Managing a global tech launch during COVID-19

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Global law firm Dentons has enjoyed significant growth since its launch in 2013, and now operates from 189 locations in 77 countries after bringing many existing businesses into its portfolio.

While rapid expansion through acquisition is exciting, it also brings new challenges – often arising from inheriting a wide variety of systems and processes.

As a polycentric company, Dentons doesn’t have an official head office, a uniform company culture or official language – so there was a need for cohesion through digital transformation.

It decided to undertake numerous transformation programmes , including a SuccessFactors talent transformation programme in Australia, which could then be rolled out as a global template.

Carl Jewitt, global program director – global talent transformation, at Dentons, says, “Ultimately, we wanted the talent transformation programme to help us attract, win and retain talent, so we can create the best organisation going forward.

“When we looked across the business, there was a lot of administration, some ailing systems and many different ways of working.

“When you have HR practitioners spending 30 or 40 per cent of their time doing admin, it’s stopping them from speaking with their clients internally – so we needed to remove all of that.”

While Dentons wanted to use best practices to guide people where possible, it didn’t want to impose a one-size-fits-all approach either, so engagement across all regions – and the ability to localise where necessary – was vitally important.

Setting the foundations for success

One of the keys to a successful technology implementation and transformation is to bring everyone on the journey. For Dentons, this process began in Toronto in June 2019 when – pre-COVID-19, of course – a global meeting was something that could happen with relative ease.

“We had people from all over the world sat in a room together, and we designed the org structure and global processes,” says Sharon Perrin, senior SuccessFactors consultant at Edenhouse.

“We followed this up with local workshops in Canada, the US and Australia because there is always some localisation needed.”

Setting up workshops for success

It was essential to establish come common ground from the outset to get the maximum benefit from those workshops.

“We had to get across the message that we’re not trying to tell people how to do everything, we want to create a better experience for everyone,” says Jewitt.

Bringing a huge number of what are – in terms of operations and systems at least – very different businesses together presented some unique challenges, and the journey one country needed to go on could look very different from another.

“Every country had different numbers of employees for a start,” says Perrin. “There were different levels of systems in place. Some had tailored HR systems. Others were on spreadsheets, while some were working on bespoke systems.

“Some people were going to gain a lot of functionality, while others already had systems in place. A key message to get across was that you’re not going to lose anything, just do things differently.”

Leading from the top

The tone for many things in business is set from the top – and people take their cues from their leaders.

At the start of every workshop, Jewitt spoke to give context to the project and inspire participants about what was possible – this was supported by the head of global HRIS implementation, Lee Sheridan, who had a firm commitment and strong belief in the global processes.

“The team were focused on ensuring that later rollouts would be easy to implement, and the message was consistent,” says Jewitt. “We were trying, wherever possible, to achieve a global template.”

Successful outcomes

Of course, only six months after beginning the implementation project, the complexities presented by COVID-19 had to be navigated, and the launch was split in two.

The talent component was launched in July in Australia while a wider launch took place across Papua New Guinea and New Zealand – other regions will follow over the coming months.

“It’s been an overwhelming success,” says Jewitt. “In a lot of cases, we only had a couple of hours a week to engage the local team, because they were supporting COVID-19 related activities, so that created a real challenge.”

However, largely because of the engagement work that took place in the beginning, this challenge was overcome.

Within the first two weeks, the company had an 86 per cent login mark – which Jewitt describes as phenomenal, considering the COVID-19 environment in which we’re all operating.

There are two major signs that the project has – so far – been an overwhelming success, however.

“We’re getting feedback from partners, who tend to be a bit more reticent, coming back and saying it’s a really great system, so that tells us a lot,” says Jewitt.

“That confidence now is ebbing into other regions, who are queueing up wanting to know when it’s their turn!”

If you would like to hear more about Dentons’ global implementation of SuccessFactors, listen to the ‘Dentons & SAP SuccessFactors’ episode of the Edenhouse podcast Eden Talks, available on Spotify and Apple Podcasts.

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