Radical reinvention: Inside Wolters Kluwer's HR transformation strategy
Est. Read Time: 5 min.
Wolters Kluwer is no stranger to reinventing itself. Over the past 183 years, the company has tackled everything from publishing to digital software, and today helps banks and insurance companies with their compliance and regulatory needs. Its new global HR transformation strategy is only the latest in a long line of large-scale changes that have helped the firm survive—and thrive—for so long.
“Given Wolters Kluwer’s history, transformation, evolution, and innovation are in the DNA of the company,” says Bill Baker, Executive VP of HR at Wolters Kluwer. “I’m not introducing new language when I talk about those things in HR—I’m just applying them differently.”
With more than 20 years’ HR experience under his belt, Bill is taking the lead on the development, implementation, and change management of Wolters Kluwer’s HR transformation. And in a recent episode of the HR Leaders podcast, he sat down with Chris Rainey, CEO and co-founder of HRD Leaders, to discuss the firm’s transformation journey so far.
Here are some of the highlights from their discussion.
Working backwards to develop an HR transformation strategy
As Bill and his team began establishing the blueprints for Wolters Kluwer’s HR transformation, it became clear that their strategy had to be about more than just maximizing efficiency—it was about holding the business to the same standards internally that it is externally. This realization became the team’s driving purpose and formed the foundation of its business case.
“The experience that we create for prospects, candidates, and employees has a direct impact on who joins us and who stays with us,” explains Bill. “That was really the start of it.”
After thinking strategically about the company’s talent agenda, the team determined what kind of employee and candidate experience it needed to create in order to optimize its outcomes. From there, it worked backwards to create a plan that would work.
“For us, it was the same as putting a business case together to take a new product to market,” Bill says. “We really tried to follow that same discipline, and I think that was good for us in terms of getting sponsorship from senior leadership and the C-suite.”
By grounding the initiative's goals in the big-picture needs of the business, Bill was able to articulate value throughout each phase of the transformation process. This was critical to gaining buy-in.
“You need to articulate what you’re doing for the business and how it can support [the business],” he says. “Because that’s a compelling conversation that, internally, key stakeholders are happy to have.”
Understanding what the function needs from the start
From the outset, Bill knew that this transformation would be no small undertaking.
“The transformation effort cuts across more than just technology,” he says. “We’re including our talent architecture and modernizing our job structures and reward system so that it’s a comprehensive program. It’s all supported by a new digital experience that needs to support our workforce globally.”
As an organization that spans 47 countries, Wolters Kluwer needed a solution that would let it speak to its global workforce—something it had always struggled with. The team decided to move its entire infrastructure to the cloud, leveraging the most advanced HR tools available—and building flexibility and scalability in at every step.
Choosing partners that strengthen the strategy
Bill discovered PeopleDoc while he was researching vendors that could support both Wolters Kluwer’s immediate needs and its long-term success. “I said, ‘Oh, they’re onto something here,’” he recalls.
Bill’s team ultimately settled on PeopleDoc and Workday to help move HR to the cloud. “They cover all of the core functionality across the [HR] function,” Bill says. “It was important to us to have extensible platforms that would evolve and change as the world changed.”
With employees in mind, Bill knew he needed software that would provide an elegant user experience. Again, PeopleDoc fit the bill.
“There is a real value in talent you attract and that’s interested in joining you based on the experience they have when they engage with you,” Bill says. “Driving towards a consumer-grade experience was important to us, and PeopleDoc was a solution that supported that. They filled in a lot of the gaps, a lot of the functionality that the core platforms out there don’t do, and really gave us extensibility.”
Reframing the goals of transformation
Typically, HR transformation is designed to minimize administrative tasks in order to maximize strategic roles. But Wolters Kluwer approached things a little differently, aiming to create disciplines of speciality. Rather than have everyone do everything, team members are encouraged to deepen their expertise in the areas that matter most, and to take a global approach rather than a local one.
This structure aligns responsibilities with business needs—and allows HR to be true consultative partners.
“We’re segmenting these responsibilities, and we’re supporting them with the right toolset,” Bill explains. “We’ll continue to support folks in changing the way they work, because everybody knows the change isn’t going to stop. So developing the set of muscles to be able to do that well and continue to do that well—that’ll go far beyond this transformation.”
While Bill’s team proposed a two-to-three year transformation, HR understands that the function is changing now—and that it will keep changing. After all, there’s no time limit on improvement.
“You’re making a commitment to leveraging these tools, resources, and products as the world changes and continues to innovate,” Bill says. “The job is not static, and it’s never going to be—and that’s exciting.”
Setting milestones—and surpassing them
It’s been a little over 100 days since Wolters Kluwer launched its new PeopleDoc and Workday functionalities for every employee across the globe, and the firm has already hit a lot of its transformation milestones.
Across locations, the ability to find everything in one centralized place has been most celebrated. From a user experience standpoint, Bill and his team have the reassurance that they’re on the right track—and there’s more to come.
“We’re onto the next rollout of the next wave of functionality,” he says. “People are excited about simple things, like if [they] can easily see an enterprise org chart, easily know where to find basic information, or simply know how to ask a question now that’s never been clear.”
Despite these initial successes, change management doesn’t end with the launch—and nobody knows that better than Bill. His team has already identified areas of opportunity and frustration, and are in the process of creating forums, surveys, focus groups, user-experience advisory groups, and more to tackle them.
“We want to provide the solutions that our folks need,” Bill says, “so that they spend less time managing the personal parts of their professional lives and more time delighting our customers.”
For Bill, this is the endgame of HR transformation—allowing HR to better serve employees so that they can do their jobs better.
"We delight our employees, they delight our customers—there’s good data that says that that’s true,” he says. “And we’re starting to see that actually come to fruition now that we’re on the other side of some big milestones. We’ve got a ways to go—we’re a hundred days in and we’ve got some ambitious plans—but we can already see some dividends from what we’ve done so far.”
Looking back and looking forward
Wolters Kluwer’s transformation is still underway, but Bill and his team are confident about the progress they’ve made.
“We have a lot of confidence in our core vendors, and it’s been a good partnership so far,” Bill says. “We’re really pleased to solidify that foundational level of work so that we can move on to what will help us drive more business.”
For a closer look at the tools that supported Wolters Kluwer's HR transformation strategy, take a virtual product tour today.