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 / Winter 2012 / Issue 69(originally published by Booz & Company)


Talent Is a Strategic Asset: A Virtual Roundtable

We have also improved our practices on developing people and promoting from within. Generally, the data says that world-class companies promote from within 60 percent of the time. Our percentage is 85 percent, and we want to push it to 90 percent. That’s a very powerful brand statement for prospective employees; if you come here, you can expect to be developed, and to be rewarded well for your performance.

HAGER: We have a number of talent development initiatives within the company, allowing people to enhance their individual skills as they wish. We recognize there’s no perfect model for what a leader looks like. Rather than focus on their weaknesses, we tell people to take advantage of their strengths and make sure that those are used as much as possible.

The Analytics of People Practices

RUDOLPH: Within HR, we have created a small analytics group. It is instrumental in developing and tracking HR metrics and predictive analytics. Beyond producing numbers, this team has found strength in turning analytics into stories that ultimately drive decisions.

EBERHARDT: Having this sort of data changes the conversation. For example, we asked our HR analytics group to look at our campus recruiting program. There was always a lot of back and forth: How many petroleum engineering graduates should we hire, and what sort of development should we give them? Should we try to make them into broad experts who know how to do production, reservoir, and drilling engineering? Or do we let them focus on just one area?

The analysis determined that Devon was investing upward of a million dollars in each of these new college grads in their first three years of employment. If they left before year five, we got no return. This made us reconsider our insistence on a broad rotation for everyone; we saw the attrition and the financial price we were paying.

Another example occurred when many business units pushed to hire large numbers of midcareer geoscientists. We had the data to say, “The people you’re looking for don’t exist.” We began to rethink our approach on how to acquire, develop, and retain our geoscientists.

Rethinking Benefits

RUDOLPH: For the past five years, we’ve been cited by Fortune as one of the 100 best companies to work for in the United States. Our HR function does a few things that have earned us this reputation. For example, we don’t outsource our HR call center. Instead, we set up a service called HR Connect, staffed with Devon people whose job is to answer employees’ questions and help them with their benefit issues.

EBERHARDT: Our wellness team uses data to encourage employees to be aware of their own health risk factors. Employees are given incentives to participate in a biometrics screening program, which includes baseline tests of blood pressure, cholesterol, weight, and body mass index. Those who do the assessment become more aware of their health risks, which drives changes in behaviors that ultimately lead to a healthier employee and healthier workforce.

We have also opened wellness centers — high-quality fitness facilities — in and near our largest offices. We provide free memberships for employees who go at least five times during the month, and we charge $15 a month for less frequent users. Spouses are also welcome.

RUDOLPH: It pays off in a number of ways. We now have insightful data that establishes a relationship between leadership behavior, employee engagement, and business results, which ultimately impacts total shareholder return. We also believe there is a strong connection between employee engagement and our wellness spend. Not many companies can claim, as we can, to be spending less on healthcare now than they did a year ago, while adding employees.

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