Workday update

The R2R team has used the first eight months of user experience to further develop McGill’s new HR and academic personnel management system.

Since the R2R (Recruitment to Retirement) program launched Workday in August 2020, the McGill community has put the new integrated human resources and academic personnel management software system through its paces, using it for a range of processes from recruiting and onboarding new personnel, to approving and tracking vacations and other absences, and managing sabbatical leaves.

Change management is a critical part of rolling out any new business process, and the 30-plus members of the R2R team remain focused on guiding the McGill community through the Workday transition period. Collaborating with colleagues in Payroll, Staffing and Academic Personnel, they’ve been accompanying and supporting Workday’s end users while resolving various issues that surfaced during the first eight months of real-world application.

Transition period

“With the introduction of any new system, it’s natural to have a period of adaptation, and that can sometimes be difficult,” says Diana Dutton, Associate Vice-Principal Human Resources and one of the R2R Program sponsors. “This is especially true in an institution of McGill’s size and complexity, with a broad and diverse range of administrative users and employee populations.”

Dutton says that the recent months have already shown some of the benefits of the new system, including visibility on the status of processes, significant gains in compliance and access to real-time data and analytics.

Dutton acknowledges that these long-term benefits can mean short-term frustrations as users work through their learning curves. “This is a significant transition which has impacted some users quite hard, in particular those involved in the high-volume hire processes.  In the previous system, these processes were very basic – too basic, in fact – and presented compliance risks.  Today, users are performing those processes in a more sophisticated and controlled system, designed to ensure that all necessary steps are carried out consistently.”

“We are listening to concerns and continue to invite feedback with a view to educating and making adjustments and improvements,” she says. “To be sure, it can take time for administrators to acquire the detailed knowledge applicable to the various employee groups and we’re conscious that this can frustrating—but ultimately, this increased user accountability will ensure more accurate and consistent HR practices for all staff across the University. Now that these appointments are processed in Workday, we also have more complete, accessible data about these employee groups, something we didn’t have before.”  The focus, she says, is now on retaining those gains, while improving the usability of the system—particularly for those in units who have high-volume hiring processes. “We need to see what we can do to lighten the administrative load without relinquishing these important gains.”

Replacing outdated systems with state-of-the-art software

Workday replaces several legacy systems, some of which were end-of-life and no longer being upgraded, including the Banner human resources information system, Minerva HR for employee self-service, PurelyHR, and the Payroll One-time Payment System (POPS) that was used to pay casual, hourly staff, and to pay overtime to regular staff.

Workday has the advantage of not only integrating all those functions into one system, but of ensuring greater consistency and helping to prevent errors. For example, in the old POPs system, Dutton explains, data entry errors “could have gone undetected, due to the very basic nature of the system.” Because many of the rules specified in policies and collective agreements are loaded into Workday, the system automatically flags entry errors for central intervention and correction.

Fixing problems

Following the hiring issues and related pay delays that became apparent during the first weeks of September, McGill HR established a “SWAT team” of HR professionals and Workday specialists to diagnose and correct the problems. Depending on each situation, individual files were either manually corrected, or batch-processing corrections implemented. Throughout the Fall semester, the R2R team used user feedback to revise, clarify and streamline the Workday hiring and on-boarding business processes, and offered additional training and user support. The central team also worked directly with the Faculties to ensure that the issues that contributed to the Fall 2020 pay delays would not be repeated in Winter 2021. New problems, although rare, are now quickly identified and remedied.

“We continue to refine Workday business processes where we have identified a need to do so,” says Dutton, “and enhanced user support and training is ongoing.” In fact, the ability to implement ongoing improvements and enhancements is one of the advantages of a cloud-based system like Workday. The R2R team has used the first eight months of real-time user experience to further develop the Workday experience in three main areas:

  • Enhancing user training and support. This includes providing targeted one-on-one training to Units experiencing the most difficulty, enhancing job aids, increasing the range of self-directed and live learning opportunities, improving the functionality of the help desk case management system, and working closely with Faculties to coordinate the Winter hiring wave. The new Academic & Administrative HR Service Portal One-Stop Shop offers support for HR, academic affairs, compensation and absence partners, as well as local timekeepers and recruiting coordinators. The Workday knowledge base is open to all employees starting this week, and will be regularly updated with content tailored to user needs. Support is also available at the local level, through Power Users, and HR or Academic Affairs administrative representatives, who have received extensive training to support users in their departments.
  • Enhancing and simplifying Workday business processes. This includes streamlining steps, introducing mandatory fields, and adding additional help text.
  • Increasing central capacity to identify and address errors as they occur. When the SWAT team is mobilized to take corrective actions to resolve an issue, they directly connect with Faculties and Units to target communications where they’re needed the most—and, in some cases, even offer coaching to individual users.

“We continue to monitor all Workday processes and are providing daily support and training to staff in Faculties and Units,” says Dutton. “With the Winter session behind us, the R2R team is undertaking an assessment of the hiring and onboarding processes for high volume hiring, such as TAs, Casuals and Course Lecturers, to determine what other improvements can be made before Fall 2021 to enhance the user experience at the local level.

Even more gains to come

New functionalities continue to be rolled out. The advanced compensation module for both academic and administrative staff was introduced in time for this year’s merit exercise, and hiring units now have the option of soliciting reference letters via Workday at the point of application. At the same time, the R2R team continues to work with IT and Financial Services to resolve lingering encumbrance issues and enhance reporting capacity through Workday, with the goal of making critical data available to local users.

The training team has been focused on providing reinforcement sessions that cover the end-to-end recruitment process. These sessions go into more detail on the topic, provide tips to avoid errors and opportunities for participants to ask questions. Reinforcement sessions on other topics are under development, while training for Faculty and Departmental academic leaders on the Tenure-Track recruitment process is underway and will continue through the Fall.

“The impact this transition has had on the McGill community is significant.  We are grateful for the commitment that so many of our staff have demonstrated in learning Workday and sharing their feedback with us.  We will continue to work with users to improve their understanding of Workday functions and to find solutions to their challenges,” says Dutton.  “Workday is a state-of-the-art platform that’s designed to grow with the University. Even though we’re still in a period of learning and adapting to the new system, it’s exciting to have a system in place that will evolve alongside our community’s needs.”


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Norman Kling
3 years ago

Regarding the retirement of some legacy systems, in particular POPS (Payroll Onetime Payment System), this system endured for 3 decades! Originally it was written in Foxbase and distributed on floppy disks and produced paper facsimiles of several payroll requisition payment forms. The system grew over the years keeping up with evolving technology. Workday should meet with the same success!
Norman Kling, ISR (Developer of POPS), Retired 2013