“I’m accountable for three things. One is looking after our UK and Irish customers, ensuring they’re successful with Workday. That’s my main priority. I look after the London office. We’ve got about 600 people in London, are they engaged? Do we have the best experience for them when they come into the London office? How do we ensure they have fulfilling and long-term careers at Workday? I care about that employee experience.”
Improving the skills of the nation
“The third piece is something I’ve given to myself. I’m keen to understand how Workday can add to the success of the nations we serve, the UK and Ireland. We’re an organisation that helps get the best out of people and helps drive financial, profitability and accuracy for organisations. We can do that by helping the companies that use our technology be more successful and productive, which is the challenge we know we have in the UK.
“Outside of that, there’s a skill shortage in the UK and Ireland. We have technology, people and resources that can hopefully, in some shape, help scale up the wider UK and drive prosperity. However, that’s not just about the GDP or social mobility. We’re looking at ways that we can work with other companies and the government to deliver better outcomes for the whole of the UK and Ireland. That’s a Work in Progress on exactly how we do it.
“This is still really early days. I’ve been talking to private and public sector bodies about this. We are in the ideation phase.
“I was talking to a bank recently about this topic. They have a big skills gap. I spoke about this idea of how do we upskill the nation. They said, ‘We’re in the process of rationalising our branches. Could we use some of our branches to turn those into skills development centres for AI or ML for the older generation who won’t have the branch anymore to go in and post their checks and will have to use digital technology?’ There’s something we could do with our technology and their physical footprint?
“Another good example of something that we’re just ideated on is I’m just starting to work with a nonprofit organisation that supports local community sports. As part of their program providing those sports, they also develop leaders within those sporting groups. They want to put some of those individuals into leadership programs. So we said, how can we support them with the technology, skills, knowledge and mentorship to develop those young leaders.”
Does this initiative also mean you will have a bigger push into the public sector?
“Yes, We’ve had some great success in the public sector today. It probably makes up 45% of the GDP of the UK. We won’t meet our growth goals unless we have greater success in the public sector.”
Can you give me a state of the nation for Workday in UKI? Workday was in a close period at the time of the interview, and therefore Pell could not share any revenue numbers.
“In London, we’ve got 600 people. We continue to grow our people at approximately 20% a year. In five years, we’ll be around 1500 People and have outgrown our premises. The company expects the UK and EMEA to grow faster than that in terms of revenue growth. That’s where a lot of investment will be.
“We have over 1,000 customers in UK and Ireland using our financials, HR, Adaptive, our planning product, or Peakon, our employee listening product. We’ve got 1.7 million workers in the UK and Ireland that use Workday. If you look at the government statistics around the number of white-collar workers, there are, that means 16% of the working population of the UK touch Workday in some shape or form on a pretty regular basis. Then 40% of the FTSE 100 use Workday, as well. We’re well established, but still a good opportunity for us.”
The importance of culture
Workday is noted for its strong culture and has often promoted from within. What was the experience like joining as an outsider?
“Before you join Workday, a lot of the focus is on cultural values alignment. Aneel (Bhusri, co-founder and CEO) was in London this week; he talked a lot about values. Everyone in the company is a custodian of that, and he makes it very clear. Your interview processes are rigorous around values to ensure that the people who join, particularly in senior leadership positions, can maintain and drive those.
“As I’ve joined, it’s very clear in everything we do that those values shine through. And I’ve said this to most people I’ve met internally and externally. We have values of customer service, employees, innovation, integrity, fun and profitability. They are incredibly evident in everything that we do as an organisation.
“I intend to maintain and grow those and make sure they shine. I can’t think of a better way to run a company. If you get the people and the values bit right, then growth and all those other wonderful things we were talking about regarding company metrics will follow.”
Workday, exploration and priorities
Pell is a newcomer to Workday, and I asked him what he had discovered during his first 120 days.
“I’ve discovered that it’s a very values-driven culture, which is great. Our customers love us, and there’s a lot more that we can do for our customers. Many organisations implementing Workday are getting a lot of value from improving the employee experience, their agility, and how they listen to their customers.
“I’ve discovered now that we are about to go through a really exciting wave of growth as a company. That will be based on a couple of things. Organisations are putting a great emphasis on employees right now because of all the things that are happening in the macroeconomic environment. They need to invest in their people and their skills.
“The second piece is we’ve got incredible technology trends hitting us from all angles with AI and ML. Organisations are going to become much more efficient, much more productive, and be able to uncover much more insight about their employee base.
“Also, companies have bought a lot of tech over the past four or five years in the HR and finance space. They’re realising it’s very difficult to maintain, manage, and deliver that employee experience, and they’re looking to rationalise. What I’ve discovered is Workday has a really wide portfolio of products.
“Organisations are looking to consolidate, and they see the platform approach as a great opportunity to improve the employee experience, take cost out their organisation, and create single datasets which they can then report on. Then really excitingly, they can apply new technologies like AI and ML to those datasets to drive even greater efficiencies and insight into their business. “
What’s your main priority for the rest of 2023?
“It’s hiring talent into the organisation because we have an open headcount which we need to fill to allow us to deliver against that promise. So my biggest focus is finding great new talent, skilling and enabling our employees to talk to our customers to help them realise that opportunity.”
What are you looking to achieve in 2023?
“Maintain and enhance the values of the business with my existing team. I’m very people-focused, getting the most out of our teams and creating career paths for them so they can do excellent work. That’s what I love doing. Giving them the freedom and the ability to go and express themselves and do lots of creative things.”
And from a business point of view?
“To ensure that our customers get the maximum value from their continuous investment in Workday. A lot of this comes down to our running a subscription business. Our customers get innovation as part of their subscriptions. We need to ensure they can capitalise on that innovation and that value. Some of that is ensuring our customers understand what they can do with the technology; that’s on us.
“A lot of it is around helping them simplify because if they have complex platforms and environments, it’s difficult to gain access to it. Then it’s also helping them go through the change and move to a skills-based economy, understanding how they can use AI and ML. It’s also helping them go through that culture and people change.”
Generative AI is starting to have a real impact on how people work. There are some concerns around it: data privacy, ethics and job losses, to name three. How does Workday approach the ethical minefield that exists around Generative AI?
“Many companies are rushing to talk about their newest and greatest developments around Generative AI. We’re values-based, very ethical, and we take that responsibility very seriously. We have a lot of very sensitive data, so trust is a very important component of that.
“For us, there are two sides to it. There’s what we’re doing around our products: putting the guardrails on, but also our responsibility to create an ethical and responsible AI environment. Workday has a very strong presence working at a federal state level and the UK Government around the EU AI act.
“We have a very strong stance of how we’re going to influence policy so that other people have an ethical approach to AI as we do. Workday has been voted one of the world’s most ethical companies to work with for the last three years. Integrity is massively part of the DNA.
“There’s how we keep our data clean, by not having bolt-ons, equally what we’re doing as an organisation to be responsible in terms of making sure other people abide by these guardrails, so it’s a better place. AI for good, and how it enhances people’s experience and puts people in the centre, is very much what we’re about.”
On Skills Cloud
Skills Cloud was first launched in 2018. How are UKI customers leveraging Skills Cloud today?
“Probably second to AI and ML, skills are probably the most frequently discussed topic in organisations. How do they break down the skills they have today, which is what Skills Cloud can do? A lot of organisations are then building taxonomies and getting a sense of what they need in the future.
“Then they are using Skills Cloud to identify the gaps, which is quite a complex exercise. You need technology to allow you to do that. Then, what’s important is you use strategic workforce planning to map out your strategic goals and the skills you will need in the future. That identifies the longer-term gap and how you need to hire. Then you can use recruiting to go and hire for skills.
“The challenge that most organisations face today is that most companies hire from the same pools of talent they’ve always hired from, based on CVs. There aren’t enough skills or CVS to fill those places. You have to go and hire in different talent pools from different backgrounds, different educational institutions. Skills Cloud allows you to do that. It identifies the skills you need and then goes and hires in a skills-based fashion.
“That is happening today in many organisations that we speak to. They’re in different stages of progress with that. Then if you apply intelligence to that, AI and ML, it will help you identify the most critical skills you need to retrain your current employees. Because many job titles stay the same, but the skills required for those job titles are changing.
Internal mobility crucial for Accenture and others
“Skills Cloud helps to define the courses and the training and learning for your existing employees because internal mobility will also become important.
“If you take a company like Accenture, which we’ve spoken about quite often. They’ve got 150,000 people using Skills Cloud, and they use it to staff projects and programmes internally. They need a consultant in Australia with a certain skill set. Rather than go into your standard pool of resources, they look in Skills Cloud to identify who are the consultants with the right skills, who have flagged, they’re interested in working in Australia or abroad.”
The book question.
What was the latest book you read, and what was your take out for business from it?
“It’s a book on tennis. It’s called The Inner Game of Tennis (by W Timothy Gallwey, Amazon Aus, UK , US). Its trust. Trust your inner self. Don’t be always critical of yourself and trust your inner self.”