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IBM Connect 2014: Spotlight on Kenexa

The theme of last week’s IBM Connect Conference was Energizing Life’s Work. There was also a concurrent Kenexa World Conference which joined the IBM Connect general sessions.

When IBM acquired Kenexa for $1.3bn in December 2012 (with Kenexa integrated into IBM’s Software Group and operationally aligned to IBM GPS), much was written at the time of how this would strengthen IBM's Smarter Workforce strategic initiative by creating an integrated software platform across human capital management, analytics and social technologies. 

Though Kenexa certainly strengthens IBM’s technology offering, as I wrote at the time Kenexa has also strengthened IBM’s talent management services capabilities around consulting, RPO, and advisory services around employee engagement and leadership development.

Per the theme of the conference, in order to have an energized workforce you need to have an engaged workforce, which stems from an organization’s leadership. As evidenced by several client examples, Kenexa has strenghened IBM's ability to improve employee engagement. 

The Kenexa conference featured a session of how Kenexa helped seven clients get smarter about their workforces of which six described improving employee engagement:

  • Giant Eagle, leveraged assessments to improve recruiting for ~11-12k hires per year by reducing the workload of reviewing 250k candidate applications per year. Kenexa assessments for cultural fit screened out 30% of the applications.  Results included a 12% decrease in time to fill in the first 6 months, with a 25% decrease after 12 months. There was also a 10 point increase in hiring manager satisfaction
  • Pizza Hut wanted to improve the ability of its leaders to engage teams and develop managers. Kenexa helped by:
    • Studying the client’s best leaders to find out what they do every day to get results
    • Identifying key traits that predict candidate success
    • Connecting people with competency models and right positions
    • Building a framework for selection, development and performance and then assessing  and measuring potential
  • The Hartford, used Kenexa surveys. Employee engagement results went up 8% in 1 year, with talent development increasing 14% with an 88% response rate
  • Monsanto, uses Kenexa organizational survey and engagement survey tools. Kenexa also helped to identify attributes of top leaders and select the right leaders
  • Eat’n Park, has used Kenexa to do employee engagement surveys since 2006. Now includes engagement in its incentive plan and has moved the survey to the Fall to coincide with the compensation cycle
  • Burlington Stores, uses Kenexa to conduct engagement surveys and Kenexa is in the process of providing recommendations for improvement
  • Caterpillar, has used Kenexa for engagement surveys since 2001. Last year implemented its first global engagement survey to include demographic data for its 70k participants, which uncovered previously unknown barriers to engagement. An employee opinion survey was then launched which was a leading indicator of business results and profit.

There were several RPO sessions where clients described their outsourcing journey with Kenexa. Kenexa was a significant boost to IBM’s standalone RPO business. Though IBM has been providing standalone RPO to GM for several years, up until Kenexa, RPO was primarily provided with IBM’s MPHRO services. Kenexa brought in some large global RPO clients including Eli Lilly, Baker Hughes and Ford. Per NelsonHall’s January 2014 RPO market analysis, in terms of revenue, Kenexa, an IBM company, is the largest RPO provider in Latin America and in the top 5 in North America, Asia Pacific and EMEA (excluding the U.K.). For 2014 Kenexa IBM has a strong RPO pipeline including a couple of large global prospects. To enable growth investments are being made including in employer branding.  

General Conference

Havas Worldwide, talked about the implications of workers no longer staying with the same company for life. Lessons include:

  • Culture wins, i.e. how you feel at work
  • Command and control is obsolete, have to trust people
  • Be flexible, one size does not fit all
  • Move people around and across the organization, cross pollenate talent
  • Don’t be stingy with rewards and recognition, the #1 reason people leave jobs
  • Support a healthy work-life balance
  • Boost career trajectories, not just on the job training but career development, e.g. send to conferences. Interesting employees become interested employees
  • Being the best at one thing is no longer enough
  • Hire for passion
  • Reward failure (a successful try)
  • Build a growth culture
  • Stay curious – if think you have it all figured out you are doomed, need to keep employees learning and they will come to you with new ideas, etc.

AMC, which serves 200m guests per year, is in an industry where turnover rates of 200% are common.  A key lesson about recruitment was, to quote Red Auerbach “if you hire the wrong person for the job, all the fancy management techniques in the world won’t help you”. After it deployed a Kenexa screening tool, turnover reduced from 200% within a few years to 90%, with guest satisfaction improving by 25%, which correlated directly to employee productivity and profitability. Kenexa also identified common key talent in the client’s top general managers. Where GMs were in the highly recommended engagement survey rating, unit level cash flows were up 18%, and concession productivity $20 per hour per employee higher than other locations, equating to $300k per location on an annual basis.

Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert offered a few pearls of wisdom, including having complementary skills improves your odds (e.g. he is not the best artist or writer or comedian but has combined complementary skills), and having a positive attitude widens your field of perception.


During the past year IBM has seen an increase in the number of requests from clients to help improve their culture, including engagement and leadership development. As evidenced by its clients at the conference, Kenexa has complemented and strengthened IBM’s talent management capability.

Pre-acquisition, turnover rates at Kenexa were historically low at around 8% and they have decreased post acquisition, providing further evidence of walking the talk.

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