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Blount taps SAP SuccessFactors to get more out of employees

The companies that win in today's business climate are those that can best manage and get the most out of their employees, says one HRIS executive.

An equipment parts manufacturer has turned to SAP SuccessFactors for performance management to better utilize a workforce that had fallen through the cracks with the previous system.

"We were paper based and just not very efficient at what we were doing," said Mardi Slick, human resource information system (HRIS) and compensation manager for Blount International Inc.

"Everybody's seeking the highly engaged employee." The companies that are best able to manage and develop their employees are the ones that will succeed in the marketplace, according to Slick.

Blount International is a global manufacturer of replacement parts, equipment and accessories for forestry, lawn, agriculture and other equipment. Located in Portland, Ore., Blount sells products that include chainsaws and lawnmowers to more than 115 countries.

The company takes a hybrid approach to HR operations, using the on-premises SAP Human Capital Management (HCM) software for core HR. It counts on cloud-based SuccessFactors extensions for things like performance, succession and goal management, and to house employee bios and profiles, which it says has given greater visibility into who employees are and what they do, in one comprehensive location. Blount has used SuccessFactors for two years, having deployed it before SAP purchased the company for $3.4 billion in December 2011.

Next year, Blount will deploy other SuccessFactors modules including Compensation, Learning and Developing, and Recruiting.

When first considering functions to add to the core HR system, the company looked at a range of vendors and options, including extending the on-premises SAP deployment, but SAP didn't have cloud-based HR applications at the time. So Blount instead opted for a cloud vendor under a new "cloud-first" strategy.

"SAP is very sophisticated, but it's very big. Because it has a lot of flexibility, it takes a lot of work to implement," Slick said. "The cloud solutions take a lot less support on our side."

Blount also considered other cloud vendors, including Ottawa-based Halogen Software. "[SuccessFactors] was the more elegant solution at the time," she said.

SAP SuccessFactors improves performance visibility

With the previous system, people at all points of the performance spectrum were often undermanaged when it came to annual reviews, according to Slick. "We didn't have that visibility. We didn't get them all turned in, we know they weren't getting done in a timely manner," she said. "We've heard in exit interviews that people had not had their reviews in four or five years, which is horrifying. There were some poor performers getting by."

Exemplary employees were also often overlooked. "It's often about giving people credit where it's due, kudos for the good job they've done," she added.

The biggest thing, Slick said, is making sure people know how they're doing. With SuccessFactors, Blount can see how managers are rating their employees overall and determine if they might be ranking people too high or too low, according to Slick.

"We can see if there needs to be some kind of retraining for the managers, so that they understand how to measure people correctly, equally and appropriately," she said.

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Blount has also used SuccessFactors for succession planning and for grooming promising employees for more responsibility. "We're pretty old in terms of the demographics of our company, so it's critical to develop those people that are going to step into those key roles inside the organization," Slick said. "It's really helped us get on board with helping make that happen."

The succession planning has included giving employees a deeper knowledge of how the business is run, especially from a financial perspective, and how branches in different countries see their roles and the company at large.

Slick said that SAP's purchase of SuccessFactors was welcome news because the two vendors were now part of the same company, but that there were downsides as well -- at least for a while.

"The popularity of SuccessFactors shot up, and it's been a little difficult for them to manage that move. I think they struggled a little bit with delivering support," she said. "It just seems like the response time went up."

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