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.