Transforming UHG

Lori Sweere, executive vice president of HR for UnitedHealth Group, opened Bersin & Associates’ IMPACT 2011 conference this morning with a compelling keynote on business transformation.

In late 2007, you may recall, UHG was coming off a well-publicized stock-option scandal that led to the departures of its CEO, COO, CHRO and CFO. At the same time, the company was facing serious integration issues following some recent acquisitions.

“It was apparent that we needed to do something differently,” said Sweere, who was appointed to the top HR post there in May 2007.

To determine what steps needed to be taken, Sweere said she talked to 2,000 managers across the country. “What I found was that the majority of managers had limited faith in human capital,” she said.

In response, Sweere helped to craft a people strategy that focused on four areas: workforce capability, employee engagement, performance culture and human capital effectiveness.

I was particularly interested in hearing what Sweere had to say about how UHG approached the fourth area, human capital effectiveness.

Part of her response pertained to structure and included moving the recruiting function back in house. At the time, 75 percent of all positions were being filled from the outside, not a number Sweere considered acceptable. She also moved talent management and recruiting into a single entity that addressed talent acquisition, talent development and mobility — or what Sweere described as the “entire lifecycle of the employee.”

Further, to elevate the competency level of the company’s HR practitioners, Sweere and her team developed a curriculum and certification for HR generalists, who were required to earn a certification within two years. If they failed to do so, she said, they wouldn’t be able to retain their HR generalist jobs.

The goal, Sweere said, was to get HR generalists to “think strategically everyday … and learn how to effectively use data in a way that influences positive change.” She added that the initiative is now being expanding to centers of expertise, such as recruiting.

A Few More Thoughts on SF/Plateau

Earlier today I was able to grab a few minutes with Josh Bersin, president of Bersin & Associates, at Bersin & Associates’ IMPACT 2011 conference in St. Petersburg, Fla. In his post earlier today, my colleague, Andy McIlvaine, included a brief sound bite from him on yesterday’s announcement of SuccessFactors’ acquisition of Plateau. Figured I might as well take the opportunity to ask him to elaborate.

Echoing the quote from him that was featured in SuccessFactors’ press release, Bersin sees the acquisition as a win-win for both companies, since it fills the learning- management hole in SF’s product line with a “strong” LMS and puts Plateau’s technology in the hands of an “aggressive marketer.”

“This deal definitely puts SuccessFactors in a much more dominant position,” Bersin says.

What’s more, Bersin adds, the deal says something about the value being placed on the space, adding nearly $300 million more to Cornerstone OnDemand’s recent IPO, which today had a market cap at around $900 million. That’s for an estimated $1 billion market! he says. (Not too shabby.)

So what’s next? Bersin suggests two prime candidates include developers of collaboration tools (along the lines of Jambok, which SuccessFactors also recently acquired) and workforce planning/analytics tools. If the last few months are any indication, we might not have to wait too long to find out.

STEM Education Must Change to Stem this Tide

It appears we have a long row to hoe before we can see much-needed improvements in U.S. science and technology education — or before we can attain a much-needed and competitive science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) talent pipeline.

A recent report from the Washington-based Institute for a Competitive Workforce suggests we’re further behind the math-and-science eight-ball than we think. The study, The Case for Being Bold: A New Agenda for Business in Improving STEM Education, compared U.S. STEM students with their peers worldwide and found the U.S. students ranked 25th in the world for mathematics and 17th for science literacy. Ouch.

And guess where the top-ranked math and science students hail from? You got it. The Shanghai region of China.

The report echoes concerns I wrote about in February in a news analysis of General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt’s appointment by President Obama to the latter’s recently formed jobs council. Most of the HR experts and analysts I spoke to for that piece (posted to HREOnline™), concurred that the council’s commitment to improving technology and science and math education in this country — and recharging businesses’ partnerships with schools in that effort — was a hopeful sign that our nation’s leaders are finally and fully recognizing just how great this need has become. Said another way, our leaders finally understand just how inadequate our STEM education is on a global scale, and what that portends for this country.

The ICW report points out that the business community’s long-standing “nice guy” approach to promoting best practices and providing resources to schools just won’t cut it anymore. It recommends that business leaders from scientific and engineering firms get in there and do some personal instructing, that schools relax some of their certification requirements to get more scientists and engineers into the classrooms as teachers, and that top instructors be asked to take on additional students.

The latter would mean schools would have to relax their current standards of teaching the same material to the same number of students. As for getting more business leaders in front of students to teach science in some kind of partnership arrangement, I’m sure HR would and should have a role in that.

I’m especially passionate about this crying national need. I come from a family of chemists and engineers, including a great grandfather bridge designer, a grandfather chemist who headed research for Sunkist, a chemical oceanographer father and now an engineer son.

My dad, now in his 80s, voluntarily speaks to high-school students as much as he can. His goal, he’s told me more than once, is to “get them excited about this stuff.” Passion and excitement for science has to come from the teachers, and can’t, he says, when the majority haven’t been trained and educated that far. They don’t understand it themselves. How can you get passionate about something you don’t understand?

There’s an overall sense, in the ICW report, that time is running out for us to right this ship. All the more reason to get the people who “get it” in front of our classrooms now and stop assuming we have the luxury of time to evaluate our entire educational system — or figure out how to start emulating China.

Lawson Talks Back

Not everyone is a fan of the just-announced planned acquisition of Lawson Software by Infor and Golden Gate Software Holdings Inc. In a post on her “In Full Bloom” blog, tech consultant Naomi Bloom describes Infor as “an ERP graveyard” where “old software goes to die, to be milked for its installed base’s maintenance revenues, with only modest, ongoing upgrades.” She further writes “I could be very wrong, and I surely hope I am.”

A spokesman for Lawson takes issue with that view. “No disrespect to Naomi, but that’s a dated perception of Infor,” says Terry Blake, Lawson’s vice president for corporate communications, during a brief phone interview earlier today. “The experts in this space really need to understand what Infor is doing these days.”

The company has a new management team in place and a “vision” that involves delivering “even more applications to customers,” he says.

“Infor is in no way an infrastructure vendor, they’re not trying to be a stack provider–they’re focused on applications,” adds Blake.

Infor’s new CEO, Charles Phillips, plans to rebrand Infor as a competitor to SAP and Oracle, says Blake. A number of Lawson customers have expressed support for the acquisition, he adds. “Infor’s track record is to acquire and keep products–they don’t necessarily try, like Oracle, to put someone into some type of Fusion re-do of existing applications.”  

Lawson customers have also expressed concern as to whether their “investments will be protected and whether there is a ‘plan, going forward, for the products I have?’ ” says Blake. “Our response is, Infor has put forward a commitment to continue investing in products and providing customers with a path to future products.”

Although a recent article in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune (Lawson is based in St. Paul, Minn.) speculated that up to 25 percent of Lawson’s 700 or so headquarters staff would be let go as part of the acquisition, Blake says no personnel announcements have been made and most likely won’t be made until after the deal closes, which he anticipates will likely occur in the third quarter of this year

Infor is planning to hire 400 additional software engineers in the near future, according to an Infor press release annoucing the acquisition.  It also plans to ship 60 percent more products and enhancements compared to last year.

Infor and Lawson are a good fit because each will complement the other’s strengths, says Blake. “Lawson has some presence in the gaming industry but Infor is very strong in that industry, while Lawson has a very strong HCM suite that Infor does not have, so there are many opportunities for customers of both companies to benefit.”

… and SuccessFactors Acquires Plateau

Hot on the heels of Infor’s acquisition of Lawson Software, talent-management firm SuccessFactors has announced its acquisition of learning-systems vendor Plateau for $290 million. SuccessFactors will pay for Plateau with an even mix of cash and stock.  SuccessFactors describes the Plateau acquisition as a “symbiotic combination” with another vendor it’s just purchased,  mobile-learning provider Jambok.

Plateau brings more than 350 new customers to its new parent, according to SuccessFactors. Once the deal closes this summer, Plateau’s SaaS-based learning-management system will be integrated directly into SuccessFactors’ BizX talent-management suite.  

The SuccessFactors-Plateau combination drew praise from several HR technology analysts, who are quoted in a SuccessFactors press release announcing the deal. “[The acquisition] brings together the market share leader in talent management with one of the market leaders in learning management to create a global powerhouse in end-to-end talent-management software,” said Josh Bersin, president and CEO of Bersin & Associates.

“This is, in my opinion, a merger of true leaders,” said Lisa Rowan, IDC’s program director for HR, talent and learning strategies.

“SuccessFactors just acquired another big piece of the periodic table of elements,” said Jason Averbook, CEO of Knowledge Infusion.

Infor Acquires Lawson Software

Consolidation in the HR technology arena continues apace with the latest news that Infor and private-equity firm Golden Gate Capital have acquired St. Paul, Minn.-based Lawson Software for $2 billion. Under the terms of the transaction, Infor and GGC Software Holdings will pay $11.25 a share for Lawson, representing a 14-percent premium for Lawson’s shareholders, according to the NY Times’ DealBook blog.

“We are pleased to have entered into a transaction that will offer Lawson stockholders an attractive valuation,” said Lawson president and CEO Harry Debes in a statement.

More to follow …

U.S. Army Streamlines HR function

In a move that could be predictive of future federal budget cuts, the U.S. Army announced it will cut 500 human resource and training jobs at its Fort Knox facility, thereby saving $50 million in budget expenses, according to this report:

“Headquartered in Fort Knox, the U.S. Army Accessions Command will be phased out by the end of the 2012 fiscal year. But the base, which employs approximately 18,600 military and civilian personnel and 2,800 contractors, will continue serving as the national headquarters for human resources and training, [Army spokesman Brian] Lepley said.

By mid-July, there will also be a transfer of 81 additional employees to Fort Knox from Fort Monroe in Hampton, Va., which is shutting down, Lieutenant Colonel Matt Hackathorn said.

The changes will eliminate 195 military and civilian jobs and 290 contracted jobs in Fort Knox.”

IRS Awards $4.5 Million to Whistleblower

We’ve seen and written plenty of whistleblower stories, but this one from NBC Philadelphia caught my attention because it involves the Internal Revenue Service awarding an accountant for turning in his employer for tax evasion.

The lawyer for the accountant calls it a “win-win for both the government and taxpayers.”

“These are dollars that are being returned to the Treasury that otherwise wouldn’t be,” the lawyer, Eric Young of Blue Bell, Pa., tells the press.

Mind you, this isn’t the largest whistleblower award issued. Young represented one who netted $2 billion in a case against Pfizer  was part of a $2 billion settlement Pfizer paid to the government.

It’s also not the first tip to come into the IRS Whistleblower Office  since it opened in 2007. According to this report the Office received nearly 1,000 tips involving more than 3,000 taxpayers in fiscal years 2008 and 2009.

It is, however, the first in the program to reach fruition. Could this be the start of many more to come?

Leading the Way … Out the Door?

Think the boss is looking for a new job? If so, then you’re apparently not alone. In a just released Right Management study, nearly half of the 793 North American employees surveyed said they think their bosses are either “definitely” (27 percent) or “probably” (21 percent) looking for a new job.

The survey doesn’t cite the specific signs that led employees to such a conclusion. Maybe it was that resume left on the copier? Or perhaps something a bit more subtle? But whatever the give away, I suppose we shouldn’t be too surprised.

There’s been no shortage of surveys and stories (some appearing in HRE) predicting top talent will be jumping ship as the economy starts to pick up steam. So it only seems to make sense for bosses, many of whom have had a tough go over the past few years, to be leading the way out the door … or at least trying to.