for the city government. “We don’t know how to write code or anything like that, but what we have is a strong team that really understands public engagement, communication, facilitation, and how to develop public policy.”

In this episode of the Workday Podcast, Walkingshaw shares more about the Innovation Team’s approach to digital transformation, how the Salt Lake City government uses technology to model the civic values of transparency and accountability, and insights on creating a culture of innovation in government.

Here are a few highlights of the conversation, edited for clarity. If you enjoyed this episode, you can find our entire podcast catalog here

  • “We’ve had a couple folks say it’s too easy now. ‘Oh, it’s too easy. Too much is happening. It’s too fast. We’ve got to put controls in there, right?’ The controls are there. If you look at the audit trail, everybody who needed to sign off signed off, it’s just that it didn’t take us five weeks. We did it in a day.”

  • “Philosophically, we know where we want to go. We know that we want to be driving decisions based on good information. We want to transition away from line-item budgeting to program-based budgeting. Measuring the effectiveness of our investments in housing, our investments in homelessness, our investments in public safety, which are not departmentalized. But when you have a line-item budget, everybody gets their piece of the pie, everybody spends their piece of the pie. It’s hard to really calculate if you are effective in how you’re distributing and using that money. So those are objectives that we wanted to hit, and to do that, we needed transformation.”

  • “We stopped using the term ERP [enterprise resource planning] pretty early. We learned that ERP, even if you read it out, people still don’t know what it means. So we started calling it PAM: people, assets, money. And all of a sudden people started to get it.”

Jillian Ogawa: [music] It might sound counterintuitive, but technology isn't the first thing you should think about in a digital transformation. Instead, it's the people. For lasting change to happen, digital transformation must center on peoples' experiences. I'm Jillian Ogawa, Senior Content Marketing Manager at Workday, and I'm here with Nole Walkingshaw, Chief Innovation Officer at Salt Lake City. We'll be talking about how Salt Lake City's innovation team applied a people-first approach to its digital transformation and sharing advice for government institutions on successfully implementing their own digital initiatives. Nole, welcome to the Workday podcast.

Nole Walkingshaw: Oh, thank you for having me, Jillian.

Ogawa: First off, can you briefly share the background of your role and your team?

Walkingshaw: Yeah, sure. My role, Chief Innovation Officer, it was largely formed around our Workday project. It was formed before we had selected Workday as a vendor. I was asked to take on this assignment before I had had this position. And when we got started on the project, I knew that we needed to build a team of people that were really good at communication, good at understanding public policy, and we knew that we needed to develop the, "Why are we doing it" statements. And so we built a team around that. So my team, we're not necessarily overly strong in technology. We don't know how to write code or anything like that, but what we have is a strong team that really understands public engagement, communication, facilitation, and how to develop public policy. Our council and our mayor want to be forward thinking in how we administrate the city, and so we took a lot of that into account when we started developing the team. And then we got into sort of the nuts and bolts of what the technology shift would look like. So we've said in a way that we're sort of like the civic engagement team for the inside. So keeping employees engaged and learning about what it is we're doing and why, taking feedback, informed decision making. So we've taken a public engagement model and brought it inside.

Ogawa: So when you were creating that team, was it specifically to modernize your HR and finance system, or was it just technology in general?

Walkingshaw: It was focused on an ERP. Yeah, we stopped using the term 'ERP' pretty early. We learned that ERP, even if you read it out, Enterprise Resource Management, people still don't know what it means. So we started calling it PAM, People, Assets, Money. And all of a sudden people started--

Ogawa: That's a good one.

Walkingshaw: --to get it, right? For a while, the project was just PAM. And so it was built around that. There were a number of reasons to do this. One of them being that the technologies that we have are quite old and out of date. We simply needed to get out of that technology deficit. Capital management in a city is really, really important, right? We have billions of dollars in assets. And to effectively manage that, you need key pieces of information. We have a real objective to be incredible stewards of those assets, and we'd sort of hit a threshold. Technology, we were in a deficit. Philosophically, we know where we want to go. We know that we want to be driving decisions based on good information. We want to transition away from line-item budgeting to program-based budgeting. Measuring the effectiveness of our investment in housing, our investments in homelessness, our investments in public safety, which are not departmentalized. But when you have a line-item budge, everybody gets their piece of the pie, everybody spends their piece of the pie, it's hard to really calculate are you effective in how you're distributing and using that money. So those are objectives that we wanted to hit, and to do that, we needed transformation.

Ogawa: I want to bring up the idea of a people-first digital transformation. So what does that mean to you?

Walkingshaw: We know that you can't just say, "Here's four people from the finance department. They're gonna be our subject matter experts and the rest of you will come along and somehow build that trust." And so we wanted to make sure that we had engagement across the city and a lot of folks that are subject matter experts in those roles because we're trying to centralize to the best business practice model. And you can't do a best business practice model if one or two people are designing the system and then trying to then roll it out to, you know, 15 different departments.

Ogawa: What does a people-first digital transformation look like in action when your team was asked to modernize the city's internal technology?

Walkingshaw: It started with a small team, stakeholders-- a small team of stakeholders, and then what would become our sponsors of just trying to establish the vision, the why statements. A lot of time spent on just why are we doing it, what are we hoping to achieve, just some of those goals and metrics to build some consensus around that. And then we went into an exercise of looking at what does the team structure need to look like? So we built tables of roles and responsibilities. We need technologists in this area, this area, this area. We need data people, we need integrations people. What are the pieces to the team that we need to have? Subject matter experts, communication change management, sponsors. All of those different pieces. So we tried to create what that list would look like and what the demand of that role would be before assigning names. And then once we had that structure and that organization, then we started working with our, uh, sponsors, our directors, our leaders to say, "Okay, these are the roles we need to fill. Who are the right people to fill these positions?" And then, obviously, we're bringing on people that are already busy. What does that busyness look like? Take it down a bit and say, "Okay, there's some things we're not going to be able to do," right? We gotta keep the lights on, but maybe there are some projects that we need to put on the back burner, start working through what that is so that we can build a priority, right? You have to have prioritization around this. You can't make everything important, because then if you do, nothing gets done.

Ogawa: So what was the reaction from people when you gathered a cross-functional team to assess the technology?

Walkingshaw: I think the core team generally were pretty excited to participate. I, I think we assembled a team of motivated people who understood. Out there in the world-- maybe there's a couple instances on some smaller pieces of software, people are like, "Yeah, it worked." But no one's saying, "Oh man, this old system is so amazing. Why would you ever want to change?" Right?

Ogawa: Mm-hmm.

Walkingshaw: What we've got going on isn't really working well for anybody and we knew that there was a lot of manual process, we knew that because of the way it's structured, it required a lot of manual distributed work, which creates inconsistencies. It's hard to create consistent policies, it's hard to effectively administrate. So we had buy-in there, because no one was saying, "Why would you replace this amazing thing?" And people saw that there's debate on direction, but no one was saying, "No, we don't want to change." And then the debate around priority becomes important, right? Because a transformation like this has to be a priority. You have to say, "Okay, we've assembled this team." Everybody sort of made a list of things they were working on and was it something we could hand off, or was it something we just put on a shelf? And we had to put a lot of efforts on the shelf because you just can't do everything and take something like this on. Part of our resourcing strategy was going through a very formal prioritization exercise and communicating that consistently. Today, my team-- there are many things people would love us to help them with and we would love to help them, but we have to keep our focus, right? And, and that's a big part of our team's job is helping people keep focus on this project. We can't allow ourselves to be overly distracted.

Ogawa: So were there challenges with taking a people-first approach and making it cross functional?

Walkingshaw: There's challenges in that sometimes people think, "Why are we bringing outsiders in to tell us what to do?" There are perceptions that people would have, you know. And, and we had to quickly sort of address the roles. My role isn't to tell people how to do procurement. I don't know the rules around procurement. It's not my job to tell the controller how to do controller work, or HR people how to do controller work. So I think that that perception was one of those early ones that we had to kind of squash. That's not our role. Our role is to help you communicate. Our role is to manage the mechanics of a project. And our role is to help those who know how to do technology work, focus on the technology work. Often what you see in gov IT is they give a big project to the IT team, but the IT team doesn't have a strong communication and facilitations background. And so they're sort of thrusted into being good communicators. This is a lesson we learned from running the civic engagement team. Don't give an engineer the assignment of public engagement, right? Because they're just gonna go out there and say, "See, X plus Y equals Z. We know X plus Y equals Z, so I don't know why we're talking, right?" Because that's just that--

Ogawa: Hmm.

Walkingshaw: --that mindset. And nothing against engineers; they're fine people. Initially, we had to, like, really try to set some strong communications around what our role would be on the project. And it wasn't to control how they do their jobs. It was to facilitate good conversations as we went through that transformation.

Ogawa: So how was relating that message to the cross-functional team? How did they react to it?

Walkingshaw: They took a little bit. There were some trust exercises every-everybody has to go through. Initially, the group was smaller. We, we incrementally grew, you know. There were nine of us to do the scoping, the gathering of all the stuff, writing the RFP, managing that. Then we did a little bit of creep our where we've gotta draft and we went to all the different people, directors and finance managers saying, "Hey, did we capture your requirements?" It was all that capturing. And at that point in time, I don't think they felt a strong sense of ownership. So then as we had to develop the RFP, we started building more of that selection. And we made sure that we had cross-functional key stakeholders on that selection process, right? There's some big, big entities within the city. We have an airport, we have a utilities, we have a general fund. So we would bring all of those folks together for that. So, incrementally growing in that regard. And then we just started doing education campaigns. The Prosci ADKAR. Awareness. W-we are changing. We are doing this. And I think that that helped it get out there, but maybe hadn't quite built that trust. And the trust stuff started coming when we started more into the implementation and all of a sudden they're like, "Oh, I'm in a room. I am responsible. I have a sense of ownership."

Ogawa: So, I'm curious to know, how did taking a people-first approach influence how you chose a software vendor?

Walkingshaw: So, there were a couple different things that were important to us. One, because of the experiences that we'd had building enterprise systems, that common database was really important to me and really important to the team that we, we knew that with a lot of different pieces plugging into each other, that lack of common data structure became problematic. So that was a big important thing. The other one we really wanted to focus on user experience. We knew that adoption user experience was going to be really important. So those were key factors that we were looking at. Adoption was going to be important. Early on, the nine all went through Prosci change management, became certified in change management. Technologists, leaders, all of it, so that we could build that philosophy and that broader understanding. Even if they aren't practitioners, they knew how we were gonna communicate, what that communication piece was going to look like. This was before we'd selected a vendor.

Walkingshaw: So we'd had all of those sort of foundations trying to be set, so those became values in the selection process. There's a lot of technologies that can do accounting, but what are those bigger objectives that we're wanting to do. What are one of those that we're gonna be able to do adoption and, and what are the philosophies around organizational change? And Workday presented themselves well. We went with Avaap as our implementation partner, and they presented themselves really well in this area. And that's not something that happened across implementation partners consistently, and it certainly was not something that happened across the other software that we looked at. So they became high markers in our decision-making process. It was more than just checking off the technical capacity.

Ogawa: Thank you for that insight. I'm also curious to know what do you see as some of the challenges that make organizations, particularly government, hesitant to take a people-first approach to digital initiatives?

Walkingshaw: Well, I think hesitancy comes with risk, right? A, a big-- transformational projects are risky and sometimes you do it out of sheer need. We are failing. We are imploding. We gotta go. We've put the last straw on the camel's back. And then there's others that are more deliberate. We knew that we had a massive technical debt, but we knew we needed to do that. I would say that the hesitancy is v-- comes in vision, right? And, and we are lucky in Salt Lake City where we have a mayor that has a strong vision, and our council supports that vision of transparency, being really good stewards of the public dollar. Budget year over budget year, we're faced with not always having the information that they really want to make fast decisions. And so we had that political buy-in. I think the other piece is just a little bit of maturity, right? Like, we're not maybe the most mature organization, but we have had experience in developing successful enterprise projects. And we knew that to do that, you've got to be pretty dedicated. But I think that hesitancy often is not really knowing what it takes, not feeling that political love, that buy-in that says, "Hey, we're gonna dedicate some of your best people-- we're gonna take them off hot button items that are out in the public, some of the folks that have done a lot of real serious work out in the public and we're gonna pull them inside and we're gonna really stay focused." It's, it's a commitment, and some people have commitment issues.

Ogawa: That's a good way to describe it. So, it's been a few months. You've deployed Workday Human Capital Management and Financial Management. How long has it been?

Walkingshaw: H-- uh, HCM is live. We are in process with payroll and finance and all of the little stubs that surround all of that. And we'll be going live in March 2023 with those pieces.

Ogawa: So do you have any success stories you could share about how Salt Lake City use Workday?

Walkingshaw: I think that we're pretty new and we're definitely still in that, I would say, stabilization mode. But we are seeing turnaround on tasks that were previously multi-software or a form, an email, and two or three different software entries all being bottled into one. And bringing, internally, like, raises, bonuses, salary adjustments, our onboarding process. Well, we had a couple of hiccu-- all of a sudden, we're cleaning those up and those things are coming along really well. We've had a couple folk say it's too easy now. "Oh, it's too easy. Too much is happening. It's too fast. We've got to put controls in there, right?" The controls are there. If you look at the audit trail, everybody who needed to sign off signed off, it's just that it didn't take us five weeks. We did it in a day. And so I think those kinds of lessons are popping up all the time and just getting used to the automation doing the automation's work and everything happening in one place versus two, three, four, five. If you wanted to give someone a salary increase, that was three or four different pieces of software.

Ogawa: Wow. They're learning to trust the system.

Walkingshaw: Trust the system, yeah.

Ogawa: And you-- and you seeing them trust the system a little more each time?

Walkingshaw: Yes. And the app has been really good, too, right? We're rolling out the app, people are seeing the app. That kind of access to a person's profile, they've not had that before. As a city, as a policy, digital equity is an important thing that we're working on. We want to make sure that our citizens have access and advantage. And while I was in public services, we did a study jus-- we were doing, like, a, a Microsoft audit on who has an email address, you know, and licensing and stuff. And we found out that about 35% of our staff never checked email. They never logged in. So they're not receiving any information that's being broadcast digitally. So Workday is going to become a part of our employee digital equity initiatives because they can download the app now. Important information that relates to them - learning, careers, benefits, things like that - are now gonna be in a much more available space than what they had before, which was maybe there was a computer kiosk that they could log into.

Ogawa: Hmm.

Walkingshaw: Or there was a Marlin board that they would say, "Oh, something's happened." Then once a year, they get a packet of benefits information in the mail and they look at it and they're like, "Well, I don't think I need a change," and they just ignore it. Decisions they choose to make. So moving forward, Workday's going to become part of our digital engagement, because our employees have cell phones. They can download the apps onto their personal phones. And we're working on ways to encourage them to do that and incentivize them to do that, leveling the playing field, leveling the access to information across the city.

Ogawa: Wow. That's so great to hear. So that sparks another thought. I understand that working in government requires a high degree of transparency not only within the organization, but also in how it demonstrates accountability to the community. So did taking a people-first approach to digital transformation help Salt Lake City select technology that enabled this mission?

Walkingshaw: Yes. Salt Lake City, I would say, is forward thinking when it comes to transparency. Around 2007, we drafted the Transparency policies for the city. Shortly after that, we drafted Open Data policies for the city. And we've built on those ever since, but, you know, we're a transparency first in our decision making, right? It's a value that we have, and so we wanted that to be improved. So, that's when I go back to that shift to program-based budgeting. We want to shift to how we're demonstrating that information in a way that's digestible. If you said, "How much money do we spend on supporting those experiencing homelessness?" It's a hard calculation. But we want to give you a really accurate piece of information. We want to see what are the topics within those. What's that distribution look like? Because it's police, it's fire, it's housing, it's code enforcements. There are a lot of agencies that are supporting our friends experiencing homelessness. There's lots of areas in where we want that transparency. Workday helps us get there, because we've restructured our chart of accounts under the foundation data model. The restructure of the chart of accounts will be based around a model that allows for program-based budgeting. And we will be able to demonstrate that data in a way that citizens can read it and understand what we're saying. Right now, it's an Excel spreadsheet with a bottom line and unless you really know Excel and-- it's harder to see.

Ogawa: Oh, so it'll be easier to just pull up a report--

Walkingshaw: Yeah. It'll take us a couple years to mature in that respect around that program-based budgeting. It's not something that you just flip a switch.

Ogawa: Mm-hmm.

Walkingshaw: But over time, we'll develop the value statements of the city. These are the priorities of the city. These are the programs that the city is prioritizing and investing in. And here's where we're making the money and here's where that money's going, here's what that money is doing. It'll take us a couple years to mature in that way, but that's an objective. The implementation is just the start.

Ogawa: I wanted to go back to this idea of commitment issues. We were talking about how government organizations are typically hesitant to commit to this people-first approach. What's your advice to get over those commitment issues or to cure that commitment issue?

Walkingshaw: Well, I think you have to think about it as sort of a relationship, right? Sometimes it's easy to make the commitment, but it's harder to maintain the commitment. And so I think that we see that. I've heard a lot while I've been here about burnout, you're really making this demands, and how do you stay motivated? We're-- not without that, for sure. But I think that it's constantly re-reminding ourselves why we're doing it, celebrating those little wins. And I think that we've established a strong sponsor model. So we have leadership visible and we set that expectation with our leadership, and they bought into it. They have a strong relationship. They get along, our directors, finance, and HR and IT and our chief administrative officer. They're-- it's a very open, trusting group of people and we-- they know that their presence is really important. And, and so I think that's a big way to do it, is you can't say, "Okay, you're all committed," and then leadership walks away and expects these folks to just fight it out. That's not commitment. Commitment is the leadership shows up. The leadership participates. The leadership celebrates. The leadership helps take the heat when things go wrong. And when resources are truly needed, they help find those resources. So I think that commitment is, is recognizing that you have to maintain a relationship. There are going to be times when you're not getting along or you're frustrated with something that's just not doing what you thought it was gonna do. Having that strong leadership presence throughout the project and throughout the objectives is really important. So my advice is, to folks making the commitment, if you're in a leadership role, you're making that commitment.

Ogawa: Thank you, Nole. This has been such a great conversation. Before we wrap up, can you share a couple of important takeaways that government organizations should keep in mind when taking a people-first approach to their digital initiatives?

Walkingshaw: Well, I think a big part of it is recognizing that it's people and we've all got a lot going on and it's a long-term commitment. It's not something that's gonna happen in a week or two. And in that commitment, people's lives are gonna change, right? All of a sudden, you're gonna have a pandemic or something like that. When we started, we didn't have a pandemic, and then when we started to get ready to go live, we did. Being patient with the people, right? Stuff's gonna happen in their lives and they're gonna need a minute, and making sure there's a safe place for that. Setting up rules for conversations around it's a safe place to protest, right? You don't want to be overly disruptive or disrespectful, but it's a safe place to protest. We need a healthy engagement. Often, and early in the project, I-- you could see myself and some of the other leaders, like, really kind of bantering back and forth and thought, "Well, are they fighting?" It's like, "No, we're just debating process," right, and demonstrating that it's a safe place to sh-share opinions and that there are methods for resolving conflict.

Walkingshaw: We wrote it into our charter, conflict management, how we're going to make those decisions expressing those goals so that you maintain safety. So that people feel safe. Because there is a lot of risk in a project like this when people stop talking. When people stop talking, you're in trouble. Trying to just consistently maintain that ability for people to speak up. And also when you see people withdraw and say, "Hey, I need you to come back to the table." We've seen it a couple times, just like, "Hey, I don't love the way this is going. I'm just gonna kinda step away." And that's when you say, "Actually, I need you to come back because you bring great insight. We need that opinion in the mix because we're not gonna get where you want to go if you withdraw." So following those rules of facilitation, conflict resolution and really understanding how to allow people to engage in difficult conversations is going to be really important. And, and it has been for us. And I think we've been successful there. I, I know people can come to me and say, "Hey, man, this is messed up," and I-I'm not gonna get mad. It may cause me anxiety because I gotta go fix something, but that's fine. I'd rather them come and express that.

Ogawa: Thank you so much, Nole, for the conversation.

Walkingshaw: Thank you for having me, Jillian.

Ogawa: We've been talking about driving a people-first digital transformation with Nole Walkingshaw from Salt Lake City. Be sure to follow us wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts. And remember, you can find our entire podcast catalog at I'm your host, Jillian Ogawa, and I hope you have a great workday.

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