Most HR practitioners would acknowledge that embracing HR software has made a real difference to their daily working lives.

Gone are the days of endless requests from employees about how much holiday they have left, of hours spent manually compiling headcount reports for the board and of chasing round the building nudging managers to complete performance reviews.

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But although automated systems have undoubtedly taken much of the administrative burden away from HR teams, many are still not using the software to its full potential – and in particular are not exploiting the capability it has to support the more strategic aspects of their work.

Today’s HR platforms are a treasure trove of information that HR can use to unearth hidden risks, support workforce planning and inform strategic decisions. The data these systems hold give HR the ability to increase its influence in the boardroom and make a real impact on everything from engagement to productivity across the business.

So what are some of the key questions your HR system could help you answer?

1. Is your performance management up to scratch?

The performance management module of your HR system can give you a fascinating glimpse into the way managers are leading their teams. What kind of targets and objectives are they setting for their people? How often are these being revisited and adjusted in line with changing business priorities? What support are managers offering to help people meet their goals and fulfil their potential? Taking the time to look at how managers are using appraisals and what kind of information they are recording can help you unearth good practice – and also raise a flag if it’s clear that managers are only paying lip service to the performance management process and may need some support.

2. Where are your critical skills gaps?

A good HR system can give you a helicopter view of the skills available across the business. The picture it paints may sometimes be surprising. Maybe you were under the impression that you had a strong cohort of staff skilled in a particular IT application – only to find on closer inspection that many of the employees with that expertise have now left. Perhaps the business is expanding into new territory overseas and the necessary language skills are sadly lacking? On the upside, you could equally find that there are employees with ‘hidden’ skills that they are not using in their current role, but which could be really valuable to the business. Mapping skills against business priorities means you will be able to make better decisions about use of your training budget and are less likely to find yourself having to recruit staff at great expense because you haven’t spotted a skills shortage on the horizon.

3. How engaged are your people?

The annual employee engagement survey only ever provides a partial picture of what engagement is really like in the business. People don’t always answer the questions truthfully and response rates can be low. Hidden in your HR system, however, are many clues to how people are really feeling about the company and their jobs. Are sickness rates spiralling overall compared to last year, pointing to a possible problem with overload and stress? Is short term absence becoming an issue in a particular area of the business, suggesting people are becoming disengaged with their work or manager? What story are retention rates telling you about the business as a whole or a particular department? Looking closely at the data housed in your system can help you spot warning signs that all may not be well and can inform initiatives to improve motivation and commitment.

4. How sound are your succession plans?

Companies often think they have their succession sorted. Everyone knows who’s in the talent pool, even if it’s not overtly been said. There are names on the ‘list’ for the key roles and development plans are in place for the high flyers. Dig a bit deeper, however, and you may find that all is not as rosy as it may appear on the surface. The person who is earmarked for the next big operational role may be looking to retire earlier than expected. The ‘one to watch’ for the next big overseas assignment may actually be considering leaving to set up their own business. It’s not uncommon to find a succession plan where the same two or three people have been identified as successors for several critical roles, leaving the business seriously at risk. Interrogating the data in the succession planning module of your HR software system will help you get a clear picture of who’s ready now, whose development may need to be accelerated and whether there are any roles where the business is leaving itself vulnerable due to flight risk or lack of knowledge about an employee’s aspirations.

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.