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Case Study: Sara Lee – Developing e-Performance Management Systems


An old-fashioned paper-based system was putting the brakes on HR and development efficiency at 150,000 strong Sara Lee, global manufacturer and marketeer of consumer products so something had to be done.

The challenge:
As a global operator, consistently managing the performance and potential development of employees, operating in many different business environments is a challenge.

Sara Lee had three existing international Human Resource processes in place, but their paper-based nature took a significant amount of management time and effort to implement:

  • Performance management plan, the objective setting and performance review appraisal process.
  • Personal development plan, the process that supports the development of individuals.
  • Management review plan, the process that reviews the potential capabilities and development opportunities of management and professionals.

Managing and controlling these three processes in a diversified, worldwide operating company was not an easy task.

This task was made more difficult by the problems encountered due to the paper-based nature of the existing processes:

  • The processes took a significant amount of the HR function’s and line managers’ time and effort to gather relevant information, and then produce, distribute and process all the forms
  • Not all employees were being reviewed, or being reviewed in the right timescales, mainly due to the limited standardisation across management levels of the three processes
  • Actions agreed by HR, line management and employees could not be pursued and controlled systematically
  • Performance and potential review information was frequently not accurate, incomplete, or recorded in a non-accessible way
  • The personal development plan was organised locally, resulting in different practices existing in different locations

  • It was difficult to gather information, relevant to the management review process because many international organisational units and management levels had to be involved.

The action:

Sara Lee concluded that an automated system would allow them to process the information and make it more consistent, less time consuming and more effective.

A bespoke solution was required. Sara Lee reviewed the various options and decided that the requisite software to support these processes satisfactorily was not available off-the-shelf.

Therefore, the company decided to develop custom-made software applications to ensure the systems fully met their needs. The functional requirements for this software needed to be clear, consistent, unambiguous, accepted by the main stakeholders and delivered rapidly.

Sara Lee approached PA to support them to develop the functional specifications for the automated systems.

Designing the optimal processes PA’s key task was to optimise the three planning processes and design the functional specifications for an automated system to support these processes – with the added challenge to do so in an ambitious timespan.

PA’s analytical and process design skills were brought to bear on the project during the first stage. PA developed flow charts of all the processes and sub-processes, and comprehensively mapped the roles and responsibilities of people to them (employees, line managers and the HR function).

These provided a clear representation of the processes which could be clearly communicated to future users of the system and other stakeholders – enabling them to hold informed discussions with the project team about the functionality that an automated support system could offer.

PA also undertook information analyses, to specify the databases that would be required to support these processes. By clearly defining the processes and functional requirements at the start of the project, Sara Lee could then move rapidly to develop the software in the following stage.

During the final validation phase, PA facilitated workshops and undertook interviews with the future users of the system and various HR representatives to validate, fine tune and prioritise the functional requirements. As a diversified company, special attention was given during the workshops and interviews to determine the level of local configuration required.

In addition to developing the functional requirements for the performance management system, PA also advised Sara Lee on how to handle the development and implementation of these systems within the wider HR IT strategy.

The result:
Although it is too early to see the full benefits, managers and the HR function at Sara Lee will see a significant reduction in the time and effort to be spent on implementing these processes.

Automated controls - built into the system - not only increase the completeness and timeliness of these processes, but also ensure that actions agreed during the review process are implemented.

Performance information of all employees is now systematically recorded and stored, with online access to authorised line managers. As a result Sara Lee can now easily retrieve consolidated management information and has improved HR planning throughout the business.

Critically, the automated systems will ensure that all of Sara Lee’s employees are now performance managed and developed in a consistent way.


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