From banking to media, Kevin McDonald has become a master of organizational button-pushing.
By Katie Kuehner-Hebert
Kevin McDonald likes operational efficiency so much that he’s making a career out of it.
He started out as a clerk manually filing employee records, then became a specialist who migrated manual processes onto employee self-service online portals, and finally was promoted to choose the best HR outsourcing partners. The career path has led McDonald to a realization about how he gets the most fun and satisfaction out of HR: actually making the work easier.
“It’s really about the operations behind HR—what it takes to enable the processes, whether it’s compliance-related, keeping the company out of trouble from an employee relations standpoint, or making processes much more efficient,” says McDonald, now vice president, BPO governance at The E. W. Scripps Company, a Cincinnati-based media firm. “The operational side of HR intrigues me, and that’s where I saw the most opportunity—there was so much low-hanging fruit there, especially with self-service.”
McDonald entered the HR world in 1995 right after graduating high school, serving as an employee file clerk at Fifth Third Bank in Cincinnati while attending college. Going to night school, McDonald began to help Fifth Third administer employee benefits and then help educate new hires and other employees about benefits packages. In 2002, he received an associates degree in general business from the University of Cincinnati, and then in 2006, a bachelors degree in business administration from Thomas More College, graduating magna cum laude.
At Fifth Third during those years, McDonald received a very practical education in streamlining operations when the company migrated many of its manual processes, starting first with benefits administration. “Our pain point was manually collecting benefit enrollment information from 4,000-plus employees and entering the data,” McDonald says. “After 1998, we said we were never going to do this again—it was way too labor intensive.”
The next year, Fifth Third started working with a web development firm, which created a custom open enrollment website that the company’s employees could access directly.
“With the technology we were able to solve that issue, by enabling people to do their own data entry,” he says. “We can collect the information in a more efficient manner, and eliminate duplicative entry, while reducing errors inherent with manual processes. Then I started looking to use technology for a lot of other HR applications.”
In 1999, McDonald began playing a bigger role in company’s merger and acquisition activity. During his tenure at Fifth Third, the company bought more than 20 banking firms, and McDonald was involved in integrating the sellers’ HR processes. When Fifth Third bought Old Kent Financial Corp. in 2000, the company decided to migrate from its Genesys platform to the Lawson HRIS system Old Kent used and McDonald played a large role in the implementation.
Through this period, McDonald was able to play many roles in HR and be involved in many large projects. By 2003, he was heavily involved in the company’s first foray into HR outsourcing, contracting with Convergys for HR administration. The venture was staggered, going live first with employee call center, then payroll and benefits administration. “I was able to lead the implementation of the SAP portal, employee self-service, Authoria knowledge management system, and serve as a subject-matter expert for benefits and payroll, so I had a good amount of exposure in the HR space working with the folks at Convergys,” he says.
In 2004, McDonald took a hiatus and ran Fifth Third’s equity compensation program for a little less than a year, administrating stock options, restricted stock, stock appreciation rights, and performance units. “I learned very quickly that I was not an accountant, and certainly not a tax professional!” he quips. “I did not enjoy those things as much as I did HR technology and service delivery, and I was anxious to get another operational role.
Sometimes you learn by doing, and that was certainly one of those cases.”
McDonald landed a “gem” position by managing the design and implementation of manager self-service and organization/position management. “For those that know SAP, they know that this was quite a project,” he says. As eHR manager, McDonald also served as a liaison between Fifth Third and Convergys for new development and issue escalation.
In 2007, Scripps lured McDonald by asking him to help lead its own foray into HR outsourcing. “It was an opportunity to go into it eyes open, knowing what to expect, versus back in 2003, really no one knew what to expect—it was a blank sheet of paper,” he says. “Back then, everything was from scratch. Plus, the market has matured quite a bit from that time. So it was an opportunity to go in and do it from the ground up, making sure to avoid all the pitfalls.”
For one, McDonald knew to leave no ambiguity in any outsourcing deal, whether it’s within the contract or standard operating procedures, so that there is no room for judgment on both the service provider and the buyer side. “Make sure your documentation is as specific as possible, so both can understand who is going to do what and when,” he says.
For example, when outsourcing workforce adminstration, companies should be clear about who is going to be responsible for things like data entry, or else the work of their retained team will increase and their business case for outsourcing will be impacted.
Buyers should also be willing to accept some level of standardization. Most service providers are assuming some level of transformation or standardization in order to offer the kind of price point that will help buyers make their business case, McDonald says.
Scripps chose ADP for comprehensive outsourcing services, going live in 2009 with a six-month stabilization period.
“There were bumps along the way, but overall, things are going well because of all the upfront work we did,” McDonald says. “My retained team hasn’t changed since we went live—same number of people, no work has come in house—because the service provider knew exactly what work they would be doing.”
Outside of Scripps, McDonald currently serves on the HROA Board of Trustees, ADP’s COS Client Advisory Board, VirtualEdge Client Advisory Board, is an active member of the HROA Buyers Group, and was recently awarded his Certified Outsourcing Professional (COP) certification through the International Association of Outsourcing Professionals.
Now that much of the HR world has a good handle on the basic “blocking and tackling” of HR administration, the next big challenge for HR professionals is figuring out how they can add value to their organization by showing tangible business results, McDonald says. And for many, that means developing more sophisticated talent management programs. “It’s about having the right people in the right place at the right time,” he says. “It’s about understanding the talent that you currently have in the organization and figuring out how to further develop that talent with additional skills and capabilities. It’s also about recruiting, how to make sure that you’re bringing in the people with the right talent and skill set.”
“But if you don’t have that blocking and tackling right—if you still have compliance and payroll issues—it greatly inhibits your ability to focus on strategic activities, which add value to your organization,” McDonald says. A lot of HR professionals have the misguided notion that if they just go out and buy a talent management software system, their problem is solved. “Too much time is spent on the implementation of systems, and not enough time is spent on asking what is the business value that you’re trying to achieve,” he says. “If you’re just trying to automate performance management, then it becomes more of an HR initiative and not a business initiative.”
The HR department needs buy-in from senior level management, but it’s really much more than that, McDonald says. “You need to talk the language of the business,” he says. “In terms of Scripps, we’re a 130-year-old media company that’s has a reputation for integrity and great story-telling, so we need to make sure we have the right people in place to get those stories out, and then everything else flows from there.”
“At Scripps, senior management clearly understands the need to get the best talent we can in our organization, and so we in HR are trying to bring them strategies to help them fulfill those needs.”