CWS 3.0


In the Spotlight: Contingent Workforce is Here to Stay - CWS 30 July 2.13

CWS 30

For our July issue, CWS 30 spoke with Devra Keenan, AVP at New York Life. New York Life is a Fortune 100 company with more than $280 billion in assets under management with offices in the United States and abroad. The company and its subsidiaries offer traditional life insurance, annuities and investment products. On the investment side, it provides institutional asset management and trust services. Keenan's $12 million contingent workforce program focuses on a number of skill sets, including accounting and other professional positions, customer service and administrative roles. New York life has a two-pronged scheme to manage its contingents. Keenan focuses on the non-IT temps, while the IT workers are handled by another group within New York Life with the help of a vendor management system. Keenan also handles recruiting operations for the company. Her current priority is to ensure the smooth running of the program. Read Keenan's views on contingent workforce management and her attitude regarding risk. 

Q: Describe what your company does and your contingent program.

A: New York Life Insurance Company ... is the largest mutual life insurance company in the United States and one of the largest life insurers in the world. ... New York Life's family of companies offers life insurance, retirement income, investments and long-term care insurance. New York Life Investments provides institutional asset management and retirement plan services. Other New York Life affiliates provide an array of securities products and services, as well as institutional and retail mutual funds.

We currently have two programs to deal with our contingent workers. The one I oversee is used primarily for the non-IT temp workforce we utilize throughout our family of companies.

Does this include independent contractors?

A: Currently it does not, nor does it include IT contractors.

Q: So these are non IT temporary workers? Are they placed through a staffing firm?

A: We have an MSP, nextSource. The program is vendor-neutral, so it is nextSource's vendors that help supply talent. nextSource not provide workers but manages the program through its own software called TAMS. nextSource also payrolls any pre-indentified non-employee talent for us.

Q: What are the skill sets that you deploy?

A: A whole range, from a receptionist to some of our more advanced degreed professionals, such as accountants, nurses, attorneys and so forth. But the core of the program is primarily geared toward customer service, case analysts, more of the non-exempt type positions.

Q: Who handles your IT workers? Is it handled by a separate person?

A: It's actually handled internally within our IT department; the system that they use is IQNavigator.

Q: So how does New York Life utilize its contingent workforce program?

A: Well, let me just take a quick step back. On the non-IT side, it's not a large spend compared to other programs our there -- $12 million -- but it is cumbersome as it spans across every state. So, for example, on the local level an office could call up and need a temp to support the reception desk, or one of our service centers could call up with more concentrated needs -- say 20 licensed customer support or case analysts. And then, we supply our New York City office in with a variety of professional-level skill sets.

Q: What are your goals for the year?

A: We launched the new program with nextSource in January of 2009, so the first year was about making sure the needs of the business were being addressed with the new program. Because there was 97 percent approval rating from the line managers, I would say we did that. This year we will continue to look at our policies and practices to make sure we are in line with the businesses as their needs change. Our managers were already comfortable with using an outside vendor, as the nextSource program replaced another program where the vendor primarily supplied its own people.

Q: It was the master supplier?

A: Yes, that's right. Before that, we had a different master supplier, which actually took over from yet another previous master supplier, and before that we had our own temp company; that was years ago. So you can see we have a long history in this world!

Q: Given your history, what made New York Life go in for a vendor-neutral model?

A: The reason was flexibility: we needed to be able to have different vendors in different areas. And because we have to cover our bases nationwide, one vendor generally doesn't have offices in every state and in the specific local areas where we need coverage. And it also gave us the flexibility that when markets compress or expanded, our rates could reflect the business reality and we can change easily.

Most importantly, we looked at it from both a financial perspective and a customer service perspective. I'm with HR, and we partnered with our procurement group and key business stakeholders through an extensive RFP process to look for a managed service provider. While procurement focused on the dollars, we focused on the skills and customer service. And so it was really a team effort. And now, my group manages the relationship.

Q: So the HR group manages the contingent workforce program's operations.

A: Correct.

Q: Let me ask you: are you new to this contingent workforce area?

A: Not personally. I have been in the space since 1999.

Q: What were your findings then? Is it different today?

A: I came in working for a company that developed one of the first vendor-neutral models out there, so I really saw it from that perspective. The focus was more on the IT side of spend at the time. Procurement models and tools based on Ariba were really popular. Then I worked on site at a large financial services firm managing a vendor neutral solution. And then I left the industry for a bit, but came back here over three years ago to oversee the RFP process and the existing vendor. In my early days, there were a lot of startups. And then of course, post the dot-com crash, many of those startups went out of business and the growth switched over to the big staffing firms that moved into that arena. Now I can see that the vendor-neutral model has really found a place alongside the master supplier model.

Q: Any other differences that you see now that you're managing vendors?

A: I think the area is far more developed and clients have become much more knowledgeable and savvy. Earlier, the focus was on control and spend, and I think now, people are realizing the critical importance of customer service and relationships. If you focus on just one or two areas -- control, spend or customer service -- you're not going to have a very successful program. I think people realize they need to focus on all three of those factors, in addition to flexibility.

Q: How do you manage the risk associated with using contingents?

A: Our company, being in life insurance, historically is a very risk-cautious company. So we spend a lot of time looking at mitigating risk. Obviously you can never eliminate it. We have policies in place in terms of tenure and so forth to help mitigate the risk and we train our employees on co-employment. But a lot of risk management is looking at each scenario that comes up and making a judgment call. If, for instance, a manager needs a temp to stay on longer than our tenure advises, we look at what the risks associated with that are -- it all that has to be balanced against the business risk of losing a skill set that might be critical. It is rarely black and white.

Q: Do you do anything specific, such as work closely with your legal department?

A: I work somewhat closely with my legal department. Of course, we worked hand-in-hand when we were transitioning to a new program, but it is rarer now and on a different level. Now it is usually about one-off issues such as retirees returning as temps and so forth.

Q: What do you like most about your job?

A: I like the problem solving. When I first came in, the program wasn't managed by HR. We had a vendor here who was not managed by the right people and so we lacked a true partnership. In fact it was pretty much a mess when I walked in three years ago ... and not all of that because of failures on the vendor's part! Now we have really put this new program on the right track. The program has expanded through grass-roots growth because it's aligned with the business needs and it's going to continue to grow. There're areas in the company that had renegade (rogue) spend and they opted on their own to go through the program because it is a user-friendly system and it meets their business needs.

Q: What don't you like about your job?

A: You know, right now I think there's very little that I don't like about it because it's new and it's growing and it's really working very well. We replaced a system and a solution that was not working with one that is working and so that's very exciting.

Q: What advice would you give to other people trying to do this?

A: It's truly about the partnership with your vendor. It is about committing to the success of the relationship and committing to the success of the program. And that's why I think we're very successful. In fact, the vendor has a team on site and they sit on the same floor that I do. So they've become kind of an extension of our New York Life team, and they're on the same page in terms of what our strategies are, what our action plans are. And if there's ever an issue, we don't point fingers. Rather, we say, "Let's figure out how we can address this together." So it's really about the partnering. Having one group bringing in a vendor (like, say, procurement) and then tossing it over to the fence to the other one (like HR) to manage is a recipe for disaster. You need buy-in.

Q: Outline something to me that saved your skin on the job.

A: I think for me it is having a business sense about what is important as opposed to just looking at it from a control perspective. Seeing the program as a workforce tool, as part of way we as a company will meet our strategic goals, and not just being myopic and getting stuck in the nitty-gritty details of control for control's sake. It's really thinking about the program strategically and not just purely operationally.

Q: Any specific challenges that you have had the last couple years?

A: We are a very risk-adverse company -- that is why we are so good in our business -- but getting our contracts signed was a very long and arduous process. But that's really of our own making; we try to have no stone unturned. That would be the only issue.

Q: What is your opinion of contingent workforce management as a profession? Would you recommend someone enter it?

A: People join employers and leave managers. I think it really depends on joining a company that shares your values but working with a manager who is focused on your success as well as their own. I think the contingent workforce is here to stay, and it can be a wonderful tool to help companies to meet their strategic goals. And the more you understand about it, the more effective a tool it can be. So I think it can be a wonderful place for someone to have a career.

Believe me, there are some vendors I wouldn't touch with a ten-foot pole, just like there're clients I wouldn't touch with a ten-foot pole if I was still on the vendor side of the equation. I would say do your research and try your best to understand how the company is viewed by others in the industry.

Q: What skills do you need to be a good contingent workforce manager?

A: Part of it depends on what the goals of the program are. For some companies, if the short-term goal may be simply to save money, a detail-oriented individual focused on spend might be a better fit than someone more strategically inclined. From my vantage point, the key is flexibility. Being able to change with the needs of the business is key.


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