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Cat Rickard

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Time to bite the self-service bullet?


Cat Rickard outlines the types of benefits associated with introducing HR self-service systems and some considerations to take into account before deciding to implement it.

Many organisations invest heavily in HR IT systems but, when it comes to rolling out full employee and manager self-service, decide this is a bridge too far. Issues associated with line manager resistance and employee capability are just two of the reasons commonly cited to explain why implementing HR self-service is perceived as too difficult. However, at a time when every penny counts, now is the moment to re-evaluate the situation and ask yourself can you really afford to ignore this opportunity?

What is HR self-service?

HR self-service enables managers or employees to access their personal records (or in the case of managers, details held for their staff) and to complete certain HR activities themselves. 
Originally, these included basic administrative activities, targeted to increase efficiency in transaction and enquiry processing, typically as part of a shared service model. Up to 66% of queries can be resolved through self-service, reducing the HR workload significantly. For staff, the increased transparency of the processes provides a significant benefit. 
Example activities include changing personal details, viewing payslips, booking/authorising leave, logging absence and claiming/authorising expenses and overtime. It also provides a means for employees to access data to resolve their own queries (i.e. online policies or process descriptions).
As technology develops, the scope of self-service has broadened with a greater emphasis on empowering managers and employees. Recruitment, learning and development and performance management self-service enable staff to apply for internal jobs, complete appraisals and career planning, update skills profiles, select and book training and complete talent management activities. 
This shift also provides a way for employers to enhance their personal contract with individuals, e.g. through use of online total reward statements. Further, new entrants into the workforce are increasingly technically literate and expect a high level of automation. Self-service can go some way to helping meet this expectation.
The benefits of self-service seem clear. So why aren’t more organisations implementing it?

Challenges to delivering successful self-service

Ask any organisation why they have not yet implemented self-service and a number of issues arise:
  • Our staff lack the capability – how would we build the necessary skills?
  • Our time is too precious – why should expensive professionals complete administrative activities?
  • The data will be wrong – won’t we just spend more time fixing the errors?
  • Our staff can’t all get system access – how could we implement self-service?
  • Why should managers and staff do this – isn’t this HR’s job? 
The approach adopted by many organisations often acts as a blocker. New technology is introduced without changing how the HR service is delivered. Without a clear business and benefits case obtaining the right level of business sponsorship for the change will be a challenge. Further, the effort required often leaves project teams exhausted without the impetus to deliver further releases of activity such as self-service.
Organisational culture can be a significant challenge. With a heavy reliance on the cooperation of the bulk of the workforce, the impact of poor change management can be catastrophic. 
One telecommunications provider attempted to introduce a new shared service centre and full self-service without first achieving business sponsorship. The cost of effectively re-launching the service to a disengaged workforce was proportionately high. Within the public sector, one organisation ran a successful promotion campaign for self-service. Unfortunately, the technology and scope of functionality provided failed to meet heightened staff expectations, again resulting in a disengaged workforce. Such adverse press does little to encourage other organisations to make the change.

Enablers for success

At Orion Partners, we specialise in helping HR teams transform themselves. In our experience, there are a number of things you should consider before implementation.
  • Be clear on the service you aim to deliver and the business and benefits case that supports this. This will enable you to engage effectively with business leaders. 
  • Develop your service management framework from the outset. This will enable the service to be flexed to the specific requirements of different business areas. 
  • Take a realistic view on who should and shouldn’t have access to self-service. Track technology developments which may enable you to bring more staff online, but bear in mind there will always be situations where self-service may not be appropriate, e.g. for staff working in high volume production line environments.  
  • Consider the scope of your implementation. A ‘big bang’ approach may seem ambitious but will maximise the delivery of benefits from day one.  Think carefully about delivering not just the basic transactional activities, but also some of the value add components where some of the real benefits for employees lie. 
  • Terminology is key. In defining your initiative in terms of ‘self-service’ you may start out on the wrong foot. Be sure to communicate in terms of the benefits you expect, both for staff, HR and the organisation.  
  • Consider training delivery. Most technology solutions now come with training and support packages that provide point of need support. The investment needed may seem high. However, this can be significantly less than the cost of running classroom training, and of maintaining user guides and support after implementation.
  • Ensure training puts the new activities into context, and explains the overall processes and terminology to staff. Get this right and the chances of ensuring data is input correctly are greatly enhanced. 
  • Make sure you have the governance and processes in place to identify and follow up on where staff aren’t using the new service after implementation. Tracking usage will give you a clear view of take-up. 
  • Publicise your successes from day one. Look at improvements delivered in the volume and time taken to resolve queries and anecdotal stories demonstrating the value add delivered by HR teams.
Touching as it does on the entire workforce, the challenges in implementing self-service effectively are significant. Get it right, though, and the benefits are well worth the required investment. 
Cat Rickard is a director at leading HR transformation consultancy, Orion Partners

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