Mary Borba, Boehringer Ingelheim’s vice president of compensation and benefits
Mary Borba, Boehringer Ingelheim’s vice president of compensation and benefits

Global pharmaceutical company Boehringer Ingelheim operates with a consistent vision: creating "Value through Innovation" for its patients, community and employees.

At the company's U.S. affiliate, Boehringer Ingelheim USA Corporation (BIC), the ability to innovate comes, in large part, from a philosophy it calls "Lead & Learn." The company encourages everyone to take initiative, ask questions and seize opportunities in an environment of shared leadership and learning.

Lead & Learn is exactly what Boehringer Ingelheim's U.S. human resource leadership team did when it partnered with Watson Wyatt to revamp the pharmaceutical firm's HR service delivery. (Watson Wyatt and Towers Perrin became Towers Watson in January 2010.) As a result, the company's new HR service center efficiently supports employees across the country, accurately captures HR data, and frees HR staff to more strategically support the company's business goals.

Rising to the challenge

When Mary Borba, Boehringer Ingelheim's vice president of compensation and benefits, arrived at the company nearly five years ago, she found a decentralized HR delivery system struggling to serve employees in multiple locations.

"The HR operations group was a small team in charge of a very fragmented HR service delivery," Borba says. "While team members worked hard to support the company, they lacked the critical mass, training and HR tools they needed to be successful. We also struggled with widespread HR data errors and inconsistent responses to employee questions as a result of decentralized data entry and customer service."

The challenge was where to start. Did HR operations need more staff? Would training fix the problems? Should they outsource at least some of the group's functions? If so, which ones? How could the data problem be addressed?

Seeking expert help

Borba began by looking for an expert partner to help Boehringer Ingelheim create a blueprint for change. "When we started the process, we knew we needed an outside partner. We chose Watson Wyatt because it brought the depth and experience we needed for designing and implementing the project," Borba says.

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Denise LaForte, the lead consultant on the project, says the Watson Wyatt team reviewed HR operations' structure and processes, including:

  • Staff training needs
  • Process and information work flow
  • Roles and responsibilities
  • HR technology

The team also interviewed key stakeholders to identify critical business issues and the roots of common errors.

Armed with this information, the Watson Wyatt team presented the company with four possible solutions spanning the spectrum of centralized/decentralized HR service delivery and HR insourcing/HR outsourcing. A report outlined the advantages, disadvantages and costs of each.

David Barndollar, senior technology consultant, Towers Watson; Mary Borba, vice president of compensation and benefits, Boehringer Ingelheim; Kelley Troccolo, manager, HR Direct, Boehringer Ingelheim; Denise LaForte, senior consultant, Towers Watson
David Barndollar, senior technology consultant, Towers Watson; Mary Borba, vice president of compensation and benefits, Boehringer Ingelheim; Kelley Troccolo, manager, HR Direct, Boehringer Ingelheim; Denise LaForte, senior consultant, Towers Watson

Two findings in particular led Boehringer Ingelheim to launch HR Direct, a centralized HR services center. First, the current decentralized HR service system allowed most HR staff little time to support their business partners. Second, frequent HR data errors made it difficult to provide accurate, timely information to key stakeholders.

In addition, the HR team chose an internal HR service center because it was the best fit for the company's employee-centric culture. Retaining personal information within the organization was another perceived advantage.

Large-scale change

The scope of the makeover was considerable. Components included:

  • Development of an HR shared service organizational model
  • Clearer definition of roles and responsibilities
  • Customer service training
  • Supporting HR technology tools
  • Process redesign
  • Creation of additional self-service capabilities
  • Comprehensive communication and change management effort.

Reshaping HR

The hard work paid off when HR Direct went live. "Employees like having a single internal contact center to go to for answers about payroll, salary increases, benefits questions, and policies and procedures. The new knowledge base means the information and answers they receive are consistent across the company, and their HR data are accurate," Borba says.

Even more important, "creating HR Direct reshaped how HR is delivered, allowing us to focus on the business. It has freed the HR business partners to shift from administrative/transactional work to organizational development, talent management and change leadership," Borba says.

The shift is also saving Boehringer Ingelheim money. The company estimates it will save nearly $1 million annually from restructuring corporate services in a major business unit, a circumstance made possible by the introduction of HR Direct.

Looking ahead

LaForte and Troccolo in the Connecticut headquarters of Boehringer Ingelheim’s U.S. affiliate
LaForte and Troccolo in the Connecticut headquarters of Boehringer Ingelheim’s U.S. affiliate

Expansion of HR Direct services seems likely. "As HR moves toward a more strategic role, I anticipate HR Direct will pick up even more complex issues and questions to allow HR business partners to focus on supporting the business," Borba says.

Sage advice

Reflecting on the project, Borba says, "I've been in HR for more than twenty-five years and have high expectations of what should be delivered. This is a classic example of a project that worked really well. It’s become a model in the organization for the way projects should be run," she says.

Advice from Borba and Troccolo for companies considering similar HR service center projects includes:

  • Get the right partner. "Make sure you select a consulting partner for its experience. This is not a place to cut costs," Borba says.
  • Cast a wide net. "Invite multiple partners within the organization to join the project team to make sure you have broad representation," Borba says.
  • Seek skilled HR service center staff. "There's often a perception these are entry-level HR jobs; but really the people in them need to have a deep understanding of benefits, compensation, payroll and technology," Troccolo says.
  • Provide continuous training. "You need to keep service representatives fresh, trained and abreast of what's going on in both the HR organization and the company," Troccolo says.
  • Measure. "Set up and monitor metrics on an ongoing basis. We developed service-level agreements to set expectations around metrics such as call volume and call response time," Borba says.