When I speak to HR professionals about their HR technology a few years on after its initial implementation, there is one common theme that emerges. “We bought this great system but we have never really embedded or realised the full potential of what it can do for us”.
So why, after the initial first phase of a system implementation, do we find ourselves only using a fraction of what we have bought?
Well, I would suggest it’s generally been for one or more of several reasons:
Lack of time – The day to day work activities in HR simply become the obstacle to finding the time to work on the development and improvement of the HR system.
Project fatigue – After the initial implementation is completed, the appetite and budget often dries up, so continuing with further system enhancements gets forgotten about as we move on to other priorities.
Limitations of some technology platforms to adapt to your needs – Older generation systems typically require additional investment in time and money for system enhancements just to stand still, let alone provide new functional capabilities. Inevitably, this means asking for more cash to support the need for software consultants which, after an expensive system implementation, is often difficult to obtain. Legacy platforms developed in older technology just don’t quite have the same flexibility that modern cloud based SaaS platforms do, and therefore “in house” super users can’t progress the design of their systems without the need for costly consultancy support.
An absence of vision and innovation – A lack of innovative thinking or a strategic vision of what we want our HR system to be will without doubt limit the added value that can be achieved from implementing a modern HR system. Cloud HR software is so much more versatile and powerful than many legacy, older generation systems, taking us to the point at which the only constraint on getting the most out of technology is our ability to open our minds to how we can apply its capabilities. We HR professionals are not necessarily the most innovative folk like say app developers in “tech” start ups. We tend to be more procedure and process driven which constrains our ability to think creatively about how we can apply technology to what we do and how we might work in different ways to embrace its capabilities.
But innovation needs, as a starting point, a vision of where we want to be, to at least focus the innovation and channel it in the right direction. The vision starts with seeing your HR system as the digital platform upon which all your HR activities interconnect with and having a strategic plan to achieve this. Your HR system should be at the centre of everything you do in HR, not just a system that is only utilised for recording data and reporting data. The vison is more to do with your HR digital platform becoming your virtual HR assistant – totally integrated with your HR department’s activities and your people – from line managers to employees across your organisation.
It’s the “vision and innovation” constraint I’d like to focus on in this article. With a strong and innovative vison of HR software in place, you can get much more out of your HR tech. So, let’s start with “Tip One”.
Tip number one – Challenge traditional HR process thinking
Technology brings with it an ability to re-engineer our HR processes and procedures to challenge the way we have always done things. Let me give you an example of what I mean.
Most employee reporting of absence procedures will start with something like “you must ring your manager before 9am to report your absence”. This kind of approach to employees reporting absence I would suggest is borne out of two things:
Firstly, it’s a practice which goes back way in time, way before mobile phones existed or email was around. So thirty years ago it was the only way employees could communicate with their manager. It made sense then, but with modern communication methods available today, is it still the best way?
After all, whatever our polices, handbooks and procedures say, the reality is that texting, whatsapping and emailing are perhaps the normal way for absences to be notified to managers.
Then there is the second reason. Our perceptions of human nature is that getting someone to call in is more likely to get them out of bed and to work, and if we make it too easy for them to report sick, absences will go through the roof!
Suspend your judgement for a moment and think about this. Why can’t an employee report their sickness through an app to their manager?
Think of the benefits:
• Firstly, as a line manager, taking a call first thing with everything else going on is a headache in itself, with no time to do anything other than receive the information anyway. Let’s make life easier for line managers.
• Secondly, that phone call, text, Whatsapp message or email can easily get forgotten and data capture gets lost. Input through an app on a mobile captures the absence straight away, leading to better absence recording.
• Thirdly, why gear our thinking to the minority who we think will abuse it and be absent more? We have our ways of dealing with persistent offenders through return to work meetings and trigger systems.
• And finally, the benefit of an app reported absence means it can be sent through workflow to multiple recipients instantly. In some organisations like schools where rescheduling timetables of an absent teacher quickly is critical – faster communication is a significant win too.
This is just one example of what I mean by challenging our traditional HR ways of working and realising the potential that modern HR software can bring, both to managers and ourselves as HR practitioners.
Tip number two – Let go of the comfort blanket of paper!
We all know it’s right. It’s good for the environment, it’s more efficient, it reduces the cost of storage, and yet most of us still have those cabinets full of personnel files and a set of paper forms downloadable from our intranets that just feed those files too. Even where we have started to scan documents into document management systems, we still often cling on to the paper files, “just in case”. Why?
We shouldn’t fall into the trap of worrying about data loss with modern backup systems. Scanned documents are more secure than paper documents in a filing cabinet.
Nor should we assume that digitally stored documents will go missing – password access permissions can certainly make it more difficult for documents to be removed digitally than from a paper file. Every HR practitioner has experienced that moment when they have gone to get a signed contract off a paper file and either found it’s not there or the file is missing. It’s always the one you needed which a senior exec has asked for and immediately puts us on the back foot of credibility.
Sure, getting files scanned is initially time consuming, but the value is immense and the versatility of access remotely is a huge benefit too.
There are many benefits of holding documents digitally and I’ll come back to this later.
Tip number three – Leverage the benefits of modern communication technology
When I first started my career in HR I worked in a large business that had five HR administrators sat outside my office doing HR Admin. They had things called typewriters and would type out letters, place them in an envelope and arrange for them to be posted to the candidate. Then along came word processors which replaced the typewriter and then of course Microsoft “word”. But with all these advances in technology, those same HR Administrators were still printing off documents and placing them in envelopes and sending them by post. For many people these days, the mobile phone and the “app” are the most convenient ways of communicating and so capitalising on this communication medium is key. It’s why mobile phone screens are getting bigger. If our employees are more likely to interact with us this way, then our records and data will be so much more accurate and therefore we should put the mobile phone at the heart of our systems design, and provide not just an intuitive system, but a powerful user engaging interface.
Some HR systems now have integrated letter templating capability built into them and the really good ones have the ability to auto email such letters with e-signature and tracking capability too. This gives a huge time efficiency benefit and, of course, saving on postage. But in addition, with the ability to track unreturned documents, the opportunity to demonstrate improvements in HR compliance and credibility are obvious.
Tip number four – Make self-service mandatory!
How many times have we had conversations about the islands of people data and triplication of files held across our organisations by managers and others outside of HR? I’m trying to avoid the GDPR phrase here as we have all heard a lot about it! But one single people data base has to be the sensible option, opening up information collaboration with managers to the things they need can only enhance HR’s reputation in the business and take away the need for duplicate filing systems as well as minimise the risks of a data compliance breach. The additional benefits of remote access anywhere, anytime, speak for themselves.
Self-service should not be constrained to just managers though. There are significant gains to be achieved through employee self-service too. Systems with electronic form capability give us the potential for every paper form we have to be eradicated and for data input to be done at source. E-form technology will reduce errors, eliminate double keying, and of course, provide the facility for data field validation to ensure keying errors even at source are minimised.
Self-service should not be feared. Opening access to your data enables accuracy to be improved (we all know how hard it is in practice to achieve accurate data when employees don’t think to tell you about their change in circumstances). For those who fear the risk of data being accessed by unauthorised individuals, well, reflect on the risk of documents left on photocopiers versus the risk of data securely contained in an HR system that logs out after a few minutes of inactivity.
Tip number five – Use technology to manage your HR compliance
The boring stuff is the important stuff. There is one overwhelming advantage of digital employee files and that’s the potential it brings to undertake compliance checks with ease. For example, how do I know that the 1000 files all have mandatory documents in place such as proof or right to work when they are all held in a filing cabinet? Intelligent technology can give me real time monitoring and the legal confidence that what we think is on a file, is on a file.
The demands on all organisations to ensure HR compliance is adhered to increase each year as do the financial penalties for non-compliance. To a name a few…
• Immigration ID checks
• Driving licence checks for company drivers and insurance checks for private car users driving on company business
• The legal requirement for every employee to have a written statement of the main terms of their employment
• Disclosure and Barring checks for certain occupations
And then the requirements to be able to show that you have shared information with employees on “mandatory issue” company policies. For example:
• Your GDPR compliant privacy notice
• The Bribery Act
• Safeguarding – in certain sectors
A really good HR system will make light work of these kind of checks and balances through its compliance monitoring capabilities, helping you manage the reduction in paper copies circulated too.
Tip number six – Utilise technology to engage new hires before they have even started!
We have all experienced the “no show” new hire syndrome or the candidate decision to “resign” before they have even started. It has become a common problem as work values have changed and yet, with this “most at risk” population, we engage very little before they start. We spend a huge amount of time chasing the candidate to offer stage and then it’s like they go off the radar whilst they are working out their notice with their current employer and we cut the contact. How does that make them feel? With other job applications they have been pursuing still closing out potentially, it’s vital we keep the relationship with new hires alive.
Onboarding technology can play a major part in building that engagement and keeping the contact alive. Videos, information and frequent news updates about the company straight to the employee’s most precious and person communication tool – the mobile phone – can all with ease be set up to maintain the relationship during that vacuum period between acceptance and “day one”, as well as providing candidates with a professional onboarding experience which is increasingly expected by new hires these days.
I hope you have found these six practical tips helpful and thought provoking. Feel free to reflect on how you can enhance the perception of HR through the implementation of a system, which is seen to be a powerful step forward by managers, employees and other key stakeholders, as well of course, for you.
Mike Kealey is the owner of HR support specialist company, Kealey HR, who provide outsourced HR services such as: collecting and managing employee information, interfacing with payroll, creating policy documents and document templates, providing specialist HR advice including employment law, and much more. He is well qualified to comment on HR technology, being in the HR space since 1984, and has recently selected Cloud solution Cezanne HR to underpin Kealey HR’s services.