Behind the scenes of Merivale’s successful digital transformation of HR

Behind the scenes of Merivale’s successful digital transformation of HR

A tight partnership between HR and IT has been critical to the ongoing digital transformation of the HR function within Merivale, which is currently undergoing a whole-of-business transformation to bring its back-office people systems up to high front-of-house performance standards.

Merivale, Australia’s largest privately owned restaurant and hospitality business with 3000 staff across more than 70 venue and event spaces throughout Sydney, is keenly focused on providing an exceptional guest experience, according to Kate Tones, group people experience manager at Merivale.

“Our people are the most important asset in delivering this,” she said.

“But outdated systems and processes were holding us back from delivering the same type of exceptional experience to our own people and ultimately, hindering our capacity to scale sustainably.

“Our previous system was a combination of Excel spreadsheets, outdated payroll and workforce management systems, and a recruitment system that better served the needs of agency recruiters than our candidates.

“Our tech team called it a ‘spaghetti network’; it’s probably best described as a filing cabinet hooked together electronically [and] there was no clear strategy about how to navigate our processes, what was the source of truth, and it was horribly manual,” said Tones, who was speaking ahead of a series of events about how Merivale’s people experience team is leading the charge across their broader digital transformation journey.

To counter this, Merivale embarked on a broader digital transformation that will span the business, and the technology team has worked with Merivale’s people experience team to kick off the business’ digital transformation – adopting and implementing a completely integrated digital HRIS that enables the business to grow and scale.

“As HR was Merivale’s first large-scale digital transformation, we knew we had to succeed to pave the way for Merivale’s other departments who would soon be on their own transformation journey,” said Tones.

“In the true spirit of partnership, we’ve set expectations with IT and the broader business from the beginning that some of the most important gains wouldn’t be purely financial,” she said.

“It’s an education process to help the business to understand that transformation is about your people, not just technology.”

“Outdated systems and processes were holding us back from delivering the same type of exceptional experience to our own people and ultimately, hindering our capacity to scale sustainably”

Key areas of digital transformation opportunity
Payroll was one of a number of key areas in need of improvement, Tones explained: “We were in the precarious position of not being certain our payroll was accurate. We could have suffered financial loss or incorrectly paid our people,” she said.

Manual, paper-based leave applications also allowed for significant leave leakage.

“Payroll wasn’t always aware that people were going on holiday and leave sometimes remained on the balance sheet, creating a financial impact on the business,” she said.

“People were going on leave without letting payroll know, intentionally or unintentionally. We had a lot of extra leave that needed to be accounted for.”

Improving the candidate experience was also a key priority, and as a hospitality business, Merivale needs to attract a sufficient number of quality candidates to meet its highly seasonal staffing needs.

“By our peak on Melbourne Cup day, the company needs to add an extra 800 staff,” said Tones.

“The biggest challenge is finding the additional people and making the most of those we already have.

“Having an attractive recruitment process that allows us to find the right people and engage them in a compelling way is incredibly important and an area we were lacking in.

“Our candidates are one of the people experience team’s most valued customers.

“A priority of ours is to ensure their experience with us is a positive one; it can be the difference between securing amazing new talent, or losing them to a competitor whose processes allowed them to move faster.”

Hospitality has traditionally been behind the eight-ball when it comes to technology and staff user experience, and Tones said Merivale was no different.

“But as a leader in the industry, it was important to set an example in our people’s experience,” she said.

“The biggest challenge is finding the additional people and making the most of those we already have”

“We have a really young workforce – the average age is 27. They’re technology natives.

“If we can’t provide them with the technology and systems that enable them to do great work, we’re letting them down.”

Adoption and implementation
After reviewing a magnitude of vendors, SAP SuccessFactors was selected because of its modularity, the ability to achieve everything identified to meet current and future requirements, and its capacity to integrate with other platforms that formed a key part of Merivale’s digital transformation.

“Another priority for us was to have the right partner on this journey,” said Tones.

“We needed a team that we could trust to guide us and help us meet our goals, and we needed it to be able to integrate not just with other systems, but within modules.”

The user experience and aesthetics were also major considerations, and Tones explained that – just like in Merivale’s restaurants, bars and event spaces, it wasn’t just about the functionality.

“The digital user experience had to live up to our venue priorities: beautiful, aesthetically pleasing, efficient,” she said.

“User experience and aesthetics were a major factor. A system that had the functionality, but wasn’t easy to use or didn’t look amazing would have been a deal-breaker.”

Tones explained that the full transformation at Merivale is a work in progress; phase one began with the introduction of SAP SuccessFactors Employee Central and EC Payroll.

“The key was to establish greater data accuracy – having a single source of truth is the foundation for all future modules,” said Tones.

Phase two includes the recruitment module (which went live at the start of October 2018) while phase three is designed to take the onboarding, learning and communication experience to the next level.

“We tried to start fresh with what we wanted to achieve as the outcome as the focus”

“We’re introducing greater mobility into the platform, which is critical given that three-quarters of our workforce are casual,” said Tones, who added that simplifying and streamlining were key to implementation.

“We didn’t want to complicate the new platform (dubbed MyMerivale) by carrying across old functionalities or policies as a safety net,” she said.

“But this involved a painful assessment of every single functionality, process and policy to ensure we remained true to our goal of ‘starting as we mean to go on’.

“We tried to start fresh with what we wanted to achieve as the outcome as the focus.”

Outcomes and results
As the function to kick start Merivale’s digital transformation, the people experience team has increased its own capabilities in implementing tech projects – which will also benefit other functions in the course of the broader business transformation.

“Our early success and learnings around how to implement these projects successfully are enabling other teams to think about how they can do things more effectively,” said Tones.

“The process of getting started is difficult and time-consuming; it takes a lot of learning and now we’re well and truly on the road to best  practice as well as constantly improving and that’s a great feeling for the business and our team.”

Merivale has gained greater visibility of its workforce, allowing the people experience team to better utilise current talent.

“Hospitality is a very resource intensive industry, reliant on a unique mix of skill-sets working together at any one time,” said Tones.

“It requires the ability to look past an employee’s current role and see where their skills might fit moving forward. Without the right technology to empower HR, planning is impossible.”

“It’s nice to be in a position where we’re already thinking about what the business needs before they’re asking for it”

Tones explained that she was “extremely happy” with the results of the implementation to date, with much greater reliability and speed of access to data.

“At a big-picture level, we’re able to anticipate the needs of the business rather than reacting to them,” she said.

“We often even get there first – coming up with improvements that have never been considered before thanks to greater data visibility and the freedom to think more strategically.”

“It’s nice to be in a position where we’re already thinking about what the business needs before they’re asking for it.

“This increases the value our team provides and validates our partnership with the rest of the operations part of the business.”

Tones added that many business processes have become far easier and more insightful as the data is clean and reliable.

“We removed the risk of payroll errors and cleaned up our leave leakage. With more transparency around these areas, and leave being taken off the balance sheet in time, the system is paying for itself,” she said.

“Given the size of payroll and our annual leave bill, the system creates return on investment by having more transparency around who’s on leave when.”

The platform has also helped empower managers, and Tones explained that by allowing them to just get on with things and run the business as if it was their own, there have been “some fantastic results”.

“We know our managers are really smart people who are really committed to doing right thing – we wanted to allow them to do their job without coming to HQ teams,” she said.

“There’s a lot more reliability now in terms of the information they are getting. They can make the call; they can be accountable.”

To hear more from Kate Tones and Jess Moore, please join them as they share their SuccessFactors’ journey at a series of breakfast events on 1 November (Brisbane), 15 November (Melbourne) and 22 November (Sydney). Click here for more information or to register.