Maturity

Has Technology Weakened HR?

Picture: 周小逸 Ian : Flickr
12 May 2016

This seems somewhat of an odd statement to make in todays technology obsessed world – surely HR technology has allowed People practitioners to greatly improve efficiency by reducing manual and paper-based activities, improving data access & reporting, reducing errors, helping employees make better decisions and ensuring compliance to policy and procedure.

This is of course true at a transaction level, but herein lies the problem. The way vendors have generally designed HR technology is not an accurate reflection of how professional HR and Talent managers think, nor does it signal an understanding of the complexities in Professional HR Management. In fact the slicing-up of HR into different software modules along ‘logic’ and ‘transaction’ lines of thinking has created and perpetuates the view that HR is simply a set of somewhat loosely interrelated basic transactions.

And surely that can’t be too difficult to get right! ah, yeah!  But yet time and time again we see HR functions under attack for poor performance and low value contribution. With these perceptions abound, no wonder there is doubt among some C-levels that HR is needed.

If only HR Management was so simple and logical. But it isn’t. There are a significant amount of people dimensions used by HR professionals which are not logically inclined or lend themselves to be developed into a ‘transaction’, let alone a software module. Think about important people management facets such as ‘Ethics’ , ‘Style’, ‘Diversity’ and ‘Values’ – these are key HR influences in achieving particular strategic business outcomes, and they are fundamentally intertwined into such things as learning, performance, development, communication and knowledge sharing. But they are ‘non-existing pieces’ in the HR software puzzle.

This is not a jibe at HR Software vendors. In fact some vendors clearly understand the impact of these gaps and are working hard to address them. Particularly those vendors who are focused on superior technical integration between modules.

They realize that while they have in many cases reduced HR to modular transactions to make it easy for end users, they also understand that the all-important ‘HR complexity value factor’ is partly resolved when effective and seamless integration across these modules occurs. The combination of modular interaction offers some support in achieving strategic HR objectives. Keep going vendors, there is lots more to do in this space!

HR Technology has inadvertently contributed to a weakening of professional HR outputs, but the finger should however point directly at the HR leader who has allowed the function to be reduced to a set of modules and transactions.

It’s an easy way out for poor performing HR leaders, and provides an opportunity to shift the blame onto technology. Professional HR management is not an easy job, in fact it is highly complex, with over 40 major elements or activities being continuously juggled to produce desired business outputs. Those that are successful also understand how HR technology should be used and positioned to enable people to achieve great things.

Do you have an opinion on this?

Is your HR Technology adding value?

Most of the time, if you ask any HR leader to explain how HR technology is contributing to the achievement of business goals you get a somewhat perplexed expression, supported by an eloquent explanation which suggests it’s being conveniently ignored because it’s too difficult or not practical. Alternatively they reference the vendors marketing rhetoric which promise share-price improvements that would get Warren Buffett excited!

But HR is changing

It’s moving out of the administrative and transactional mould that has defined it for decades, and whilst the transition is often very slow and painful to watch, there are many organisations whose executives are maturing in their understanding of the unique value that HR functions can offer, and their direct contribution to business goals and strategy achievement. HR professionals can’t hide behind the mystique of psychology anymore; they need to show direct linkage from what they do and the outcomes it creates, including the role of HR Technology.

HR leaders are far more business savvy too, they will rattle off their business goals, they are succinct in articulating the meaning of value for their organisations, they understand cost, growth, quality and risk drivers, and they are familiar with industry and global issues, opportunities and constraints.  So what’s the problem – why are so many HR leaders resistant to show how the performance of HR Technology has or could advance the business objectives and strategies?

Addressing the problem

Some of the answer to this question may lie in previous bad experiences with “template” measurement frameworks such as the Balanced Scorecard. These tools are often introduced as off-the-shelf “best practice” which generally lead to disappointing outcomes. It’s the one reason that I loathe HRM software vendors pushing a “best practice” mantra. HR leaders wrongly believe the hard work related to measuring their HR Tech value contribution has been done for them. It can never be true – your objectives, environment and how you want to achieve your business outcomes using HR Technology are absolutely unique. You need to do the hard, detailed work yourself.

Another reason is simply lack of know-how and practice. Most HR professionals have a social science background which engenders greater qualitative rather than quantitative focus. That’s not an excuse of course, learning how to build a causal-effect model which shows where HR Technology is leveraged, is not difficult~ it just takes some practice and adherence to some basic principles such as:

  • Making sure your selected measures are strategic and aligned to company goals
  • Not making assumptions about the cause-effect relationships. You need to test it and prove its validity
  • Setting realistic targets, not everything needs to be 100%
  • Having clear ownership of the measure. Someone who is passionate about achieving a business outcome, and is constantly tweaking the framework
  • Being practical – don’t overcook the requirements or the data needed
  • Telling your story. Contextualize the results and explain what it means in business terms

By way of a simplified graphical example, I recently had the opportunity to help a client think through a cause-effect model for “Innovation” – one of their strategic business objectives. The HR director wanted to explain how their HR technology was directly contributing and supporting this objective. When we finished the model, it became very easy to explain how this would be achieved. A key learning for the client was to link the HR Technology to “drivers” rather than the performance areas.

I’ll point out again that proving the “cause-effect” (performance areas in graphic below) is critical to establishing credibility. For example, my client had to validate that “Empathy for client’s needs” really did cause “Enthusiasm & Engagement” in their environment. Once that was established the drivers for performance were identified and agreed, and HR was able to determine which HR Technology was required and how it would be used to deliver measurable outcomes.

exampleOf course there is a lot more work and involvement from other business functions behind this simple graphic, but hopefully it’s apparent that with some careful thought and focus, the real value of HR Technology can be measured and explained. Your next business case for HR Technology funding should be much easier to achieve if you have this in place!

So HR is imperfect!, but so is mathematics – get over it!

photo credit: All rights reserved by shellydelight – Flikr

updated March 2016

It started as a jovial discussion with some office colleagues about the “Meaning of Life” – that yet unanswered question which has plagued human kind since the beginning of our existence. Naturally we considered all unconventional opinions such as that of Monty Python,

“Try and be nice to people, avoid eating fat, read a good book every now and then, get some walking in, and try and live together in peace and harmony with people of all creeds and nations.”

the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,

“The answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything = 42”

and to the more serious, such as concentration camp survivor Victor Frankl’s resolve to  “Having a sense of purpose that keeps your eyes on meaningful goals ahead” and general theological views which purport “To love and serve your god, and love and serve others”

But it didn’t take long before the flavour of the conversation became focussed on People…. more so the people in the workforce. We found ourselves asking a singular and fundamental question:

“WHY DOES HR EXIST?”

It’s a profound question that may have been asked before, but probably not simply answered.

In trying to answer the question our natural HR instincts lead us to describe HR activities – you know, the tons of things HR gets involved with in-between “Hiring & Firing” such as recruitment, talent development, learning, administration, workforce planning, comp & benefits, strategy etc. We raised our discussion to a “People Impact” and “Value through people” view which got us a little closer, but we were still unable to reach consensus on the proverbial question.

I reached out to my good mate Lyle Cooper, who likes to ponder difficult HR questions. He reminded me that “No person has been able to absolutely define and therefore control human behaviour”- he makes it a life-rule to run as fast as he can from anyone who claims to have a definitive answer about people, culture, life, afterlife etc.

Lyle’s point really goes to the heart of social (or human) sciences, the basis for much of what HR does, in that they are not perfect sciences. No matter how hard we try, we are not going to create the perfect performance management environment, a perfect engagement model or the ultimate user experience.

And it was this point that reminded me of the ongoing debate among mathematicians about the answer to the mathematical statement 00 (zero raised to the power of zero). The arguments as to whether the answer is 1(one), 0(zero) or indeterminate are excruciatingly painful to read and understand (especially if you are not a mathematician like me).

But while there are extreme views, most mathematicians agree  that  00 = 1 is preferable, as it is more useful than the alternative choices, leading to simpler theorems, or feeling more “natural” to mathematicians.

“The choice is not “right”, it is merely nice”, is resoundingly similar to the “lack-of-evidence” and “soft & fluffy” disputes HR finds itself embroiled in.

So, while not perfect in any way, my response to the question “WHY DOES HR EXIST?” is “00. It fits perfectly with mathematician’s dilemma.   Business functions and HR professionals are unlikely to ever agree on a common reason for HR’s existence, but by accepting 00  = 1, HR professionals are able to move forward. HR will make validity concessions, builds faulty frameworks, creates imperfect processes and design software to support an imperfect business environment – and that’s okay!

One day we may find that much of what HR is doing is wrong, in the same way many mathematical assumptions may be questioned if and when someone conclusively proves what the answer to 00 is. But until it’s proved otherwise, let HR execute its stuff…its time to stop focusing on the equation!

HR is imperfect!, but so is mathematics (and therefor finance, procurement and operations management) – the next time someone challenges  your HR framework, assumptions or software choices, be sure to remind them that the meaning of HR = 00.

Rob Scott is the Global Lead: HR Strategy and Innovation for Presence of IT, A global HR,Talent, Payroll and WFM consultancy.

How to get the best value out of HR systems

originally posted in Inside HR Magazine  http://bit.ly/13ocsjj
There is a correlation between technology and organisational maturityThere is a correlation between technology and organisational maturity. Source: iStock

There is a direct relationship between organisational maturity levels and the value derived from HR systems, writes Rob Scott

Clients often ask me what the primary influencer is when selecting new HR software, and are generally surprised when I respond that they should first ask their executive management team what they really think of their HR department and what current and future expectations they have of this function.

The executive view is generally very telling, and while there are many factors which influence the selection of HR software – including key business drivers, people focus areas, industry challenges, budget availability and existing vendor relationships – one overriding influencer, and one that is rarely applied sufficiently, is the impact of organisational maturity. Your maturity level is a direct result of how your executive team defines and drives the concept of value (including people value) through the business. It is also the lead indicator of what the HR function will succeed at, and hence the likely value an organisation will get from an investment in HR software.

Your views of people
I like to think about HR software as a mirror. It generally reflects the reality of management’s view of people. In many cases, I see HR departments being blamed for “poor service” and “terrible software” – and while HR incompetency may be a contributing factor, the real issue is often a misalignment of what the HR function does and what the organisation needs in relation to its maturity level.

Some organisations see people primarily as a cost, whereas others see people as a means of producing broad financial and societal returns. While there is no right or wrong position, what your organisation maturity level reveals is the true “expectation” executives have of employees. It also frames any value they would assign to proposed HR initiatives and tools.

According to the Maturity Institute’s framework (ARC) there are nine other “pillars” aside from how people are viewed that when measured together, determine an organisation’s stage of maturity . The “stage” effectively shows the current limit of HR’s value and expectations.

Aligning to maturity levels
When a company has a low level of organisational maturity (e.g. stage 1 or 2), it is unlikely that senior management would regard the HR function as strategically influential, nor see significant benefit in introducing solutions like performance management, career & succession and analytics. In this scenario we often see HR managers using a “stick” approach to drive process compliance with line managers, but few managers actually derive any business value from these HR tools, because the executive team fundamentally don’t see the need to use them to execute their goals. At a maturity level of four or five, there is a completely different expectation of people by executives who understand the importance of these tools to create business value.

arc

The argument against using maturity for software selection is tied into the “HR best practice” and “best practice technology” belief. Stories of engaged employees, massive cost savings and improved shareholder value are the typical rationale provided by software vendors to buy all their software. I am yet to meet a vendor who is prepared to accept financial accountability if the “best practice” they want you to buy does not work.

Aligning your HR software selection and purchases with your maturity level will give you the greatest opportunity to succeed in HR and build credibility at the executive level. As you improve your maturity level, the need for more strategic and sophisticated HR systems will become obvious and support from executives will easily be attained.

HR systems and organisational maturity

  • There is a direct relationship between your organisational maturity level and the value you derive from HR systems.
  • HR systems are like a mirror – they reflect how your organisation views people. When people systems are in disarray, it is often a sign of a low organisational maturity level, not poor software or process.
  • When HR managers and executives understand and accept what their maturity level means, the role of HR and expectations become clear to both parties.
  • Improving your level of organisational maturity is the real catalyst for HR to become a strategic influencer in your company.

Rob Scott is global lead: HR strategy & innovation for Presence of IT, a leading consultancy in HR, talent, payroll and workforce management solutions.