From conductor to chef, baggage handler to engineer, and foreman to safety officer, the range of positions that Amtrak hires for is as diverse as the more than 21,000 miles of routes its trains traverse every day across the US and Canada. Including corporate positions at its Washington, DC, headquarters, Amtrak has more than 20,000 employees and hires close to 2,500 new employees each year. Much of this hiring, which has been consistent over the past few years, is due to a combination of retirements and filling unionized craft roles. This hiring can also be attributed to growing ridership — 44% over the last 15 years — with upwards of 80,000 unique passengers each day.
About three years ago, Amtrak decided to make a long-term investment in its workforce by kicking off what it termed the MyCareerTrak initiative. The goal behind this initiative was to bring talent management to the forefront as a centerpiece of the overall business strategy. Amtrak wanted top talent — both the quality of hire and overall performance — to be as recognizable to railway passengers as its marquee routes such as California Zephyr or City of New Orleans.
“Our focus from a strategic perspective was to become known for our talent brand. This has been made possible by the visionary leadership of our CEO, Joseph Boardman and CHCO, Barry Melnkovic,” says Uzma Burki, Amtrak Vice President and Head of Human Capital Strategy, Organization Effectiveness, Talent Acquisition, Leadership Development and Training. “Amtrak is an iconic brand itself in the US, particularly in the Northeast Corridor, but we wanted to create and foster a high-performing culture and be recognized for our talented workforce as well.”
“Because we were starting from the ground up, we wanted a robust and scalable system that would also easily integrate with our existing SAP landscape.”
— Uzma Burki, Vice President, Amtrak
It Starts with People
Attaining this recognition would require more than a technology solution. While Amtrak has run SAP ERP Human Capital Management (SAP ERP HCM) 6.0 for core HR, payroll, compensation, and recruitment since 1999, the company now wanted to put a comprehensive strategy behind this technology to align its people with its business and HR strategies.
“Our overall strategy rests on three pillars: safety and security, customer service, and financial excellence,” says Burki. “With that as the backdrop of where we are headed, we looked at our human capital strategy, and integrating talent management became a core strategic focus.”
Before proceeding with a technology solution, Amtrak took a step back and assessed the necessary changes to its talent management philosophy and HR processes and policies. For instance, it wanted to phase out cost-of-living adjustments as the only pay adjustment in lieu of a pay-for-performance model.
In short, Amtrak realized that a new sense of accountability would be central to its talent management landscape. With a solid strategy in place and a commitment to invest in its talent with overhauled processes, Amtrak solicited and received the backing of its board members, who were willing to investment significantly in new technologies to make this a reality.
A Talent Timeline
With this mandate, Amtrak sought to implement its three-year human capital strategic roadmap based on enhancing the Amtrak brand. A key component of the brand is its employee value proposition.
“The scope of our overall employee value proposition meant we didn’t want to acquire just one talent management module,” Burki says. “Because we were starting from the ground up, we wanted a robust and scalable system that would also easily integrate with our existing SAP landscape. As a result, we went in favor of SuccessFactors, since it had recently been acquired by SAP.”
Beginning in April 2013, and over the course of the following 16 months, Amtrak implemented the bulk of SuccessFactors talent and workforce analytics solutions, including Performance & Goals, followed by a cascading implementation of Recruiting, Succession Planning, Workforce Planning, Workforce Analytics, and Compensation.
“We were building and developing new processes while also implementing the technology at the same time, and we are very proud that we were able to do this in 16 months,” Burki says.
A Focus on Change Management
According to Burki, much of the credit for the fast-paced rollout goes to the three-way partnership between the human capital team, IT, and implementation partner Deloitte, which was brought on board in June 2013, just prior to the Performance & Goals go-live. Because Amtrak was new to a comprehensive talent management strategy, much of Deloitte’s contributions centered on change management and training. (See the sidebar at the end of the article for more information.)
“Change management was emphasized throughout the life of the project, and was instrumental in its success,” Burki says. “My team brought a deep-seated skillset in change management that really helped carry us through.”
This help came in the form of the Prosci ADKAR model, which at a high level means focusing on an outcome-oriented approach to facilitate individual change. For Amtrak, this meant starting with internal customer buy-in at the time of configuration. For example, managers using the goal management functionality were responsible for helping to configure the solution to their own business requirement, so they would understand the changes in store well before the rollout. This spoke to the fundamental change: Whereas talent had previously been owned at the manager level and in silos, it was now owned by the organization.
“The result of talent being owned at the manager level was that talent was never developed, or cross-pollinated,” Burki says. “By increasing up-front awareness of these tools for managers, they understood and appreciated that they were being implemented not to take away responsibilities, but to help them do their jobs better. We didn’t go down the path of customization, but I wanted them to see that the business would own these modules so that they would have some skin in the game in shaping the talent journey for Amtrak.”
Smooth Talent Ride
Prior to its SuccessFactors implementation, Amtrak wasn’t measuring its talent management KPIs across the organization, such as quality of hire and succession planning. With the rollout of SuccessFactors Workforce Planning and Workforce Analytics, the company knew that it could take its talent management processes to the next level. So rather than out-of-the-box succession planning, for example, Amtrak layered it with what-if modeling to determine and act on its current succession risk level, and to project retirement rates.
One immediate benefit for Amtrak with its SuccessFactors rollout has been a significant decrease in its time-to-hire cycle. Burki estimates that its prior hiring cycle could take months from the time a hiring requisition was approved to the time an offer was made. Burki cites one recent example of a 24-hour cycle from candidate selection to offer.
“Now we’ve started targeted selections, which entails asking behavioral-based questions in the interview that are generated by the system,” Burki says. “Because our interviews are panel-based, this consistency allows for an immediate yea or nay decision by the panel followed by an interview calibration session amongst the panelists; with a yea, we can often speed through the process to extend a same-day offer. This nimbleness is a tremendous improvement considering the number of hires we make on a yearly basis.”
On tap for Amtrak for fiscal year 2015 is a sub-module within the SuccessFactors talent solutions called career pathing for career development planning, where performance and goals are tied to a new hire’s advancement track through the organization. With this functionality, a new hire’s entire Amtrak career will have visibility and accountability at every turn, with performance and progress easily managed and tracked by the organization. Helping an employee develop a 30- or 40-year career track, and guiding that employee along that track will then become as second nature to Amtrak as keeping to the schedule of the Acela service.
“Developing cadence around executive and professional development, and at the same time, developing the competencies and career path modeling, are both huge projects in their own right — and so to deliver on a complete human capital management strategy in 16 months was no small feat,” Burki says.