Heineken puts employees in charge of their own careers with new HR system

According to Sanne Noordam, head of SAP SuccessFactors in the Netherlands, companies need to look and listen more closely to the needs of employees in order to attract and retain them

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The Netherlands currently has a record number of job vacancies. For every 100 job-seekers, there are 133 unfilled jobs, and the battle for talent rages on in virtually every sector. Job-seekers have a wide choice and the pandemic has contributed to people increasingly looking at how their work fits into their lives.  

This is changing the role of human capital management (HCM) in organisations. “We are seeing the next level of maturity in HCM, which focuses on the human in the centre, called human experience management,” said Sanne Noordam, head of SAP SuccessFactors in the Netherlands during a presentation at Sapphire 2022 in The Hague. “That means that the ‘whole self’ has to be taken into account in order to attract and retain people.”

The “whole self” is the lens showing how employees experience change and opportunity throughout their careers – it is unique to each person. Elements include work styles, mindsets, experiences, aspirations, passions, and more. These elements are dynamically changing just as people dynamically change. 

Employers in the Netherlands devise countless lures to attract talent – from scooters and tiny houses to holidays. But whether these gifts that come with a new job actually bind people to a company remains to be seen. Dutch job site Indeed conducted research into the most important reasons for people to change jobs, and in Dutch newspaper Algemeen Dagblad, researcher Arjan Visser said: “We do not see that presents have any impact. The overall picture is more important for job-seekers.” 

Ton Wilthagen, professor of the labour market at Tilburg University, also thinks such lures are a dangerous strategy. According to Wilthagen, various elements are important to find talented recruits and to bind them to your organisation, ranging from flexible hours and the possibility of working from home to good ventilation.

“Autonomy is very important to people,” he told Algemeen Dagblad. “You don’t just do work because it pays well, but also because you can put your passion and knowledge into the work.” Wilthagen added that companies can “best retain by letting go”.

Bring your whole self to work 

By accepting the employee as a whole in the workplace, organisations can gain a competitive advantage in the labour market, said Noordam. “There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to what your employees want or need. Organisations need to embrace differences and have to let employees be in charge of their own careers. Companies where employees are allowed to bring their ‘whole self’ to work are more successful.”

By including an employee’s private life, their wishes and needs, an organisation creates more flexibility and ultimately creates “employees become fans” that are less likely to leave the company. “That requires bringing together data, tech and the company strategy to get the most out of the individual,” said Noordam. “That is not only beneficial to employees, but also for the organisation itself. One of the companies that has understood this very well is Heineken.” 

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The beer brewer, which was originally Dutch, has renewed its global HR infrastructure over the past three years. Heineken comprises more than 70 operating companies worldwide and has over 85,000 employees. Herman Rolfers, director of global HR technology and solutions at Heineken, also presented at Sapphire 2022. 

“The world around us is changing and that means we not only want to excel in brewing beer, but also in understanding the needs of our customers and employees,” he said. “The way we do business is changing and so is the way you interact with your people. Employees expect the same experience at work as they have as a consumer. That is why we want to become the best connected brewer, in order to become a great and desirable place to work.” 

60 different HR systems

Before the renewal of its HR environment, Heineken used more than 60 different HR systems. “That made it difficult to have a uniform and centralised approach,” said Rolfers.

The brewer chose SAP SuccessFactors as its central HR system, he said. “It was clear to us that we wanted to become a people-centric organisation and that meant for us to give our employees the same experience as our customers. With this new platform, we are empowering employees to take charge of their own careers.” 

The choice of SAP SuccessFactors was an easy one, said Rolfers. “It was partly pragmatic, because all our ERP [enterprise resource planning] systems are SAP. So it was a logical choice for us, certainly in terms of data management. Also, SuccessFactors offers us more flexibility than some other major systems, especially when it comes to adapting to local needs.”

The system gives Heineken greater insight into its data and ensures that HR truly becomes a business partner. “We can actually use the information in the system to add value for leaders,” said Rolfers. “This makes HR a true business partner to match people to value.”

The large-scale implementation took three years and was not always straightforward. “Right at the start of the project, we had to think about what it means when you bring technology to the cloud and the implications for data privacy,” said Rolfers. “We also spent time thinking about the level of governance we needed to be successful, about how to embrace agile and the strategies for testing, migration and decommissioning legacy.”

To create support for such a radical change, there was a lot of emphasis on change management, he added. “Change management really was key to our success. We spent a lot of time preparing, talking to different divisions, but also companies that we worked with to achieve this. You are creating an ecosystem and when you have that state of mind, you understand the complexity and importance of integrations.” 

Employees at the heart of the company

The SAP platform not only streamlined processes, but it also gave Heineken the opportunity to put employees at the heart of the company. In some parts of the world, this was still a bit of a challenge, said Rolfers. “If you bring HR into the driving seat, it means a shift in working responsibilities. Take self-service, for example. Not everywhere in the world it is common that leaders need to do their own HR work. If you ignore that fact, the implementation won’t be successful.

“An implementation like this should never be underestimated. After we had built all the technical interfaces, there was a short moment of doubt, because the biggest challenge was: how does everybody embrace this new way of working?”

Constant dialogue was the secret to achieving that, said Rolfers. “It meant constantly engaging with stakeholders and really understanding what pain points are. Sounding-board groups have helped us enormously with this, so that we really understood who we were doing it for and where the added value lay for them.” 

Heineken staff have embraced this new way of working, with a global user adoption rate of 95% within six weeks of the programme going live. “It is not easy to get more than 70 operating companies around the world to adopt one HR system and one way of working in such a short space of time,” said Rolfers. “We are proud of this achievement and the percentage shows that we have indeed succeeded in bringing about a cultural change within Heineken.

“We will continue to fine-tune the new HR landscape and roll out new innovations so that we can continuously evolve to meet the demands of future generations. It is never finished, only upgraded.” 

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