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Case Study: Medtronic Transforms HR with Mix of IBM Garage Solutions

A woman working on a computer in an office.

When HR executives at medical device company Medtronic embarked two years ago on a multiyear project to transform the employee experience, they envisioned using new and innovative technologies to enhance or automate manual HR processes in talent acquisition and beyond.

Carol Surface, Medtronic's chief human resources officer, wanted to apply a test-and-learn, rapid innovation approach to organizational transformation, enterprise talent management planning, leadership development and other HR initiatives. New technology, she believed, would advance these goals.

Surface attended a business summit where she heard Diane Gherson, then IBM's chief human resources officer, tell attendees about the IBM Garage model, which coordinates burgeoning technologies with skilled IT employees and applies them to various HR tasks across the enterprise.

At the time, Medtronic needed to adopt newer technologies for a host of reasons:

  • Cloud computing, artificial intelligence, predictive analytics, workflow automation and chatbots could help the company upgrade from using Web portals, outdated management tools and older data analytics software.
  • The company needed more data visibility and analytics about its approximately 95,000 workforce worldwide. Data can help companies match outside talent with internal job openings and identify where internal employees needed to upskill or reskill as technology and market demands changed.
  • As a technology device firm, Medtronic competes with hospitals, academic institutions and companies like Google, Tesla and Apple for software engineers, mechanical engineers, clinical specialists, supply chain analysts and other highly skilled workers. The company aspires to be a top tech talent destination, with an employment brand that rivals how early career talent might perceive big tech companies such as Google, Tesla, and Apple.
  • The company needed a better way to gather, manage and interpret employee data in a way that helped HR and business leaders optimally make human capital decisions.

"A key focus for us was understanding what kind of data needs we had," said Kristen Carreiro, director of human resources at Medtronic. "We wanted to find out how can we build an infrastructure and transform the way we use data and how can we put that information in the right hands so that our business leaders can make important decisions to drive value for the business."

Medtronic implemented the IBM Garage approach, which consists of IBM experts working onsite and side by side with Medtronic's HR team to identify and evaluate problems, identify use cases and build solutions.

Looking forward, Medtronic aims to further leverage artificial intelligence and analytics to management of human capital. As an example, by applying AI to talent acquisition, Medtronic wants to reduce the time and effort it takes recruiters to review resumes and call candidates during the screening process. AI can enable recruiters to better match internal and external candidates to jobs at the company.

"Much of the burden of determining a candidate's qualifications is on the recruiter," said Jason Davis, Medtronic's director of business process improvement and program leader for the HR Innovation Garage. "The heavy reliance on hiring managers to make a hiring decision has the potential to introduce bias."

As companies continue their digital transformation initiatives, Brian Kropp, group vice president and chief of HR research at Gartner, warns that while companies are focused on using AI to gather more data about their employees to gain insights that can help them make better HR decisions, data alone doesn't show the complete picture.

Using AI in Other Use Cases

Another important potential use of AI has arisen since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. According to Carreiro, Medtronic must have the right number of people with the right skills at the right place at the right time to be able to meet the surge in demand for the MRI machines, surgical technologies, pacemakers and ventilators.

Predictive analytics could potentially be applied to help executives see what's happening in key parts of the organization and ensure it has the right number of people with the right skills in place at the right time to meet surges in demand for products. 

"We manufacture equipment like ventilators, which are in demand in this pandemic, and we want to make sure that if we are ramping up production, we have all the tools and resources we need," Carreiro said. 

Deploying chatbots has been another digital transformation initiative that has helped Medtronic tackle the issue of job codes.

Job codes are a unique identifier associated with over 3,000 distinct jobs that take into account a number of factors like job type (individual contributor, manager, executive), the job level (associate, senior, principal), and job family (clinical, research and development, legal, engineering).

Davis said it's important to identify and associate the correct job code to a job requisition so that basic job requirements, minimum years of experience and salary ranges are assigned appropriately.

"Because Medtronic is a heavily regulated industry, part of our responsibility is to demonstrate that a person serving in a role meets the qualifications," he said. "The wrong job code tied to a hire could result in salary range discrepancies."

The prior job code selection process was inefficient and manual and would require a hiring manager to contact HR for help tracking down what job code to use for an engineering specialist, a clinical specialist or some other title.

"The process to land on the correct job code could take many hours if not days," Davis said. "The job code selection process is a use case that perfectly suited to creating a chatbot because it has a static dataset of job groups associated with specific jobs codes."

Now a hiring manager can ask a chatbot for a specific job code and have the answer in under three minutes. The average time for a job code answer is one minute, Davis estimated.

"You can calculate the savings when you realize that we have thousands of hiring managers across the globe. It's a simple solution, but its impact has been immeasurable," he said.

Chatbots have been deployed across the HR division and are applied to many use cases, including questions related to diversity and inclusion, employee promotion processes, incentive programs and talent management processes.

Nicole Lewis is a freelance journalist based in Miami.


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