In Kimberly-Clark’s ambitious efforts to transform HR through outsourcing, the company is counting on the research-disciplined mind of Edwin Garcia to guide implementation.
Engineers don’t usually end up as HR leaders, but when they do, you might expect the same level of process rigor in learning or recruitment administration as you might see in the design of an aircraft engine or new chemical product. So it’s no surprise that consumer product manufacturer Kimberly-Clark is relying on an engineer-turned-HR executive to oversee its most ambitious HR transformation yet.
Edwin Garcia, vice president of HR strategy and Portfolio Management Office (PMO), is not your typical HR executive. Although he boasts an impressive resume chock full of Fortune 500 brands—Eastman Kodak and Dell Computers, to name a couple—his career path has been anything but linear. As a researcher and engineer who discovered his calling in life mid-career, Garcia today oversees Kimberly-Clark’s seven-year comprehensive HRO engagement with provider Accenture. The undertaking is so ambitious and transformational in nature that Garcia in April received the HROA Buyer Executive of the Year Award even as Accenture and Kimberly-Clark were recognized for the Large Market Relationship of the Year.
“The recognition was both a surprise and an honor for me and my team. Because we
successfully implemented the HRO solutions, much of the work our teams did went unnoticed by our internal clients,” he said. “So, receiving both the Relationship of the Year and the Buyer Executive of the Year awards were incredibly rewarding. I am very proud of the work we did, and being recognized just brought all our hard work into focus for both Accenture and Kimberly-Clark teams.”
While getting the nod from HRO industry peers might be kudos he won’t soon forget, Garcia’s immediate attention these days is on the continued rollout of Kimberly-Clark’s outsourcing effort, one that began with payroll followed by employee/manager self-service and learning, with additional components to follow. When it’s all said and done, HR services will be delivered in a dramatically different fashion, and managers will have visibility to a new universe of data. But before the company can get there, the 47-year-old Garcia is bracing for a cacophony of grumblings as employees acclimate to forthcoming changes.
“The allure for us looking at outsourcing is on a number of fronts. We are seeking a cost
advantage for the services we provide to our internal clients. We are driving toward standardization; we realize that differentiating the way we process payroll won’t provide us an advantage in the marketplace compared to our competitors. In a broader senses outsourcing is freeing up our retained organization from the burden of transactional work,” he noted.
Ask any HR executive if he would like to transform some aspect of his organization, and the answer is likely to be a resounding yes. Ask the same leader whether he would want to transform most of the HR organization, and the answer may be different. The truth is while most HR leaders desire improvements in their operations—maybe even far-reaching transformation—few are willing to inflict and endure the associated pain. Implementation can often take longer that anticipated, consensus buy-in is a rarity, and the business case is usually oversold at the outset, leaving senior executives scratching their heads as to why they didn’t get the savings promised.
Garcia said he was mindful of the fallout when Kimberly-Clark decided last year to outsource, and he is reminded almost daily of the slogs ahead. Since first rolling out the HRO deal, the company has tallied a number of wins and losses. But despite a few bumps in the road, he is convinced that HRO will lead to improved results for employees, managers, and shareholders alike. Because with optimized and standardized processes, the benefits reaped will be shared by all stakeholders.
As part of the HRO contract, Accenture is providing services in payroll administration, workforce reporting, employee data management, training and development, and self-service. Although the company had already invested heavily in an SAP backbone, Accenture is still integral in ensuring HR data integration.
Garcia explained that the project is profoundly transformational because until now, with the exception of benefits administration (which is outsourced to Hewitt), many of these processes weren’t centralized and operated under disparate policies. In fact, only payroll administration was centralized while lines of businesses were responsible for services such as learning. In addition, the company didn’t offer self-service to either employees or managers, which meant their needs could only be handled through high-touch measures involving HR support. Garcia said Kimberly-Clark was clearly operating inefficiently. With the introduction of self-service, an employee web portal, and other tools, HR has markedly improved its results.
“There have been great success stories from a transformational perspective,” he said. “For people to manage their own transactions when they want to has been a win.”
He pointed out that initial resistance to self-service was not unexpected. Change management is never a small issue when outsourcing, and Garcia noted that snide remarks came almost immediately. “The first thing we heard was, ‘We don’t want to do HR work. You outsourced, but we are doing more work,’” he noted. But Garcia said he offered up a compelling analogy for embracing self-service. Just as many consumers now perform banking online rather than traipse to the local branch during their day off, employees can update their own information without having to make an appointment with HR.
The messaging struck a chord with workers because now a third of Kimberly-Clark’s U.S. employees visit the portal daily. That’s especially impressive considering that not all employees have access to a computer. Furthermore, the company makes some 1,300 pieces of data available on the site, with the most popular being lookups of birthdays and anniversaries, which help managers improve employee engagement and recognition.
“Being able to give team leaders those personal touches, that goes a long way. It doesn’t always have to be the sexy stuff like stock options or higher compensation,” he said.
Garcia credited Accenture with providing healthy “tension” that challenged how his company delivered HR services; in fact, that was one of the reasons for seeking an external solution. “We wanted someone to push us. Accenture was close enough culturally and different enough where they would challenge our point of view,” he added.
Respecting the fine line between healthy tension and contemptuous mistrust has been an art that some HRO relationships have failed to master, but Garcia noted it’s inevitable that buyers will encounter unanticipated difficulties along the way. For Kimberly-Clark, two significant surprises have marred the implementation: First, the engagement initially called for an 18-month rollout that has now stretched to 26 months; secondly, the business case has “not held up” as expected. Moreover, a number of key accomplishments have largely gone unnoticed, such as the outsourcing of payroll. But Garcia said a number of these changes are hygienic in nature so he doesn’t expect much in way of employee acknowledgement.
Despite the rough patches, the HRO implementation has led to some notable improvements in operational efficiency. For instance, the company can now approve family leave requests in two days instead of nine. A background check of candidates now takes four days instead of two weeks. Some 800 job openings are now shared with employees through its internal portal, whereas these positions were previously circulated by word of mouth only. And as the company progresses further in its implementation, he expects additional productivity improvements.
Garcia said such efforts that enable employees to more easily and quickly tend to their HR needs are reasons why he decided to move into HR in the first place. Not only is it self-gratifying, he added, but his contributions also mean the organization benefits from a more productive workforce. If an employee isn’t distracted by incorrect paychecks or waiting for a leave to be approved, he or she can spend more energy on the job. “I find more meaning in the work I do today than the work I did as a scientist. It energizes me knowing I’m helping people,” he added.
He conceded that his career path has been more tortuous than that of the typical HR executive, but he said he has no regrets about being drawn into the field. As a Hispanic American, Garcia has also been on the forefront of promoting diversity, having founded Olé, a Hispanic employee network at Kodak that continues to operate today. He also first joined Kimberly-Clark as vice president of diversity, a role that he relishes. A strong proponent of employee engagement, he said companies must do a better job of promoting diversity especially as they try to attract the best talent in a changing workforce.
From researcher to diversity advocate to HRO maven, Garcia has had a career as diverse as the workforce he envisions for the future. Regardless of the shifting demographics, he sees the need for effective and responsive HR services as a constant. And with outsourcing firmly established as an enabling tool of those services, you can be sure that Kimberly-Clark and Garcia will be leading the drive to innovate HR service delivery.