How This Fearless HR Leader Is Fueling HR Transformation Through Tech
Est. Read Time: 3 min.
For some HR professionals, the idea of leading a global HR transformation is intimidating. For Adriana Bokel Herde, it’s the foundation of her career. After leading, implementing, and managing digital transformations at organizations both big and small, Adriana has a proven track record of establishing HR as a strategic and innovative business function—and she’s passionate about helping other HR professionals do the same.
Today, Adriana is Chief People Officer at Pegasystems, a leader in cloud-based customer engagement software. On an episode of the HR Leaders podcast, she joined Chris Rainey, CEO and co-founder of HRD Leaders, to discuss the first digital HR transformation she ever led, the lessons she learned, and how that experience shaped the rest of her career.
Asking all the right questions
Earlier in her career, Adriana was serving as VP of HR at Biogen, a global biotechnology company. About six months into the job, her new CHRO gave her a daunting assignment: helping to lead the organization’s global HR transformation, with a focus on selecting the new technology vendors and rolling-out the shared service model.
“I am not really a tech person,” Adriana jokes. “I can barely work an iPhone.”
To find the right solution for Biogen, Adriana sought out advice from other industry professionals who had experience implementing best-in-class technology. Despite not knowing a lot about tech, she did know the importance of asking the right questions. She would ask customers what they wished they’d asked their vendors before signing the contract—then direct those questions toward potential vendors.
In particular, Adriana recommends asking technology providers to walk you through the interfaces that employees will see—not just those that the HR team has access to. This will tell you a lot about the user experience. She also likes to ask vendors why they have lost bids in the past, as this is a great way to gauge their honesty.
“Many companies tell you everything you want to hear,” she says. “Then, they disappear during implementation. It’s a very common problem.”
After thoroughly exploring all the options, Adriana decided that PeopleDoc, combined with Workday, was the right solution for Biogen. It was PeopleDoc’s commitment to transparency that gave her confidence it would be a true partner in the process.
“They weren’t selling something that wasn’t live yet,” Adriana says. "I knew what they were offering and what they were still working on. Hearing that was a much more honest and genuine experience than listening to a company that says it can provide everything, because then you go live, and you realize that’s not the case.”
Going global—all in one fell swoop
Many companies take a “start small” approach to their HR transformations, doing a trial run in one market before giving the rest of their workforce access to the new tech. Adriana had other ideas. She didn’t want some employees to feel less important than others, so she made the decision to do a global rollout from day one.
“I believe, as much as possible, you should go live globally,” she says. “All employees are the same and should be able to have that good experience at once.”
Of course, even small-scale changes can throw up major challenges. Adriana had seen this firsthand in previous roles, so she braced for impact.
“On the day we went live, I sat with the head of HR waiting to see what would go wrong,” she recalls. “But nothing happened. It was a seamless launch without anything crashing—we went live globally just like that.”
An HR transformation that was truly transformational
Adriana’s first major post-launch project went just as smoothly as the launch itself. At the time, Biogen had just switched credit card companies. So, about two weeks after implementing PeopleDoc for employee file management and e-signatures, HR sent out a new document for its employees to sign—all 6,000+ of them.
“In the past, that would have had to be done with paper, and it would have taken over a month,” Adriana says. “We worked with the finance department to hold those signatures until after launch so that we could do it digitally, giving everyone a task to do immediately that would give them a positive first experience with the software.”
Biogen’s CHRO believed that no good solution should require training, and that’s the principle that Adriana followed. HR staff received guidance around operating in the back-end of the solution and answering employees’ questions, but for the most part, employees onboarded themselves. They could access recordings, tutorials, and chat support if they needed them, but the HR team’s hope was that the user interface would be simple enough that they wouldn’t need much additional support.
Their hope proved justified. Within just 12 days, every document had been signed—and out of more than 6,000 employees, only four experienced any issues.
For Adriana, the positive response from employees was the mark of a successful transformation.
“From day one, we got really good feedback,” she says. “It was amazing to hear people reflect positively on the entire process. We were very proud.”
Carrying the solution with her
Biogen continued to reap the rewards of its digital transformation. Within a week of implementing PeopleDoc, acceptance time for job offers dropped from 12 days to just 1.1. And since the company was no longer being forced to mail contracts halfway around the world, before long, it had saved over $100,000 in FedEx costs.
What’s more, since PeopleDoc and Workday were the first software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions ever implemented at Biogen, Adriana was able to shake off HR’s reputation as an old-fashioned function and position it as strategic, innovative, and forward-thinking.
Adriana was so impressed with PeopleDoc that, after moving on from Biogen, she actually joined our team. Later, when she accepted the role of Chief People Officer at Pegasystems, she took PeopleDoc with her.
“I still believe this is a great solution—that’s why I’ve implemented it here as well,” she says. “I still believe there is nothing like it in the marketplace. The customer service is still amazing.”
When Adriana joined Pegasystems, she signed a paper contract. That’s all changed. The HR department is now fully digital, proving that it can keep pace with the rest of the fast-moving tech company.
Adriana couldn’t be happier with the progress she’s helped usher in. And for HR professionals who feel uncomfortable driving a similar radical HR transformation at their company, she has some final words of wisdom.
“My biggest advice would be, don’t be afraid,” she says. “It needs to start with us. We need to be comfortable being uncomfortable.”
Want to bring your HR documents digital like Adriana? Learn everything you need to know in The Complete Guide to Digital HR Document Management: A Four-Part Framework for Switching to Paperless Employee Files.