How to Drive Technology Adoption at a 200-Year-Old Company
The recruiting department of a 200-year-old railway followed a step-by-step guide to implement technological change and achieve recruiting innovation.
This STRIVE 2019 session recap is based on a presentation by Norfolk Southern.
At well-established companies with decades of structures and processes in place, it can be challenging to transition to new ways of working. Adopting new technologies, changing mindsets within the organization, and communicating change in a positive and efficient way can be an uphill battle.
That was certainly the case for Norfolk Southern, a 200-year-old freight train business operating 20,000 miles of railroad track — from Jacksonville, Florida to upstate New York, and as far west as Kansas City.
With a recruiting team of 13 responsible for nearly 4,000 hires across 22 states each year, Norfolk Southern’s hiring needs are significant. But legacy ways of working — like thousands of face-to-face interviews and spreadsheets to track applicants — were creating a significant administrative burden.
That’s why the Norfolk team turned to new recruitment technology to lighten the load. But at a 200-year-old company known to be traditional and conservative, the HR department knew there was potential for pushback when they introduced new tech solutions to the rest of the organization.
“We were dealing with the mindset: ‘We’ve always done it this way, so it’s surely the best way…no matter how inefficient, it’s worked this far. Why do I need to change?’”
So how did Norfolk Southern successfully roll out a new recruitment platform, all while improving ROI and keeping stakeholders happy?
To drive adoption, Norfolk Southern recruiters used Kotter’s 8-step change management theory as a guide.
What is Kotter’s 8-step process for leading change?
A global authority on change management, Dr. John Kotter studied countless leaders and organizations as they transformed their business strategies and ways of working. From his observations, he identified eight key factors that drove successful change. Those factors became an award-winning methodology: The 8-Step Process for Leading Change.
1. Create a sense of urgency
Help others see the need for change through a bold, aspirational opportunity statement that communicates the importance of acting immediately.
How Norfolk Southern created a sense of urgency: Norfolk Southern leveraged data to illustrate how much faster they could hire employees with tech solutions. They built a workforce planning model that could accurately map out a hiring timeline, accounting for average time-to-hire and training periods. By using data to demonstrate demanding hiring deadlines, the Norfolk team was able to make a more compelling case for why new technology was necessary to drive recruiting success.
2. Build a guiding coalition
A volunteer army needs a coalition of effective people — born of its own ranks — to guide it, coordinate it, and communicate its activities.
How Norfolk Southern built a guiding coalition: Norfolk Southern looked beyond the HR department for advocates who could champion new technology — a diverse population that would be a guiding force to implement the change. They piloted the recruitment technology in a small department with limited hiring needs. As they built relationships and demonstrated the benefits of the platform, the department became excited to be early adopters and spread the change to other teams.
3. Form a strategic vision
Clarify how the future will be different from the past and how you can make that future a reality through initiatives linked directly to the vision.
How Norfolk Southern formed a strategic vision: The Norfolk Southern recruitment team’s strategic vision was to be a consultant to their customers, and leverage data to make on-demand business solutions. They set a lofty goal to align with the vision: hire all new employees via live or pre-recorded video interviewing by the end of 2019. From there, it was all about communicating the vision at the executive level. The HR team was armed with talking points about why Yello was the right solution for Norfolk Southern, and team members sought opportunities to have conversations about the new technology. Word spread quickly, and the team achieved its video interviewing goal by May 2019, seven months ahead of schedule.
4. Enlist a volunteer army
Large-scale change can only occur when massive numbers of people rally around a common opportunity. They must be bought-in and urgent to drive change — moving in the same direction.
How Norfolk Southern enlisted a volunteer army: To attain buy-in, Norfolk Southern identified pockets of early adopters and implemented a “train the trainer” method. Hiring managers got early exposure to the new technology, learning how to use the platform and conduct a live video interview. Through mock interviews with recruiters, hiring managers had a chance to get comfortable with the technology and spread the word about their positive experience before the platform rolled out company-wide.
5. Enable action by removing barriers
Removing barriers such as inefficient processes and hierarchies provides the freedom necessary to work across silos and generate real impact.
How Norfolk Southern removed barriers: Under Norfolk Southern’s traditional model, recruiters conducted mass interviews across their territories, spending time on the road and in hotels. Hiring managers resisted video interviews because they wanted to shake the candidate’s hand and meet face-to-face. To eliminate legacy processes, hiring managers needed to be convinced that if by using the technology, they would be able to shake a new hire’s hand on their first day of work three or four months sooner than before.
6. Generate short-term wins
Wins are the molecules of results. They must be recognized, collected and communicated — early and often — to track progress and energize volunteers to persist.
How Norfolk Southern generated short-term wins: At Norfolk Southern, buy-in from hiring managers was key to making video interviewing successful. After every interview, managers immediately received a survey via text message to gauge their experience. The survey gave Norfolk’s team small opportunities to celebrate what worked well, and immediately address any needed improvements.
And of course, the big wins were worth celebrating too — like when Norfolk was able to reduce time-to-hire for their IT department from 95 days to 44 days.
7. Sustain acceleration
Press harder after the first successes. Your increasing credibility can improve systems, structures and policies. Be relentless with initiating change after change until the vision is a reality.
How Norfolk Southern sustained acceleration: After new recruiting technology eliminated the need for recruiters to travel, Norfolk Southern was able to accelerate success by transforming the recruiting team’s role from transactional to consultative. By bringing recruiters into the office to engage, consult, and collaborate with other departments, the team was able to interact with colleagues more frequently, gaining trust and buy-in for new technology.
8. Institute change
Articulate the connections between the new behaviors and organizational success, making sure they continue until they become strong enough to replace old habits.
How Norfolk Southern instituted change: Once Norfolk Southern earned early buy-in from all stakeholders, the HR team shared formal communications with the organization about how they were leveraging technology and what kind of results they were seeing. A custom video introducing Yello was shared across the company. If a hiring manager had a question about the technology, a recruiter would work with them to address it immediately. The team also collected feedback from surveys to continue making the change easier on everyone.
How did Norfolk Southern measure their success?
- Positions are filled faster. For some departments, time-to-hire was reduced by over 50%.
- Saved $500,000 in one quarter, primarily by reducing travel expenses.
- Increased session yield. More than 50 percent of candidates now receive an offer.
- Improved recruiter efficiency. Recruiters use predictive workforce planning models to hire more strategically.
Norfolk Southern is well ahead of schedule in adopting new talent acquisition software. They’ve eliminated recruiter travel, decreased hiring cycle time, and are starting to use data for more advanced recruiting decisions, like the best day of the week to send pre-recorded video invites.
Watch the whole session here:
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