What Works at Pioneer Hi-Bred Corporate Services

May 24, 2005
Pioneer Hi-Bred Corporate Services proves it’s measuring up

You’re doing a good job. Heck, you think you’re doing a great job. But how do you really know? And, more importantly, what does upper management think about your performance? These are the questions that the corporate services team at Johnston, IA-based Pioneer Hi-Bred Intl. Inc. set out to answer.

In 1998, at the request of Mark Miller, the newly hired director of corporate services, all 16 groups in the department (including design and construction, facilities interior development, building maintenance, and site maintenance) were asked to quantify their performance and value. “As [management guru and author] Tom Peters says, ‘You can’t improve what you don’t measure,’ ” comments Rod Stevens, architect/facility information manager, Pioneer Hi-Bred Intl. Inc.

Determining what to measure was a daunting task, but each group was empowered to examine daily tasks and discover how the team’s work could be measured with hard numbers. For example, the design and construction team measured project budgets and schedules, drawing comparisons with similar projects in the area. The interior development group calculated churn rate, costs per move, and furniture procurement savings.

The performance measures often tracked, calculated, and analyzed time/schedules, the frequency of a particular task, and costs per square foot - many times using comparisons to demonstrate value. “The whole idea was to try and pick something [to measure] that you could use as a benchmark to find out next year if you did better or not,” explains Stevens. The performance measures in each group underwent several revisions. Initial measures sometimes presented challenges and were dropped, while others were added. “It is a fluid process,” Stevens says. “The measures continue to evolve over time.”

Number-crunching, tallying, and tabulating were added to each group’s “to-do” list. Once sufficient data was accumulated, each group was challenged to document (via charts, graphs, lists, images, and free text) how they were performing. “[The] template has been refined to a 1-page Excel spreadsheet divided into four quadrants,” says Stevens. Each page begins with the group’s mission statement and it organizes information into the following four areas: actual time and cost of calendar-year activities, customers served, value-added services/savings, and benchmarking information. The bottom of the page allots space for each group to highlight a handful of accomplishments for the year. Due to limited space, groups are forced to prioritize which measures to highlight, and how to most succinctly illustrate their performance. The 16 pages of performance measures are combined, published, and distributed internally. “Documenting this legitimizes the goals and provides a historical record of accomplishment,” Stevens explains.

Making the performance measures available in a printed format resulted in increased understanding of the role of corporate services. “What we do is not something that upper management generally spends hours upon hours pondering. We need to help them understand that their facilities are running smoothly because of some very hard work,” Stevens says. As a side benefit, internal customers’ awareness of the capabilities and responsibilities of the department grew.

In addition to the published measures, the information is presented annually to corporate services managers. During the meetings, a representative from each group reviews the information being measured and invites comments, questions, and suggestions from participants. Aside from the corporate services staff, members of Pioneer’s upper management, finance, legal, and human resources teams attend. The published performance measures and presentations work in tandem, helping to spread the word about the organization’s responsibilities, value, and commitment to improvement.

To extend its reach further, and glean valuable insight from members outside of corporate services or presentation attendees, a Facilities Council was formed at Pioneer. The council consists of corporate vice presidents and high-level managers who provide input on facility-related issues at quarterly meetings.

Just as important as creating and tracking the performance measures was corporate services’ ability to convey the information to others. At Pioneer, “Lunch and Learn” sessions hosted by corporate services also provide a forum to discuss the services and value offered to different management teams. With a new logo and the slogan “Complexity Made Safe and Simple,” corporate serv­ices has launched an internal marketing campaign.

No one is doubting - not even the corporate services team themselves - the great job they’re doing. The proof is in the performance.

Jana J. Madsen ([email protected]) is managing editor at Buildings magazine.

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