When the Big Bang Rollout Takes a Backseat: An Interview With Knowledge Universe



In this video, Talent Function Senior Consultant Kenyatta Smith speaks with Laura Cullen, HR Solutions Architect at Knowledge Universe about re-assessing the idea of a ‘Big Bang’ rollout when launching an HR transformation project.

Watch this on-demand webinar now to learn:

  • How to strategically phase in process redesign, change management and new technology integrations when launching a new project
  • How to achieve your implementation goals and longer-term success without the need for an aggressive launch
  • Managing vendors, partners and internal stakeholders throughout the process

Webinar Transcript:

Scot: Please join me in welcoming Kenyatta Smith and Laura Cullen.

Kenyatta: Thank you so much for that introduction. Welcome, everyone. Today’s session, we are going to be covering When the Big Bang Rollout Takes a Backseat. This is an interview with Knowledge Universe, and we are very delighted to be here today and share this story with you.

Just to give you a little bit of history on the company. I’m with Talent Function, my name is Kenyatta Smith, and we are a boutique consulting firm specializing in talent acquisition and talent management services, strategic advisement, as well as technology enablement and optimization. And we have been partnering with Knowledge Universe for several months now and helping them through some optimization, post-launch support, as well as integration work.

Laura: Hi, this is Laura.

Kenyatta: Oh, go ahead, Laura.

Laura: And just a little background on Knowledge Universe, we are the largest private early childhood education provider in the U.S. We have around 3700 locations, employing just about 40,000 people, and we’re committed to creating lifelong learners, enriching teacher development and building positive and lasting relationships with families. I’m very happy to be here with Kenyatta.

Kenyatta: And welcome. Thank you so much for taking the time to be here. And if you will go ahead, you just introduced yourself, but if you’ll tell us a little bit more about your background, definitely we’d appreciate hearing that as well.

Laura: That sounds good. I’ve been here for a little over 17 years, so I have been with KinderCare is where I started. And I’ve been in the HRS department for probably the last 10 years of that, and have been working on different projects. And I’m here today because in the last year, we have really taken a look at what we can do to help get our talent into our centers. So implementing ATS along with some assessments and yeah, we’ve been able to roll that out to the field in a positive way.

Kenyatta: Fantastic. And as I’ve mentioned this is Kenyatta Smith. I’m a part of Talent Function. I’ve been here just a little bit under a year, but as far as my overall repertoire, I’ve been with maybe different consulting firms as well as organizations specializing in talent acquisition and human resources or human capital systems. My enjoyment is supporting clients and whether they’re internal or external around the world, and how to provide the right support to their employees and to their candidates — so individuals that they’re trying to hire as well as individuals that work within an organization and are trying to move up or move laterally within the organization. I also have had an opportunity to lead and manage several different types of implementation projects, whether it’s implementing a new process, a new system, or kind of all of the above, and enjoy watching clients transform into kind of this new future state being from a talent management perspective.

So what we’re going to cover and talk about today is Knowledge Universe over the last, I guess it’s been more about 18 months now.

Laura: Sounds about right.

Kenyatta: It doesn’t seem like it, but it has been done that long, right?

Laura: Correct.

Kenyatta: Had an opportunity to kind of kickoff and launch a transformation project, and as a part of that initial launch, definitely there was a sense of urgency to get this implemented and executed as quickly as possible. So the Big Bang approach was initially the direction of the project and the scope of work, and it included process redesign, transformation, change management, implementing a new ATS, migrating a smaller group of the organization from an older ATS, as well as the most impactful and largest group or population of users of the new system were actually on paper and so still on a manual process.

It involved several different types of integrations, and was just complex within itself, but definitely had some aggressive targets and aggressive goals in place for the project. And Laura, of course, chime in anywhere here and keep me honest. But something not necessarily unique to what organizations go through, but something I would say immediately following discovery and design happened, where not only talent acquisition as an organization but senior leadership at Knowledge Universe stepped in and said, “Hold on, we’re going to put the project on hold and we need to re-evaluate and re-assess our initial approach of Big Bang Rollout.”

And based upon that kind of pause, and taking a step backward, and looking at what really is going to be out go-forward strategy definitely thought this would be a really good session to chime in and pick Laura’s brain and ask some questions in terms of how did the pause or putting the project on hold come about, and then the decision-making process to switch from rollout, Big Bang approach to, “We’re going to do phase. We’re going to be a little bit more strategic, and we’re going to really slow this down and take our time.” So that’s the background of the project and what the line of questions are going to be for Laura during the interview to gain some insights into why Knowledge Universe took the approach that they did, what were some of the lessons learned, and some of the wins and some of the outcomes. So I’m taking that approach.

Laura, is there anything else you’d like to add at this point before we dive in?

Laura: There’s not. I think we can get to anything as we’re going through the questions.

Kenyatta: Okay. Fantastic. So, Laura, I know at the onset of the project, as I just mentioned, there was this sense of urgency, right, so Big Bang approach where we want all the bells and whistles, or as much as we can afford within our budget, and let’s just make this happen. And so we aggressively started looking at integrations even earlier in the timeline than you normally would, some data migration, got through discovery and design, and then pretty much had the project come to a complete halt and stop. Just wanted to get some information from you in terms of what was the decision-making from your team as well as the senior management’s team to place the project on hold.

Laura: Yeah, I think it was a hard decision because we wanted, obviously, to get the benefit of an ATS system out into our field, but I think we realized we didn’t have all the right players. One of the issues we’ve had during the project, we actually are stable now, we had turnover at our talent acquisition leadership level, so kind of who started the project isn’t who finished it, so that played a role in it. And just realizing, after we went through some of the design that there was really probably more re-design than we initially had thought. Again, as Kenyatta pointed out, in our field we still use a paper process, so really understanding how we were going to work with our field-hiring managers and our recruiting team actually took a little more time than we wanted to.

Yet, at the same time, from our senior leadership internally here at the corporate office, we have some goals that we wanted assessments for our candidates to get out there. So just taking a look of what we needed to do and we just really did need to pause to build that out.

Kenyatta: And, if I remember correctly, it also seemed like change management was pretty significant, along with some of your decision-making, and I think that actually segues nicely into kind of my next question which is just really around how you and the KU leadership team came to this decision. So what I thought would be insightful here, Laura, is if you can actually walk us through, not only the decision that was made to come, to bring everyone together — so vendors, partners, internal resources, from all spectrum that would have some type of touchpoint within the project together as a session, but you guys also worked strategically behind the scenes to make sure that session flowed extremely well, and wanted to get some insights in terms of developing that session and then the purpose of the session, and the overall outcome of it, because it actually was a very well-executed, “Let’s get everyone together that’s going to have any touchpoint regardless of how small or large,” sitting together in the same room, fleshing out how to best make this work and looking at a more realistic timeline.

Laura: Yeah, it is one of the big things that we did that would help us to basically bring everybody together like Kenyatta said. So we, as a director of firm, our Executive VP of HR, he said, “Hey, I really want to understand what this is going to take. I want to get stuff out but I don’t want to do it without being thoughtful and understanding the process.” So myself and a couple, our project coordinator and our project manager and one of our recruiters sat together and mapped out, whiteboard it, sticky notes, how we wanted the process to work. What did we think was our ideal state of recruiting? So we took probably a week to two weeks to get this really mapped out, brought in our big sheets of paper to meeting and we’ve called in basically all the people that were going to touch our process.

So along with using our ATS system to IO, we’re using assessment for some of our jobs with Gallup. We were building a new kind of frontend firm for our play brand, so we used a vendor for that, for Knowledge Universe careers. So we brought in all the players that have a touchpoint at that time, and we, on site here at Knowledge Universe, put up our whitepapers and walked through like, “Hey, this is how we see the process going. This is when we think it’s going to touch you. This is when we think it will come out to the candidates,” looking at their experiences and really sat down with everybody and got thoughts. We had our change management team come up to be on site so they can shoot holes in everybody’s thoughts because that’s what change management really questions, and like, “Okay, well, that’s great. How is the end user going to end up using that?” So definitely questions we haven’t thought about before.

So we wrote down everybody’s, “Yes, that will work great,” “No, this is where our problem is,” and took that back as an internal team, here, as the core team, took a couple of weeks to really go through that and look at, “Okay, based on this knowledge now, what can we really do?” And that’s what we started thinking we’re going to have to break some stuff up. We’re gonna have to get what our leaders here at KU want, we might have to break out assessments early, bring on the ATS and bring everything back in. So we did have to do more phase approach than we had initially thought.

Kenyatta: Absolutely. And I think another key element of that session that I thought was extremely unique, and I have seen some other organizations do it, but I think in your particular situation, you actually brought in someone from the field, right? So you brought in a key stakeholder that right at the day of launch, would be using this and would be impacted. And so more of a hiring manager role, who was also sitting in the room and had an opportunity to voice their opinion and provide a lot of input, and I think that was extremely valuable as well. So my next question, and you kind of already covered some of this though. Well, thinking about bringing that resource in, I think that’s what really started, at least from the observation that I had, at least that’s what seemed to be a key trigger in we are onto something really good here, and moving away from the Big Bang Rollout approach and more into a phase rollout approach is going to be the right path. Would you agree with that, Laura?

Laura: Yeah, and to your point, we did bring in several levels of the field. So we brought in a couple of hiring managers throughout some of our early sessions, so there are center directors. We had a couple of district level staff, and they’re not necessarily users of the ATS, but they needed to support our main group. And then we did have a sponsor in the field, so one of our regional vice presidents actually was a co-sponsor of the project, so we did have field involved the whole way. And they, after listening to everything, were very, I would say, very against the Big Bang approach, especially our sponsor really put it to us like, “Hey, what are other options here? What can we do to not roll this out as one big thing?”

Kenyatta: Absolutely. And then I think also you made the decision as an organization, right, so it was very collective, that we are going to take a phased approach. But then you went a step further, and so you decided, “We know now that this is going to be a phased rollout,” but you guys really started looking strategically on, “Where can we get our quickest win in terms of implementing this?” because you do have kind of a unique dichotomy within your organization in terms of how your corporate hires are hired versus your teachers and your directors and center directors and others out in the field. So you also took a step back in a unique approach to, “Do we have a pilot? When does that happen?” And if you don’t mind, walking through some of the decision-making behind that strategy, I think that would be really valuable as well.

Laura: Yeah, again, when we looked at it, one of the things that we really were challenged by our leaders to get out early was our assessment for our fields, because we really wanted to see, “Are we hiring the right teachers?” So we were able to roll out in April 2014 just the assessment, kind of standalone. So as our hiring managers in the field were hiring, they would send out a link to do this assessment. That allowed us to then take the time to really look at our ATS system and build it out correctly while still getting some information and appeasing our leaders, like, “Hey, we’re starting to collect this data,” knowing that really to do much reporting or anything on it is going to take years, so I need to start gathering it. 

And then we were able to look at just the recruiting piece of it, and what we wanted to do, and what we decided to do when we phased it was that we would go ahead and roll out here at our corporate office first. We had a need to go from a smaller ATS up to a larger one. And recruiters, they’ve used the system, they’ve been in some system before, so it’s a smaller change management. And it also would help us like if there are any system issues that we will need to go in and fix when it’s only 20 people using the system, so much easier. So in September of 2014, we’re able to roll out here to our corporate office.

Then what we had decided is we would do a pilot out in our field. It was really one of those how many centers in a location do you do. So we actually, from each of our regions, we took one district, so we had about 130 to 140 locations that we rolled this out to in December of 2014. The good and bad with that is that it’s for us a historically low hiring season. So we knew we can get out without a whole lot of impact and see how this is going to work for our centers. And really, all in all, the pilot went very well. We had very few issues. I think a couple of them, the first day, were just a couple of flags. Maybe we didn’t turn on right the first day. Nothing took more than a couple of hours to actually get fixed. 

So our pilot went well, our processes were working, so we’re very happy. So we actually then went with all our other centers in February of 2015. So everything was probably about three months or so apart. And February 9, turned it on for all of our locations, for all our hiring managers, and that overall has gone very well. We’ve had very little system issues. A little change management but I think we can get into that a little later. But really I think doing the corporate office and then the smaller centers was able for us to get any types of tweaks that we needed to get out of the way before we went with the larger groups.

Kenyatta: Absolutely. And as I kind of rewind, it also sounds like you had an opportunity to not only test the waters from a pilot perspective, but you also had this design opportunity on steroids, right? Because you started out with one design, but by even doing your standalone assessment and getting some additional intel that way, you were able to go back and say, “Okay, wait a minute. We thought here we would not need to capture this information within our system, or we would not need to maybe solution or on-boarding a certain way. Now we’ve got to re-calibrate and look at this from a different perspective.” So it also sounds like you had this continuous ongoing design effort as well, which seemed to be pretty impactful and very beneficial at the end of the day. What would you say are some of the key or most critical lessons learned from the overall talent acquisition transformation project?

Laura: So I was thinking about this one, I actually might have done one more phase. It would’ve been one of the reasons we didn’t is just because backend processes here, when you have too many different things coming in, it’s hard to control, but I think just volume-wise, I don’t think we realized how much volume we would really jump up when we added everybody else. And part of that, I think we did… our training, I believe, was good. We did an e-learning for all of our field hiring managers. We had a reference guide for them that basically is a step-by-step through the whole process, but we still had very high volume support calls. And again, they went from a manual process where people would fill out a paper application and hand it to them and they’d interview them and say, “Yup, we love you. Come on in,” to really now a standard process where you have to put in a requisition to be approved and your offer has to be approved, so there was more steps in it.

So I think probably change management is probably always something that comes up, but just really getting our hiring managers ready to do these new steps that they weren’t used to doing. One of the other things, which is a hard one, again I mentioned we had some turnover at our higher levels, so kind of change the direction of the project a little bit. Somebody who had different thoughts came in who had used recruiting differently than we had previously, so that was something that’s kind of hard. I don’t think that one we can do a whole lot about.

But I think the good thing there was we did have some core people through the whole project which helped quite a bit even when we got to that support phase so the people who ended up doing a lot of the calls and answering a lot of those calls had been people that had been here in the entire time, so they knew how we built everything out and they were able to really, really easily and well answer the phone calls that were coming in, but it was a lot more volume than we expected.

Kenyatta: Absolutely. And I do think that that’s always critical, right? And change management is usually where success or not so great success usually ends up happening, if you don’t get that quite right. You answered this question already a little bit for me in terms of what would you do differently if you had to start the project all over again. And I’m sorry, I think I just jumped ahead. Let me make sure I’m on the right question. Yes, is there anything else you would add to that?

Laura: No, I think starting all over again, probably have a lot more of the actual recruiting teams and not just management but the actual recruiters helps it in to do some of the process design just because they’re in their day-to-day. And probably we did use some field people that maybe a few more to talk about how they see their recruiting working again because we did have people… Everybody did it slightly different, so we had it like two or three people come in and let us know that maybe we should’ve reached out further to maybe other areas in the company to see how they do recruiting would probably have helped. 

Kenyatta: So kind of a wider pool of individuals and participants is definitely… And it also sounds like, to your earlier point, there was a tremendous amount of transition at the senior level, or more management level within the talent acquisition group. So if you did have a little bit more input earlier on from some of the others that were more of the day-to-day key members, right, then maybe it would’ve helped with some of the gap or the change of course that happened with the leadership changes, which, to your point, there is really not much you can do about that.

Laura: Right.

Kenyatta: But if you have, yeah, their teams are a little bit more involved early on in the process that might’ve helped fill that gap a little bit.

Laura: Okay.

Kenyatta: Well, one question that I had, and you’ve briefly highlighted some of these, but if you just had to call out one or two, what would you say have been some of the most significant wins for Knowledge Universe as a part of rolling out this major significant transformation project within the organization?

Laura: Yeah, and you know probably the biggest one is that we’re able to actually report, so track and report now all of our candidates coming in. So again, when we’re on paper out in the field, we know how many people we’re hiring but we didn’t know how many candidates we had, so just helping and finding out where people are coming from. So reporting is huge for us. We’re very excited about that. And then really just having the entire company using the same process. So, again, different states have slightly different rules for hiring for us, but overall everybody is using the same system and process so it’s just those are huge, reporting is huge.

Kenyatta: Right. So metrics and analytics, right, being able to really see the data so that you can prepare for the future, or you can figure out if something isn’t working well, and maybe attack it a little bit sooner. And then definitely, anytime you can harmonize and streamline at the same time, that’s a win-win for everyone, right?

Laura: Exactly.

Kenyatta: So one last question for you, and I know this is kind of a doozy, but definitely wanted to get your opinion and have you share this. How would you recommend other organizations approach a similar transformation project like this one, where you have high volume, you have this dichotomy in terms of who gets hired at the corporate level, who gets hired out in the field? You just have a lot going on, you have seasonal hiring where you have very critical times of the year that you’ve got to hit a certain number in order to staff your centers around the country. So what would you recommend for other organizations that might be trying to tackle something similar?

Laura: I think the one thing that we had that was great is we did have a strong sponsor. Again, we had a corporate sponsor here over the entire project and we did include a field sponsor. That helps tremendously. We leaned on our field sponsor quite a bit and especially when it did come to the change management and helping in the field, so I do recommend that. I think that was one thing that worked well. Again, I mentioned making sure you have all the right people up front, you have your SMEs, your experts in the field come there. 

But really look at, I don’t know if capability is the right word, but look at who will be using it and how much change this really would be for them. Again, change management is always huge, a lot of pushback but I think the earlier you can start communicating with them that this is coming, a new transformation, the way we do business is going to change. We did that okay. I think we could’ve probably started getting our hiring managers familiar with the project a little earlier just so they can hear and see and feel how that was going to look. But that’s probably a big thing, open lines of communication.

Kenyatta: Absolutely. Well, wonderful. I so appreciate and thank you taking time out of your very busy day…

Laura: Thank you.

Kenyatta: … to walk us through the transformation project at Knowledge Universe, and I think every organization has to approach what’s going to work best for them when they’re going through this level of transformation, but I definitely wanted to share starting from that kind of Big Bang, “We’ve got to get it in, we’ve got to get in quickly,” type of mindset, but then being willing to stop and say, “Wait a minute. Is this really best for the business at the end of the day, and is it best for our stakeholders,” including external stakeholders, your candidates and the people that you’re trying to attract and hire. So thanks again, Laura. I so appreciate your time in sharing all of that great information with us. And for those of you on the call, I hope that you are going to enjoy this session and that each of you have an opportunity to have some takeaways that you can take back into your own firms or organizations. Thanks.

Laura: Thank you.