How Papa John's implemented career succession planning with PeopleSoft

Papa John's may be better known for their pizza than their new career succession planning implementation, but maybe that should change. Find out why.

Danette Rhodes, senior director of human resources (HR) at Papa John's, remembers the mood in early 2012 within her department when it became clear that HR needed to move beyond a paper-based system for career succession planning and talent management.

"The problem was that there was a difference in interpretation in what the process of succession planning was about," she said. "Some viewed [talent management] as reviews … but some of us asked, 'Should this be a living, breathing online system?'"

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Papa John's, a large pizza delivery and take-out franchise headquartered in Louisville, Ky., was founded in 1984 and is a publically held company with over 16,000 employees and 4,000 restaurants. Their career succession planning implementation would affect employees at director level and above.

From a business process perspective, the kind of thinking Rhodes described makes sense. Performance reviews are a chance to see where managers see employees in the company, as well as an opportunity for the employee to voice their own career goals and aspirations. But they're often a once-a-year event rather than a continuous process. People, however, do not exist in the vacuum of a once-a-year review. People, companies and situations change.

Between reviews, "a potential candidate may get an MBA, they may grow, and this should tracked," said Rob Townsend, managing partner of the MoTown Group, a consultancy based in Lexington, Ky. and Indianapolis that specializes in PeopleSoft. They may also leave the company or decide that they have other career objectives, in which case HR and managers may be expected to backfill roles those changes affect. According to Townsend, the ability to update this information should be at a manager's fingertips in order to avoid a crisis.

When the Papa John's HR department decided to implement a career succession planning system, they knew the first thing they had to do was find the right organization to partner with. The company chose MoTown Group fairly quickly because it took a collaborative effort toward the project, according to Rhodes. Townsend sent out a business analysis questionnaire to Rhodes' department to learn which goals they hoped to achieve. Soon they defined a high-level consulting plan and determine consulting fees. From there, they examined Papa John's current business processes, reviewing the available data on paper forms. Papa John's also decided that it would stick with PeopleSoft Software, as they had been using it for more than six years and were satisfied with it.

The first implementation step was to enter into PeopleSoft all the information kept on paper. This job fell primarily to Townsend, who painstakingly entered the data manually. The information to be entered encompassed all people-related data in the company, including entire HR files and performance reviews. During this time, the Papa John's HR team and Townsend developed an implementation timeline. They wanted all the upper-level managers trained on PeopleSoft and able to use the career succession planning features before the restaurant operations team had their national meetings in November 2012. Everything would have to be implemented and ready to go for the fourth quarter.

Papa John's HR generalists became point people for the policy change -- they would be able to train people and answer any questions people had about PeopleSoft. They spearheaded a push to train managers across the company remotely via WebEx.

The final result

From a systems perspective, there has not been that much of a change. Papa John's is still an organization that uses PeopleSoft. The biggest change is that all the career succession planning features of PeopleSoft are being actively used, and all upper-level management employees at Papa John's have individualized plans for their career futures. Valid successors have been selected -- and are constantly updated-- for key positions. As with many human capital management systems, Papa John's PeopleSoft system ranks employees on a nine-box scale, with performance of the employee on one axis and perceived leadership ability on the other. An employee on the upper right-hand corner of the grid is considered a strong candidate for promotion, while an employee on the lower left-hand side is a weak candidate.

From a business process standpoint, this is a new era for Papa John's in career succession planning. The new system makes it easier to identify talented members of the organization who are key performers and need to be maintained. HR can bundle people into talent pools -- people who will excel in areas of the business like restaurant operations, marketing, finance or other roles.

Employees now meet with their managers at least twice a year for "calibration sessions," where they discuss their performance and are able to express their aspirations for advancement within the company. Rhodes says that they intend to have these sessions occur once every quarter in the future.

"There is now a consistent interpretation of succession planning, and plans in place for how to fill positions," she said. "We're all on the same platform when it comes to filling and identifying leadership pipelines -- we're tying competencies into the discussion."

Rhodes added that the key to implementing a successful career succession planning system is understanding the business, communicating with those involved in the project and training everyone on how to use the system.

"You can have the best system in the world, but if people fall back on the old ways of doing things, you no longer have one version of truth," she said. "It's important to ensure one version of the truth."

This was first published in April 2013

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