Paper, Excel and outdated systems – they used to be the lifeblood of organisations, with a lot of HR time spent chasing around, as many of their processes are driven by authorisation. Unfortunately, it’s not always easy for organisations to dispense with it, but today’s affordable Cloud-based HR systems can certainly provide welcome relief. Let’s look at a couple of examples.

illustration of a hand popping out of a pile of paper

Holiday authorisation forms

Why, in the 21st century, are we still generating these? Holidays are a contractual entitlement. The only restrictions being the number of days and if there are special circumstances, such as two particular people cannot be away at the same time, if two weeks is the maximum that can be taken at any one time, or if seasonal operations do not permit at certain times of the year.

Using self-service, employees can book their holidays, and the attendance chart will automatically update. The amount of time off will be set up with a reducing balance, company rules taken into account, team diaries kept up-to-date, and it’s easy to see if anyone attempt to take too much time off. You’ll even be able to check if employees aren’t taking the amount of holiday that they ought to. Not only can you control the whole operation without hundreds of pieces of paper, but you are also implying a sense of trust in your employees, which is extremely desirable.

Authority to recruit

Nearly all organisations are hypersensitive about recruitment, and the standard way this is dealt with is to collect as many approval signatures as possible, ranging in weight from the hiring manager to the managing director. In reality, if a vacancy occurs, the job exists in the current year headcount which has already received Board approval. The salary range for the post is already set in the approved salary budget, so unless there are any major changes, it seems logical that a finance or HR person can verify that the post is in headcount and within budget for it to proceed.

Of course, there are many processes that we cannot eliminate, and this is where workflows come to the rescue. Workflows are the automation of a business process, in whole or part, during which documents, information or tasks are passed from one participant to another for action, according to a set of procedural rules. Workflows can be set up either in system admin or by users. An activity – such as updating bank details, or confirming a change of address – can be done using self-service and, once the new information has been entered, routed to a recipient or recipients for approval or forwarding for further approval.

Pending approvals will show up as outstanding in the recipient’s electronic mail or system inbox, so there’s no possibility of them getting buried in a physical tray and being delayed. Incidentally, a great number of payroll queries arise from timesheets and overtime forms not being approved in time for the period pay cut-off, so there is potential for time-saving as well.

Performance management

One activity that can certainly benefit from workflow and self-service is that of Performance Management.

Every organisation has its own way of dealing with this, from annual appraisals to more frequent reviews. The criteria and components vary, and will include, performance targets measured through various stages of completion from “not started” to “target met”, continuous assessment ratings, 360-degree scores, developmental milestones and the highlighting of any skills gaps to be addressed. Recording these online via your system will save writing up forms, and collates the data for you so that you can use your system to give individual as well as departmental and organisational overviews.


Another familiar problem is the pile of unprocessed Self-Certification forms sitting in a corner of the HR office, which means any real-time absence reports are inaccurate. This can be easily dispensed with by the employee completing the information online, uploading any supporting documentation and then forwarding for authorisation to the relevant manager with an absence management software. That way the information is always available on the employee’s record and time lost to sickness automatically forwarded to payroll, depending on how the flow needs to be set up.

Org. Charts and Analytics

To round up this particular selection of paper-intensive activities, I would add in Organisation charts. These are often been farmed out to administrative areas to maintain on an ongoing basis, either departmentally – where the miscellany of formats and presentations make it impossible to merge into a global picture – or centrally when the task becomes more difficult due to delays in advising changes.

Your HR system will produce organisation charts on demand, either global or sectional, and these are automatically updated with changes in data. They are available to all approved users via the self-service system, freeing up administrative resources for more appropriate tasks.

Review your current process flows, and decide where you can make improvements; HR software can liberate you from the problems, delays and time-wasting processes, so start using it now!


David Barnard

Denis Barnard is acknowledged to be a leading expert in the selection of HR & payroll systems, and other HRIS, both inside and outside the UK.

He has been instrumental in leading successful selection and implementation projects in a wide range of sectors, including local government, Higher Education, publishing, music industry and manufacturing.

His recently-published book “Selecting and implementing HR & payroll software “Selecting and implementing HR & payroll software” has been acclaimed by leading HR practitioners.