In the toughest trading conditions in a generation, HR needs to add value and be able to prove it. Making the most of HRIS can be key, says Denis Barnard.
We all know what good HR practice should mean – higher retention, productivity and business performance. The problem is, with costs coming under a higher scrutiny, how can you really demonstrate your worth?
One empirical (and unscientific) observation is that this is more often an issue for practitioners who have only ever worked in HR; those who have moved across from another discipline, usually a profit centre, seem to do it instinctively.
It may be the case that the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIPD) is not giving enough guidance in the area of ROI calculation to ensure their members more credibility when they present at the boardroom table. One of the more common assumptions I see in ROI papers is that having an ‘absence module’ will automatically reduce absence. These assumptions are then compounded by sums calculating percentage savings in terms of days and salaries. Unfortunately, this is not necessarily the case. You can have the most sophisticated absence-recording software available and still not make a dent in absence rates.
It’s the way that management uses the information that is paramount, and whether managers have the will to take the difficult path, which can often mean confrontation.
HR information systems
When it comes to HRIS implementations, whether migrating to new applications, or adding new modules to existing ones, I am continually advising clients to take on board their own project manager. It is not good enough to rely on a vendor’s project manager to run the project plan; their first allegiance, understandably, is to the vendor, and it is inevitable that there will be times that the vendor’s interests and those of the client are at odds.
Making your HRIS pay
- Do make sure you know what platform/s your organisation currently uses. It may be that that dream HRIS may not run optimally on what you have.
Do make sure your data is cleansed before you source your software
Do collect all your pay, benefits and other organisational rules together before configuration and implementation of your new application. Running round while a vendor consultant is on the meter is poor practice.
Do give thought to how you want to preserve and access your legacy information. It is not effective in time and cost terms to migrate complete HR history through to a new application.
Don’t expect your vendor to project manage for you. Get your own person to handle the project and the vendor relationship.
Don’t buy an application out of scale with your organisation’s needs. It is wasteful, and can lead to your HR department running flat out just to feed the system with superfluous data.
Don’t skimp on the training; you made the investment, now ensure that you follow through a comprehensive a training programme.
Don’t leave your system to gently stagnate. Have a long hard look at how you are using it, and what you are getting from it, and don’t be shy about calling the vendor and asking for guidance.
Another course I advise against is appointing an existing member of the HR team as project manager. I can guarantee the project’s priorities will subsume those of the ‘day job’ with adverse effects.
Unless an HR staff member has previous PM experience and can hand over their normal workload, I would pass the responsibility to either an external project manager or to a member of staff who does have the relevant background. I would recommend the latter course where practicable, because it means that the expertise does not walk out of the door at the end of the project.
Making the most of what you have
As I move around organisations in an advisory capacity, I am often amazed by how little the full power of software that they have purchased is actually deployed. This can be for a number of reasons, the first of which is knowledge drift.
The best way to combat this – and one I know organisations are reluctant to do – is to book a refresher training course for all staff using the application. Yes, there is a cost attached to this, but it is futile having a costly piece of software that is not delivering maximum benefit.
It may be hard to believe, but many of the software system’s most useful tools – notably the audit trail, triggered events and mailmerges – have never been activated.
These functions usually reside within the system administration tools, and get overlooked either by the IT department (who, not trusting the HR users, insist on taking on the admin themselves) or by HR itself not getting round to setting them up. When you consider that triggered events is one of the really big wins for anyone having an HRIS, this is a serious failing.
To avoid this situation, and on the basis ‘you don’t know what you don’t know’, I would urge HR personnel to either ask to their vendor representative to run through the features and spot the missing ones, or engage a specialist to conduct a quick audit of what is being done and what more could be done with the application.
Reporting is always something of a ‘blind spot’ with HRIS, which is a pity because it’s a great tool in knowing how well the department is performing. It’s in part because many reporting applications are cumbersome to use, or require degrees in mathematics to understand.
Many organisations have a suite of standard reports set up at the outset and the vendor’s consultants and often happy to leave it at that. Any further progress in the reporting area is usually only carved out by the inquisitive or intrepid.
Although this is a quick fix to ensure continuity of information flow, there is no substitute for having your HR and payroll departments fully conversant with the report writing tool and able to construct reports at will.
There is a cost attached to this, as no HRIS training comes cheap.
The flexibility this gives an organisation is well worth the outlay, after all, this type of output is one of the reasons for having the application in the first place.
Remember the user
Finally – and this bears repeating yet again – when selecting an HRIS, just remember who has to use it on a day-to-day basis.
The day spent at an exhibition, where the senior HR professionals fell in love with all the whizzy features at a demo, can end up in bitter recriminations down the line when ordinary mortals actually have to get to trips with the ‘beast’.