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Whether you’re proposing a new wellbeing programme, rewards system or the implementation of HR software, the first step in any new HR initiative is gaining buy-in from your organisation’s key stakeholders.
Any significant change to process, policy or platform will inevitably come at a cost, so budgetary sign-off will, of course, need to be achieved. In an ideal world though, you’ll get more than just the financial go-ahead from above.
For your new initiatives to really take root in the organisation, you’ll need full backing from your bosses, with senior leaders prepared to support your cause and push your idea out to the masses.
You’ll also need the support of line managers across the business, with team leaders playing a crucial role in giving lift off to HR initiatives.
Indeed, without support and visible backing from these figures of authority, it may prove a struggle to bring on board the most important group of all – your employees.
Overcoming resistance from the workforce
When any new change programme is proposed, a degree of resistance from the workforce is to be expected. Some team members (particularly those in already high-performing departments) may view your proposal as an unnecessary and unwelcome distraction to their regular routines.
These employees may be reluctant to move away from their established ways of working, rejecting new policies or process in favour of maintaining the ‘tried and tested’.
It could, therefore, be argued that to truly gain buy-in across the board, implementation of your idea must come first. That is to say, while you’ll need sponsors onside to kick things off initially, buy-in can’t be fully achieved until people see actual, real-life results.
Even so, it can aid your cause to engage employees in your project from the off. Potential resistance can be warded off, if staff are made to feel fully vested in the programme, rather than feeling change is being forced upon them.
The importance of backing from above
To put your idea into any form of practice, you’ll need the initial backing of your bosses. A management team that invests in your idea from the start will afford you the appropriate budget, time and resources to make it work.
They’ll also be much more responsive to approval requests, and less like likely to ‘can’ the project if things get tough. And make no mistake, things can get tough.
Research suggests that “25% of technology projects fail outright, 20 to 25% don’t show any return on investment, and as much as 50% need massive reworking by the time they’re finished.”
These failure rates can likely be applied to all other types of initiative too – and very often, these ‘misfires’ are the result of half-hearted backing from a business’s top table.
So, how do you go about getting the buy-in you need to make your project a success?
Firstly, you’ll need to show your business leaders how your proposal aligns with and supports the organisation’s over-riding strategic goals.
Typically, this means building a case for your initiative that extends beyond your own department.
When proposing new HR software, for example, top-level bosses may see a reduction in HR admin as ‘nice to have’ rather than ‘essential’ – but if you can show how the software will also boost the productivity of employees right across the business, you might find increased support.
Consider, too, the ways in which you’ll measure the success of your initiative. Bosses will want to see a tangible return on their investment, so you’ll need to be able to prove that your project is measurable – ideally in financial terms.
Join forces and time it right…
When a bright idea strikes, it’s only natural to want to pitch it to bosses yourself – particularly if you’re new in your role and looking to make your mark individually.
However, it’s widely accepted that management buy-in is easier to gain when you surround yourself with the support of your colleagues.
Joining forces with other key people across the business not only helps you present a wider business case, but it also allows you to tap into additional sources of data and, potentially, make use of other people’s contact networks.
Indeed, one of your allies might have a close link to one of the managers you’re trying to convince – and that’s never going to hurt your cause.
Timing is also key. Your ideas need to be raised at the right moment, for instance when there’s a noticeable shift in organisational priorities, or when key people join or leave the business.
It’s important too that you’re not trying to pitch your big idea at a time when your boss is committing their energy and funds to another significant project.
Keeping your finger on the pulse of the business is key. If you can sense people are beginning to notice or care about an issue that your initiative would address, you’ll need to be prepared to ride the wave of interest.
Gaining stakeholder buy-in for your HR initiatives is crucial to the project’s ultimate success – not just in terms of getting your ideas off the ground, but in terms of maximising adoption across the business.
Before you even think about pitching your idea, significant groundwork is required to build the business case and grow your network of advocates – giving yourself the best possible chance of buy-in from your leadership team.
Even once you have that, be prepared for some inevitable resistance from the workforce. People rarely support something until they see real-life results – so your quest for buy-in must continue long after your idea is rolled out.
As famous sports coach Lou Holtz once said: “Nothing on earth is standing still – it’s either growing or dying”.
This is entirely true in a business context too, where the rapid rate of change means your organisation is either moving forward with the times or falling behind with inevitable consequences. We live in the age of disruption, with countless examples of companies such as Netflix, Airbnb and Uber that have turned established industries on their heads.
It’s why, in 2019, a culture of continuous innovation is just about the most important thing an organisation can create.
Of course, every business wants its people to think creatively, but few go the extra mile in actively building a workforce of ‘difference-makers’. Specific programmes that create cultures of creativity remain few and far between, with many organisations relying solely on technology to drive the business in new directions.
While embracing technology is undeniably critical for innovation – original, ground-breaking ideas can only come from your people.
And, as the conductor of the human workforce, it’s therefore up to HR to foster a culture where these thoughts can be heard, shaped and developed. After all, the future of your organisation may depend on it…
How HR can help develop a culture of innovation
In order for innovation to take hold across your business, your first challenge is to create a working environment that allows your workforce to collaborate and communicate as freely as possible.
This doesn’t just mean moving a few chairs around in the office – it means flattening organisational structures to help ‘de-shackle’ your employees from restrictive roles, and eliminating the silo mentality that often exists within businesses.
By adopting a less hierarchical structure, you not only encourage a greater mix of ideas across your project teams but also empower more junior members of the team to contribute on topics they may previously have considered ‘above their station’.
Developing an innovation programme
Empowering and encouraging employees to express their views is fundamental for a business focused on innovation. Whenever new ideas are floated, they should, therefore, be received with thanks – regardless of how workable the concept might turn out to be.
HR and senior teams should respond promptly and positively to any new ideas, and where there’s potential to take things further, help set in motion the steps required to follow the idea through.
To this end, HR teams may wish to develop a dedicated innovation programme, outlining a set process for managing new ideas, testing them (while managing any associated risks) and ultimately bringing them to fruition.
Central to this innovation programme should be the concept that no idea is a bad idea, and, should a new project fail once implemented, the failure must be viewed only as an opportunity to learn.
Recruiting the right minds
Of course, recruitment also has a huge role to play in building an innovative workforce.
Bringing naturally inquisitive, creative minds on board goes hand-in-hand with the development of an open and collaborative working environment. So, revisit your recruitment methods to ensure these traits are being recognised.
It’s also vital to work towards removing any remaining barriers to equality in your organisation.
An increasingly diverse workforce is just one of the ways the working world is changing – and embracing different views, cultures and ways of working could be the true catalyst for innovation in your business.
Why HR itself must up the ante on innovation
For HR to create a business-wide environment of innovation, the department should be prepared to lead by example – providing an HR service, which in itself could be described as ‘creative’ at the very least.
Leveraging today’s HR technology to automate processes and deliver self-service will prove a smart step in this regard, showcasing HR’s own commitment to improvement while also helping employees find more time to dedicate to innovation.
Likewise, by harnessing advanced analytical tools to increase HR’s strategic input at boardroom level, you can champion the concept of adding value beyond your own department.
Engaging in new ways
Alongside your new technology, you’ll also want to find other creative and interesting ways to engage and motivate the workforce.
The development of innovative wellbeing and reward programmes can be important in this pursuit, again encouraging invention in the workplace at the same time as displaying it from within.
Design an incentive scheme that specifically recognises and rewards new ideas, and staff will naturally be more inclined to share their initiatives.
It’s worth revisiting your general benefits packages too. Are you being innovative enough in the perks you provide for staff? Or still relying on the promise of a ‘competitive salary’?
Bear in mind that according to a recent Glassdoor survey, over “80% of employees would choose engaging benefits (including flexible working, benefits schemes and access to discounts) over a pay rise”.
In today’s rapidly evolving business environment, innovation has become a core capability for any successful organisation. The good news is, there’s every chance that innovators already exist within your business.
It’s therefore up to HR to encourage and empower these creative thinkers to be heard, creating a work environment that acts as a breeding ground for ideas.
And HR can lead by example, through pioneering HR services.
Everyone knows the world of work is changing. Through digital transformation, increased remote capabilities, advances in AI and the growth of the gig economy, working environments have evolved significantly over the last decade – and continue to change at a frightening pace.
Frightening, not least, for today’s employees – many of whom are concerned about the working world of the future, and what it might mean for them.
Concerns, perhaps, are justified. The workers of today face a genuine challenge if they are to fulfil their potential as the leaders of tomorrow. And many of those in leadership positions today are battling with long-standing beliefs towards work that are becoming less and less relevant.
Mindsets must change and new skills must be developed in order for leaders to thrive in the ‘new world’ – and HR will be vital in guiding their development.
In this post, we’ll explore the key challenges that leaders must meet in order to adapt to the fast-evolving workplace, and look at how HR teams can help them build the attributes they need:
FIVE key considerations for the leaders of tomorrow…
1 Adapting to the agile workplace
Advances in communication and collaboration technologies have already re-invented the concept of work, pushing the ‘9 to 5’ pattern towards obsoletion and giving rise to an army of remote and flexible workers.
As a result, the gig economy is booming, and the lines between contractors, freelancers and employees are becoming ever-increasingly blurred. Indeed, HRexective.com suggests that over the next 10 years, “the number of freelancers will surpass the number of full-time employees in the workforce.”
Tomorrow’s leaders must, therefore, be prepared to relinquish older ideas of traditional teamwork, and instead, embrace agile, blended people networks – focused on making the most of talent in all its forms.
Feasibly, the entire concept of long-term employment may one day become a thing of the past – with businesses reshaped into a series of individual projects, each fulfilled by ‘hired guns’ most suited to the task at hand.
2 Embracing diversity
The rise in remote working means talent pools are no longer restricted by location – and geographical barriers continue to fall all the time.
Leaders of the future can, therefore, expect to head-up a more diverse group of people than ever before – with the workers under their charge likely to represent multiple cultures, working methods and ways of thinking.
Other factors are converging to increase diversity in the workforce too. In the United States, for instance, The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates there will soon be more women working than men – and by 2050, there will be no racial or ethnic majority in the country (source:www.anneloehr.com)
It’s the job of tomorrow’s leaders to not only embrace difference and foster a culture of inclusiveness, but also to make the most of workplace diversity in arriving at new insights.
3 Learning for life
Self-development has long been a trait of business leaders, but the rapid nature of business change requires tomorrow’s leaders to adopt a mentality of life-long learning.
Formal training will always have its place, but qualifications and accreditations can quickly expire in a world that evolves so swiftly. Leaders will need to seek out extra opportunities to learn while they work and adopt a mindset of learning from, not competing with, others.
4 Driven by data
The age of Big Data is here to stay, and analytical capabilities will be a key attribute for the leaders of the future. Businesses will increasingly run on data-driven insights, and the ability to look beyond the numbers to identify trends and opportunities will be critical.
Yet at the same time as delving into data, tomorrow’s leaders can’t afford to lose touch with the human side of management.
Indeed, according to Cheryl Cran, (author of The Art of Change Leadership), Human Intelligence Quotient is the ‘superpower skill of the next decade’.
In a piece for SiliconRepublic.com, she argues that “Leaders must build the ability and agility to look beyond the face value of employee behaviour, and instead investigate the psychology behind it.”
5 Working in flatter structures
With many businesses steadily shifting from ‘top-down’ to ‘side-by-side’ structures, tomorrow’s managers will perhaps not be managers at all.
As Michael Warech suggests on hrexecutive.com leaders in the flatter organisations of the future will gain their credibility “not from role or title but from the ability to create a vision, articulate clear standards, and create an environment of diversity and inclusion.”
They will be coach, rather than a manager – a role model who leads by example, rather than relying on status.
Why HR needs to lead the way – not just for leadership but the whole workforce
While addressing the needs of the workforce today, HR departments play a critical role in laying the foundations for the workforce of tomorrow.
It’s a key responsibility of HR to grow, shape and future-proof a company’s capabilities – not just through the right recruitment, but by implementing the learning and development programmes required to re-skill the existing workforce and leaders where necessary.
After all, automation and AI will inevitably see some job roles disappear in the not-too-distant future. Equally, new tasks will emerge that rely on inimitable human ability.
As PwC partner Alistair Woods says “Organisations cannot protect jobs likely to be made redundant by technology – but they do have a responsibility to their people. (business should) protect people, not jobs.”
It’s therefore essential that HR teams develop a clear understanding of their organisation’s future needs, and put in place the tools to smooth the transition.
Facing the future together
In many ways, leaders are more immune to the major changes in the workplace, than their employees. So it’s important for them to realise how the lives of their people could be affected and it’s an opportunity to show great empathy.
HR and business leaders must acknowledge the concerns that employees may currently have about their future, and appreciate how these fears can have a very real impact on the business’s bottom line.
When employees are worried about change or fear their role may not even exist in the future, it will inevitably cause anxiety in the workplace – manifesting itself in a lack of productivity at best.
Here, it helps to adopt a policy of open, honest communication, facing the future together with your teams. Listen to concerns, while actively promoting agility and adaptability.
As a term, ‘HR Transformation’ is well over 20 years old, first proposed as a revolutionary idea back in the mid-1990s.
Concepts pioneered by Professor David Ulrich, such as HR Business Partners and Shared Services we’re linked to it, and have since set the standard for how HR departments should be structured.
As more powerful technology emerges in HR, big budgets continue to be poured into sizeable HR transformation projects. But do they really work? Or is change delivered more effectively when implemented in a pragmatic, incremental approach?
In this blog post, we’ll look at why ‘big-bang’ HR transformation programmes tend to promise much and deliver little – and why you shouldn’t be transforming your HR department simply for the sake of change.
The drivers for transformation
The motivations behind transformational HR projects can be positive or negative.
It may be that your HR department has ‘hit the wall’, no longer able to cope with the great administrative demands placed upon it. Equally, the drive for change could be borne out of ambition, a determination to become a best-in-class HR department recognised both internally and beyond.
Another key driver, of course, is the promise of financial savings.
Many HR programmes originate from the Finance department, with the holders of the purse strings keen to boost operational efficiency through the automation of core processes, while making savings in HR staff as a result.
In such cases, businesses often miss a trick – viewing automation simply as a means for replacing HR people, rather than an opportunity to release staff into more strategic roles.
It’s just one of the reasons such large-scale transformation programmes are often doomed to fail.
Big bang? Or damp squib?
Whatever the drivers for change, the traditional approach to HR transformation has typically been based around a ‘big bang’, technology-driven programme. Yet historically, many of these vast change programmes have failed to deliver the benefits they promised. Here are some more of the reasons why:
1 A lack of flexibility
In theory, centralisation of data and standardisation of practice can only be a good thing. But as Lucy Adams, HR influencer and author of ‘Disruptive HR’ points out, local HR teams in medium to large-sized organisations need to react quickly to different individual needs – and one-size-fits-all processes don’t allow the flexibility that’s required.
Projects built entirely on operational efficiency may keep the finance department happy, but that’s in stark contrast to the frustration felt by managers and employees whose individual needs aren’t being met.
2 The illusion of ease
Today’s increasingly sophisticated HR software is founded on a basic promise – simplicity. Easy to use, sleek, intuitive platforms that replace old cumbersome systems and make everyone’s life easier.
But simplicity in functionality doesn’t always translate to ease of implementation. The simpler a system’s user interface, the more complex integrations that are likely required behind the scenes.
Transforming every aspect of your HR operation in one go isn’t easy, and large-scale programmes can comfortably take two or three years to complete. The illusion may be one of ease – but the reality is a long and potentially painful process, causing a huge distraction for day-to-day HR.
3 Missing out on immediate gains
With HR transformation projects taking so long, it’s almost inevitable that you’ll miss out on helpful new technologies along the way.
However ideal a new tool or application might seem for the here and now, Finance departments are unlikely to sign off on it when you have a brand new system on the horizon.
4 Resistance to change
HR process and system reform mean nothing if employees don’t buy-in to new ways of working – and that makes adoption a key focus for any transformation programme.
By nature, people are scared and sceptical of big change, so without clear communication to address concerns, even the slickest operation will fail.
Introducing self-service can help engage employees, but it’s no guarantee of adoption. All too often, the processes handed over to managers and employees are themselves unfit for purpose.
Making exercises easier through automation is only helpful if the process itself adds value – otherwise, your workforce won’t thank you for making it their responsibility.
5 Too much technology
Technology is key to delivering a best-in-class HR service, but it’s not the be all and end all of the change. While technology can deliver real value in many ways, it can’t replace the need to put humans at the core of HR.
Many HR transformation projects fall down here, focusing so much on process optimisation that HR staff become process experts rather than human behavioural experts. Arguably, it should be the other way round.
The real value in HR is in the understanding of how human beings think, feel and behave – and it’s those insights that should be used to enhance or optimise organisational processes.
A different approach to change
Despite the money that continues to be poured into HR transformation programmes, the benefits are rarely realised. Vendors over promise and under deliver, while results are typically too inward-looking to bring real value to the business as a whole.
The temptation to initiate substantial change is understandable – particularly if you’re surrounded by competitors driving forward with HR transformation initiatives, or a new in post HR leader looking to make your mark.
However, change for change’s sake should always be resisted.
Indeed, unless you have a very clear vision of how HR transformation can benefit the business holistically, and you know explicitly how to measure success, large transformation projects may be best avoided altogether.
Instead, where the need for improvement is identified, it should be delivered in a more iterative and incremental manner, via granular tweaks that slowly encourage people to change their behaviours.
Similarly, instead of ripping up systems and starting over, organisations should be looking to the HR data sources that already exist within their business, and making step-by-step moves towards a more strategic position.
In summary – Take an incremental approach
HR Transformation has been a key buzzword of the last two decades, but attitudes to change are…well, changing.
More and more organisations are coming to the conclusion that transforming HR on a grand scale is unrealistic, and that smaller, more agile and incremental changes are the way to really get things done.
The reality is your HR department operates in a rapidly changing world of work – so you’re always in a constant state of change and improvement. You could risk derailing everything by creating a separate change programme that may be outdated before it has even been realised.
In recent years, ‘productive’ has become the watchword for a positive day at the office.
Such has been the persistent push of productivity as a measure of success, the term now permeates everyday life – as likely to be heard around the dinner table of the average employee, as it is in the boardroom.
But while we have seemingly become accustomed to judging the value of our day purely by our output, should productivity really be the sole measure of success?
Modern thinking suggests perhaps not – and it’s the job of HR to find smarter ways to evaluate performance to get the best out of the workforce.
Why productivity isn’t the be-all and end-all of employee performance…
In the days of clocking on and clocking off, productivity really meant something. Time cards made it easy to distinguish employees’ working hours, while the manufacturing nature of many jobs at the time made output equally simple to measure.
Now, in the age of flexible working (and the rise of more varied modes of the industry), lines have been blurred between employees’ work lives and home lives.
And while today’s timesheets aim to keep track of employees’ efforts, it’s extremely difficult to put a precise figure on the amount of time a worker contributes to the business in some form or another (such as checking emails on the way home, or devising a creative strategy while cooking dinner).
With modern work hours so indistinct, productivity measurements can become wildly inaccurate.
As an illustration of how such figures can become distorted, you need only look towards national productivity statistics. The UK’s productivity gap compared to other European countries is well documented, but as pointed out by The Spectator, these statistics often fail to take into account key factors like unemployment levels.
As a nation, it would clearly be healthier to have 100% of people working at 80% productivity than 50% of people churning out (an admittedly impressive) 99% productivity.
Businesses are a different case, of course. But it goes to show that if you’re too focused on productivity as a measure of success, you can easily miss the bigger picture.
The productivity trap
When business leaders set their sights on increasing productivity, it’s usually HR that’s tasked with masterminding the improvement – and there’s certainly no shortage of ways in which HR can try to tackle the challenge.
Today’s HR teams typically leave no stone unturned in the quest for productivity increases, assessing everything from heating, lighting and office noise to try and optimise the working environment and push out that extra few percent in performance.
Other more drastic methods include evaluating the offering in the work canteen, to ensure employees return to their desks from lunch, fueled for a productive afternoon.
In all these instances, the ethos is ultimately based on a rather flawed desire to give your employees more to do – and this can quickly see your people fall into the ‘productivity trap’.
That is to say, by driving employees into an endless loop of productivity gains, you’re likely to leave them feeling overwhelmed, undervalued and unhappy. And it doesn’t take a seasoned HR professional to know that’s bad for business.
The problem is as people become more productive, the time they have saved is then used to cram in more tasks, rather than enjoy the personal benefit of that ‘free time’. People driven by productivity put pressure on themselves to always do more and more until they are ultimately burnout.
When you place too much emphasis on productivity – looking at how much a worker produces rather than what they produce – you’re therefore also running the risk of a significant drop in quality too.
Time to stop the tunnel vision?
Rather than seeking improvements in a never-ending cycle of increased workloads, HR should perhaps instead set its gaze towards organisational efficiency.
By switching attention away from individuals and their output, and re-focusing on the business processes and systems that underpin the employees work, healthier, more sustainable gains can be made. Improving efficiency means working smarter, not harder.
From an HR perspective, for example, self-service functionality that streamlines time-off management can serve to increase the efficiency of both your own department and the wider workforce.
At the same time, such moves can help boost employee engagement, and it’s vital to recognise the importance of a happy, valued workforce when tackling the productivity puzzle.
After all, the best way to get that extra 5% out of someone, is to make them happy to give it…
While the productivity of your people will always be an important metric to monitor, it should not be considered the sole signal of success.
Too much emphasis on individual productivity can quickly lead to employee burnout, so it’s important to focus equally on operational efficiency as a way to improve performance.
Of course, the two go hand in hand. Clearly, an efficient organisation only works with productive people, and people can only be productive when working with efficient systems.
However, the key for HR is to work towards creating productive teams rather than individuals – not least to avoid forcing important employees into the perilous ‘productivity trap’.
In the era of big data, most HR departments could be considered something of a gold mine.
From timesheets and recruitment info to contracts and performance data, there’s an endless stream of valuable employee information buried deep in your business – and bringing it all together is the key to unlocking HR’s strategic potential.
For many years ‘strategic’ has been HR’s desired direction of travel, and data holds the key in enabling the function to play it’s part in shaping business strategy and driving growth.
People data once helped simply to show what is happening in your organisation – such as staff turnover and absence rates. But today’s tools can be leveraged to illustrate why it is happening – therefore allowing you to predict what might happen in the future, and make better business decisions as a result.
Many businesses, for example, have adopted predictive analytics to forecast when staff are likely to leave – combining variables such as levels of pay, performance data, job function and location to profile employees and flag up those most at risk. And, when they are considered invaluable to the business, then taking steps to keep them – avoiding the costs of recruitment and training, and improving the bottom line as a result.
A reality check
Despite the clear advantages of people analytics, many HR departments just don’t have the accurate data to work with, as they are still operating with a mix of disparate systems, spreadsheets and paper-based forms.
You might have one system for payroll, one for recruitment, one for training, a timesheet system, another for leave and so it goes on. More often than not, these systems offer no integration or communication with one another – resulting in conflicting information, data inaccuracy and, crucially, no holistic view of your workforce. Without this holistic view, data can only be considered in isolation. Data that, when combined, could open the doors to a much deeper understanding of your company’s people.
Clearly, this is frustrating for both HR teams and leadership, as even the most rudimentary information is unavailable – such as an accurate headcount report. Only through a heavily manual process of data gathering and spreadsheet jockeying is such a report possible, but it is out of date almost as soon as it is ready.
How disparate data holds your business back
Siloed HR information not only limits your ability to make strategic decisions, but it also causes data inaccuracy, a variance between systems and repetitive, laborious processes to keep everything up to date. As well as irritating your workforce, this hinders the production of these most basic of reports.
Historically, organisations have worked around this by developing their entire reporting strategy in line with the data, measurements and metrics most readily available. They would simply identify which operational reports could be pulled from the existing systems, and build a strategy from the bottom up.
In fragmented data landscapes, there’s often a considerable gap between the information available and the information really required to provide valuable business insight. As a result, it becomes the norm to report metrics of limited usefulness – and you continue to report them purely because that’s all you have.
If this sounds familiar, you’re far from alone.
Recent research by Forbes found that only 4% of companies have yet unlocked the capability to perform predictive analytics about their workforce – and just 14% of organisations have done any kind of significant statistical analysis at all.
The remainder of HR departments is, according to the research, still busy “trying to get out from under the burden of ad-hoc reports”.
It’s a common issue precipitated by a lack of unified HR data.
Finding a path to a single source of data
Moving from a disparate data landscape to a single master employee database provides the platform you need to transform your HR operations and drive the department’s strategic value.
It’s the first step towards ‘intelligent HR’ and the generation of genuinely valuable insights – such as being able to identify the best locations to find new talent, what type of candidate tends to stay longest, or how great the correlation is between pay and performance.
Of course, unifying your data also means a reduction in HR admin. And while migrating data into one, single ‘master HR database’ may seem a painful prospect in the short term, once complete, you’ll be able to devolve responsibility for record maintenance to the wider workforce through self-service functionality.
Better for you, better for your employees. But how do you go about building this master database?
Step 1 – Identify your best data sources: The starting point is to identify all the core sources of valuable employee data in existence across your organisation. These might include timesheets, employee contracts, recruitment data, training records, competency frameworks, expenses claims and more.
Step 2 – Start with your most accurate sources: Next you’ll need to assess which of your information sources are the most complete, reliable and accurate – and for most organisations, that will typically be payroll data. So this is normally the best place to start. Payroll data tends to be the most accurate, not least because employees are quick to address errors if their pay packet doesn’t appear on time.
Step 3 – Migrate key data into a comprehensive database: Next you need to map out all the fields you want in your master database and pull in the data from your most reliable sources. It’s important to set standards and rules to ensure data integrity, especially when dealing with conflict, duplicate data.
Step 4 – Get everyone on board to move to a single system of record: It would be pointless going to all this manual effort without having an integrated HR system to maintain your master HR database going forwards. But you’ll need to get anyone who holds HR data to use the same system to maintain this single version of the truth dynamically, rather than manually.
If your HR department is still living with disparate employee data sets, strung out across multiple systems and spreadsheets, you’re limiting the potential of both your department and the information it holds.
Consolidating your data sources can be daunting, but the creation of a single employee master database is a critical step in moving your HR team forwards – laying the essential foundations for you to create more value for your business.
The theoretical benefits of HR software, such as greater automation, centralised reporting and significantly reduced administration, are widely known. But, any investment you make into HR software should come with a commitment to measuring real, tangible outcomes – that is, if you want to ensure your HR software project is seen as a success.
When thinking about measurement, you also need to think beyond the HR department. For example, how will the benefits translate specifically to your business? How will the software impact, not just the efficiency of your HR department, but also contribute to the performance of the organisation as a whole?
Before even looking at potential solutions, the first step of your project should be to clearly define what you want to achieve, with as much granularity as possible. Then you need to think about how to put the measures in place to track your progress in line with these goals.
Without setting definitive measures in advance, you’ll never truly know if your HR investment was money well spent. And indeed, without a clear picture of what success looks like, there’s an increased likelihood that it won’t be realised.
Goal setting to help build the business case
When asked to sign off on any significant business expenditure, your management team will inevitably focus on the expected return on investment (ROI). Demonstrating ROI can be a daunting prospect, but once you start to think about very specific outcomes, targets and KPIs, the picture will start to come together.
It won’t be too hard to explain how new HR software can alleviate the admin burden on your team, but to gain internal investment approval, the key is to also show how your team would then use that extra time to support the business in more impactful ways. When these claims are backed-up by estimated percentage gains, your story starts to gain real credibility.
Experts suggest that HR software can help reduce administration effort by as much as 40%. By evaluating your current processes, as well as the time it takes to perform repeated tasks, you should be able to determine where the software can reduce your effort. This will help you formulate your own potential percentage gains.
Similarly, it’s easy to say how employee productivity could be increased through HR software – but you need to show how you’d measure that improvement. Again, evaluate common tasks currently performed by employees, such as expenses, and estimate the time savings – then aggregate the results across all the areas where software can impact, to formulate your expected productivity gains.
The more tangible outcomes and measures you can provide, the more solid your business case.
Note that when you’re calculating ROI, it’s important to consider all aspects of the investment – not just the price on the ‘label’ of your new software. There could be fees incurred for ongoing consultancy, support and upgrades.
Factoring in all these elements will allow you to put together a clear and accurate picture of the investment, and help you understand the true value you need to get back in order for the project to be deemed a hit.
The two key areas in which to measure HR software success…
Successful implementation of HR software doesn’t just manifest itself in HR service improvements, it brings a myriad of benefits to employees, managers and the organisation as a whole.
So, before you even consider approaching vendors and selecting your software, you should be identifying what ‘success’ would mean to you across these two key areas:
Increased efficiency of the HR department
While all HR software is different, most bring the proposed benefits of admin reduction, improved reporting and greater compliance, predominantly driven by the consolidation and centralisation of data.
This centralisation of data works as a catalyst for self-service, which in turn reduces the admin burden on the HR department. However, this goal can only be realised if the self-service functionality is adopted in high numbers across your organisation.
Self-service take-up (and indeed user adoption of the system as a whole) therefore becomes a key measure for success, inextricably linked to the increased efficiency of the HR department.
When eventually speaking to vendors, you’ll need to evaluate their approach to adoption every bit as thoroughly as you assess the technology they provide.
Depending on the current pain points in your HR department, you may well want to set other key targets too. For instance, if your department has been riddled with costly errors of late, the greatest benefit of automated workflows may be less time-based and more risk related.
If you can establish how much HR errors are costing you each year, reducing or eradicating these losses would be a tangible measure of improvement, which is relatively easy to track.
Measuring impact across the wider business
From improved employee engagement to increased productivity, a successful HR software project can have a huge impact across your organisation.
The right solution can streamline the hiring and onboarding process, reduce recruiting costs and win back time for managers – all worthy goals for a business looking to boost its bottom line.
Yet the benefits are so wide-ranging that the impact can be challenging to measure. The key here is to hone in on widely-recognised problem areas within your organisation and focus on the potential uplift in those specific areas.
For example, if poor productivity levels are the most pressing concern to your business right now, a surge in output would be the measure most likely to deem the HR project a success.
If it’s employee churn that’s worryingly high, then train your goals on a reduction in staff turnover. Succeeding here can generate big savings, with significant costs incurred every time you have to replace an employee – nevermind one of your star performers.
The first step in any HR software project should be to carefully consider the end goals – and what success would look like for your business.
Your own unique concept of success, and how it will be measured, will form a fundamental part of your discussions with potential vendors – who should be able to demonstrate their approach to achieving your ultimate aims.
Knowing how you’ll judge success from the start also means you’ll be able to establish a more robust business case that is more likely to gain internal buy-in.
After all, when the prospect of buying HR software is raised, it won’t take long before ROI comes up in conversation. “How will we measure whether this has been a good investment?” will be one of the first questions your management team will ask.
With a key part to play in employee engagement, experience and welfare, your HR department may well be attuned to spotting signs of stress or discontent among the workforce – but what if those signals come from inside your own department?
HR roles carry a notorious administrative burden, and it’s not uncommon for the strain of an overwhelming workload to damage the morale, productivity or even the mental wellbeing of your team.
Yet struggling HR staff might be the last people in your business to put their hands up and call for help. After all, they’re the ones meant to be playing the support role themselves…
So, how do you know when your HR department is overwhelmed? In this blog, we’ll identify seven common signals that could suggest your HR team is close to burnout and what impact this could be having on your wider business. We’ll then turn to what you can do to help redress the balance.
1 The paperwork keeps piling up
Most HR departments will be familiar with the concept of admin overload, but it shouldn’t be an accepted norm. An ever-growing pile-up of paperwork is a sure sign of overwhelm – and the backlog won’t just be affecting your team, either.
Indeed, if HR is struggling to stay on top of paperwork, it can have significant consequences for the business – with legal documents and contracts going unchecked, unsigned or even missing among the melee.
It could be affecting employee engagement too, with new starters not getting the onboarding support they need, or facing an anxious wait for their employment contract to be finalised.
2 Compliance takes a back seat
In certain sectors, it’s absolutely essential that your workforce is accredited to the latest industry standards – and maintaining workers’ certification is critical.
Falling behind on the latest standards could mean your business losing its affiliation with key industry bodies, but that’s exactly what will happen if your HR teams don’t have time to keep up to date with the latest requirements.
When workers start dropping out of compliance, or come dangerously close to it, it’s time to recognise that your HR department is overwhelmed.
3 An ‘Us vs Them’ mentality develops
Whether it’s laying down the law on workplace policy or undertaking disciplinary action against an employee, there comes a time when every HR team has to play the role of ‘enforcer’.
When this seems to become your department’s principal role, an unhealthy relationship can develop between HR and the wider workforce.
In an ideal world, the focus within HR should always be on the more positive aspects of the job – such as supporting new starters, building the business through talent retention or enhancing the employee experience.
If that’s not how your HR staff sees things, it’s an attitude that likely stems from not having the time to do the parts of the job they love.
4 Visible signs of stress
If your normally mild-mannered HR staff start getting snappy or agitated at work, it would be easy to put it down to problems at home – or maybe just not enough sleep.
And maybe you’d be right. But even so, those problems could well develop from being overworked, up-late responding to emails or a generally failing work-life balance.
HR staff calling in sick could be another warning sign. Whether for genuine reasons or not, it could point to their workload being just too much to handle.
5 Performance and productivity dips
Poor performance can be attributed to a number of factors, not least human nature – after all, everyone makes mistakes. But if a usually dependable member of the team starts making regular basic errors, it’s fair to assume they could be suffering from some kind of burnout.
That could mean they’re simply overworked, or perhaps not enjoying and taking pride in their work any more – going through the motions rather than being actively engaged in what they’re doing.
That disengagement could show itself in a lack of communication with colleagues too, or a reluctance to contribute to meetings and brainstorming sessions.
6 Cutting corners becomes the norm
If your HR processes are heavily manual and repetitive, it may just be a matter of time before you see a drop-off in discipline.
An overwhelmed employee will begin cutting corners wherever possible and likely fall behind on any non-essential admin tasks, such as record keeping.
Don’t assume it’s just laziness – it may well be that your team can’t find enough hours in the day to complete the processes to the letter.
7 Cynicism and complaining
Last but not least, keep an ear out for the complaints – which is perhaps the most obvious sign of all that there’s disenchantment in the office.
Persistent negativity, especially from a previously positive and upbeat member of the team, is a clear signal that the stress of the job is getting to them.
Worse still, it will only serve to bring the rest of the team’s morale down too.
Spotted the signs? Here’s how to address the problem…
As an HR leader, it’s your duty to spot these signs early and take action and understanding when your HR department is overwhelmed, will allow you to take quick action.
So, what can you do to lighten the load and bring back the positivity to your team?
First of all, have the difficult conversations. If you’ve noticed a dip in performance, productivity or motivation, you need to find out why.
Understanding the employee’s personal circumstances could offer up a simple solution. Perhaps flexible working from home one day a week might help redress their work-life balance, saving them a long commute to win back some time, for instance.
The problem may stem not just from the volume of workload, but also from its monotony, and again, this is something which can usually be addressed.
More varied work can increase engagement and provide respite from the repetition – so even if a certain member of the team is best qualified to perform a specific task, perhaps another person could be trusted or trained to take some of the strain.
Or indeed, perhaps you don’t need another person to take on the repetitive tasks at all.
Investment in today’s HR technology would allow you to automate many of the paper-based processes that place such a burden on your team – cutting the stress that comes with the fear of human error and eliminating the monotony of day-to-day admin once and for all.
In most areas of business these days, results are everything. As long as processes are proven to be effective and yield the right outcomes, everything in the garden is rosy.
Yet while efficiency and effectiveness are inextricably linked, it doesn’t always follow that an effective HR department is an efficient one.
It’s highly likely that you’re already monitoring the effectiveness of your HR and recruitment teams, most probably in terms of KPIs like ‘cost per hire’ and ‘employee churn’.
But it’s also vital to put some measures in place to help you track the efficiency of your HR service delivery – ensuring that those positive outcomes are being reached in the slickest and streamlined manner possible.
Here are a few metrics to keep an eye on…
1. Self-service resolution rate
All too often, the bulk of HR’s time is consumed by the administration – completing simple yet relentlessly repetitive tasks, or answering the same employee queries ad infinitum.
Naturally, this limits the time your HR teams can spend on the added-value activity.
The key to reducing that administrative workload is to automate routine tasks wherever possible and provide self-service solutions that enable your employees to get their answers or complete their actions without impinging on HR time.
Monitoring the percentage of enquiries resolved in this way (the ‘self-service resolution rate’) is a great indicator of your department’s efficiency. After all, the more questions that can be answered via a self-service knowledge base, the fewer questions your HR team have to field.
Add things like holiday requests to the self-service functionality on offer, and you’ll further reduce the administrative burden on your teams. Not only that, you’ll find you increase employee satisfaction at the same time.
Growing up with supermarket self-checkouts and train ticket machines means millennials in particular (who now represent a significant proportion of the workforce), have come to expect and even prefer the immediate nature of self-service in the workplace.
The more actions they can complete independently without involving HR, the happier they’ll be – which can only be good for business.
2. First contact resolution rate
However sophisticated your self-service portals, however, detailed your knowledge base, you’ll never fully replace the need for direct communication between employees and HR – nor would you want to.
What you do want to do however is ensure that the majority of queries or concerns that do require manual intervention are dealt with at the first port of call. This is typically referred to as First Contact Resolution.
In a statistical sense, First Contact Resolution is the percentage of requests that are resolved immediately on receipt without being passed on – the higher the figure, the more efficient your department.
Anything that has to be parked and revisited later (or escalated to an HR business partner), means incurring additional time and costs – and risks the frustration of the employee who is forced to wait too long for an answer.
3. Second line resolution rate
Sometimes, of course, it is entirely necessary for employee queries to be escalated or deferred to a subject matter expert – for example, a learning and development specialist.
If this ‘second line resolution’ is happening more often than not though, it might indicate some efficiency issues with your HR department – so it’s vital that you monitor how many queries are being dealt with in this way.
It could illustrate that first-line staff aren’t adequately trained or don’t have the knowledge required to handle a particular type of employee query. This is simple enough to overcome with some basic training.
Equally though, it could be a failing of your processes – whereby overly complex queries are being routed towards the wrong people. In this case, it would be more prudent to re-evaluate your routing procedures, in order to ensure the most challenging queries reach relevant subject matter experts in the first instance.
4. SLA attainment rate
A combined measure of both efficiency and effectiveness, your SLA (service level agreement) record plays a fundamental role in shaping the reputation of your department.
If you’re not meeting your own target response times, your SLAs are barely worth the paper they’re written on – and you’ll quickly lose credibility with employees.
Equally, if you’re not setting SLAs at all, it becomes difficult to manage the response-time expectations of the workforce, and harder to measure the speed and consistency of your delivery.
Make sure you’re setting SLAs that can work for both HR and the workforce, and that align with the needs and priorities of your business as a whole.
5. Employee Satisfaction – the ultimate goal
One of the ultimate measures of HR efficiency is the satisfaction of the wider workforce.
Swift resolutions with a few touch points as possible leave employees feeling engaged, informed and supported – and play a key part in delivering a positive employee experience.
The good news is that monitoring and measuring employee satisfaction has never been easier. The long-winded questionnaires of old are out, and new tech-driven pulse surveys are in – inviting staff to share their mood on a regular basis at the click of a button.
This instant, real-time feedback enables your HR team to assess staff satisfaction on both a short-term and long-term basis and to respond in a timely fashion when morale appears low.
Monitoring the efficiency of your HR service is every bit as important as measuring effectiveness – and can help pinpoint improvements that will help reduce the department’s admin burden.
Embracing today’s technology (whether it’s in the form of self-service HR portals, analytical dashboards or pulse surveys) is central to this, enabling you to deliver an increasingly efficient service that responds to the needs of a progressively digital-savvy workforce.
Each new year heralds a fresh start for every business and provides an opportune moment for HR leaders to take stock of the rapidly changing work environment.
From the rise of the Millennial and Generation Z workforce to the increasing proliferation of freelancers and ‘gig’ workers, a number of employment trends have transformed the workplace in recent years.
Add technology developments into the mix, and it seems the goalposts are moving on a near daily basis – all of which makes it essential for HR departments to adapt, modernise HR and move with the times.
Traditional HR models are fast becoming outdated. Traditionally seen as an admin-centric function with limited input into business strategy and growth, today expectations on HR are much greater. Now leadership is looking to HR to lead the delivery of an engaging employee experience that helps to attract and retain top talent.
As we see it, there are broadly five areas HR leaders can look at to mould and modernise HR in order for the function to meet these changing demands.
1 Capitalising on the gig economy
The ‘gig economy’ has been on the rise for years, and the trend towards short-term, zero-hours working shows no sign of relenting.
The fact is that most organisations will increasingly rely on sources of talent beyond their full-time employees – from contingent workers to consultants, freelancers, contractors and so on. It is expected that these workers will account for nearly half of the average company’s workforce in the next few years.
The benefits of a temporary workforce are clear – fewer obligations in terms of holiday and sick pay, the ability to scale up or down rapidly and resource key projects quickly. However, making the most of the gig economy trend means adapting your HR department to meet the needs of this flexible workforce.
You’ll need to be right on the top of the rules and regulations surrounding temporary workers. Some gig economy workers (including couriers) are classified differently to others and are entitled to certain benefits in spite of their zero-hours status. Recent changes to IR35 will also have big implications, with the onus now on the employer to classify contract workers correctly for tax purposes.
Managing this type of workforce arguably moves HR towards a more procurement-style operation, which is highly efficient and able to ‘buy-in’ talent, much like the organisation already procures other goods and services. This means adapting HR processes to the way temporary workers are requisitioned, sourced, onboard, integrated and remunerated.
For many HR teams, this will be a significant step change from managing traditional employees. Undoubtedly, it will require the right systems to ensure you can cope with what will need to be a much more agile HR operation.
2 Reducing admin through automation
The administrative burden of HR is well documented – but that’s not to say it should be an accepted norm.
If your department is still heavily reliant on manual, paper-based processes, it’s time to turn to technology, building in automation and self-service to relieve the pressure on your team.
For instance, introducing a simple online knowledge base would be a good starting point, to help employees find their own answers to your most frequently asked questions. Automating time-off requests and enabling employees to update their own personal details would further reduce your admin time.
The concept of automation is certainly not new, yet so many HR departments have only scratched the surface in terms what can be automated. Automation isn’t here to replace HR – it simply frees you up to play a more proactive role in the business and meet the rising expectations, highlighted earlier in this post.
Like it or loathe it, we’re living in the age of Big Data – and the most modern, progressive HR departments out there are using that to their significant advantage.
There will always be a place for intuition, empathy and perceptiveness in HR, but increasingly, businesses are looking to back up their people decisions with cold, hard facts.
That means implementing people analytical solutions, capable of leveraging individual and collective employee data to reveal detailed insights on the behavioural trends of the workforce.
For example, today’s predictive analytics make it possible to calculate employee flight risk – using machine-learning technology to analyse and identify trends in the employee record that could point to an early departure. This early warning could be the difference between retaining your star performers or losing them.
When it comes to analytics, you should never run before you can walk. Start in a realistic place, likely around reporting and KPIs, and then build step-by-step. Our comprehensive guide, ‘How to get started with HR analytics’ is a useful resource that shows you how to develop your reporting and analytics capability incrementally over time.
4 Embracing flexible working
Thanks to cloud-based collaboration tools, video conferencing facilities and increasingly sophisticated mobile devices, it’s never been easier to work away from the office – so don’t expect the clamour for flexible working to die down any time soon.
The trend for flexible working (whereby employees work at least part of their week from home), looks only set to increase in 2019 – to modernise HR teams, you should be at the forefront of embracing this change.
There’s still some resistance from traditional business leaders, many of whom hold archaic views on the concept of working from home and associate the practice with a lack of productivity. Here is where HR should start – to first convince the flexible working ‘haters’ that it really can have a major positive impact. But more importantly, you need to make leadership more aware of the negative impact of inflexible working, such as non-productive stress and a disengaged workforce.
Encouraging and embracing flexible working is just one way in which a business can help its employees feel valued and trusted – and the best-performing HR departments recognise the importance of delivering those positive emotions.
A content, motivated and engaged workforce can have a huge impact on your bottom line, so as you seek to modernise HR services, you should be looking at the small tweaks you can make to help put smiles on faces.
Slick and smooth onboarding procedures can help here. So too can performance reviews that actually take place, and swift, painless holiday requests that don’t take weeks to approve.
Remember, now more than ever, you’re facing fierce competition for top talent – and review sites like GlassDoor are making the employee experience a key factor in promoting your organisation to potential applicants.
It’s no longer just about how well you pay – it’s about how supported, respected and engaged your members of staff feel.