A new software system is often seen as the panacea for the HR department’s ills. It will cut down on energy-sucking admin, help line managers lead their teams more effectively and provide the people-related data to inform business-critical decisions.

All these things are potentially true, but as HR guru Dave Ulrich points out, HR technology alone cannot solve the issues – there also needs to be a focus on the relationships HR has with the rest of the business.

Ulrich, who was last week voted HR Magazine’s “Top Thinker of the Last Decade”, recently set out the six key principles he believes will help HR add more value. They apply, of course, across the whole spectrum of HR activity, but it is interesting to look at how a relationship-driven approach can also help ensure software solutions really deliver the hoped-for improvements in everything from operational efficiency to employee engagement.

1. Share a common purpose

What is it that you really want your HR software system to achieve for the business? Are you hoping a more consistent and transparent approach to performance management will help people focus on the priorities and drive up productivity? Do you need better people-related data to inform workforce planning and ensure the business has the skills it needs to compete in the future? HR people can sometimes struggle to get buy-in from the senior team for new software – and it’s not always easy to get front-line managers to engage with ‘yet another’ new system. Involving key stakeholders early on the discussions and making sure everyone can see how an HR software system will bring bottom line benefits is key to success.

2. Respect differences

Research has shown that couples are more likely to succeed in their relationships when they know and understand what matters to their partners. The same principle applies in business. If HR is to get buy-in for any of its initiatives, it needs an understanding of the needs of different areas of the business and what makes them tick. In technology terms, this means not trying to impose a ‘one size fits all’ solution on departments who may have very different needs. Conversations up-front will give HR a deeper insight into the challenges facing teams and will ensure that differences in everything from working patterns to holiday entitlement in a global setting are accommodated in a flexible system.

3. Govern, accept, connect

Researchers have found that 60-70 per cent of relationship problems are not ‘solved’ but instead are ‘managed’. According to Ulrich, managing expectations in particular is key. Making sure everyone is aware of the timescale for implementation of a new system, so people feel they have time to prepare for the change, is a good example of how this principle plays out in technology terms. While experience shows that most employees will take to the transition from HR answering all the questions (how much annual leave do I have, how do I report in sick) – to employees being able to find out the answers themselves like ducks to water, for some it can be tricky. If people know what to expect, and are able to discuss any concerns, the chances of getting them enthusiastically on board will be much greater.

4. Care for the other

The introduction of a new HR software system is often the first step in devolving responsibility for managing people to the line. It’s not always a welcome change, with line managers sometimes feeling they already have more than enough to do. HR may need to spend time with line managers helping them understand how the technology will enable them to manage their teams more effectively and get the best out of their people. Line managers also need reassurance that they won’t just be thrown in at the deep end and that support will be available to trouble-shoot any issues and help them get to grips with the new system.

5. Share experiences together

Ulrich suggests that HR needs to pull together with colleagues, in both good times and bad. If there are teething problems with a new system, it’s important to sit down with those using it and understand what needs to change for it to meet their needs. The latest generation HR software is highly flexible and constantly evolving, and a good supplier will be able to help the business configure the system to meet its needs. It’s equally important to share and celebrate success. Getting an enthusiastic manager to talk about how the system has improved their ability to plan resourcing or has stimulated collaboration is a great way to generate a sense of excitement about what the system can achieve.

6. Grow together

A good HR system is not static. It should be able to grow alongside the business as headcount increases, new markets call for new ways of working or operations expand overseas. HR needs to make sure it is fully tuned in to the changing direction and evolving needs of the business, so that it can advise on the people-related implications. In terms of the technology, it’s about having an ongoing dialogue with stakeholders at all levels to assess how the business can adopt new or additional functionality and how it can make maximum use of the valuable data a system can generate.

One action to take this week: Set up a focus group to discuss how new HR software could benefit the business – or to assess how you could make better use of an existing solution.

Erika Lucas author image

Erika Lucas

Writer and Communications Consultant

Erika Lucas is a writer and communications consultant with a special interest in HR, leadership, management and personal development. Her career has spanned journalism and PR, with previous roles in regional press, BBC Radio, PR consultancy, charities and business schools.