I'm an HR Department of One. I oversee and administer all the various aspects of Human Resources for a busy professional design firm. Over the years, I’ve seen both the good and the bad when it comes to implementing HR technology.
During the last downturn of the economy, it was imperative for me to partner with the leaders of my firm to get leaner than ever. The goal, of course, was to reduce costs to a bare minimum and give myself more time to partner with the leadership on strategies for economic survival.
There were a number of cost and time-saving ideas that answered this challenging directive. The one with the strongest and quickest impact all-around centered on technology. At that time, our HRIS system was better known as Microsoft Excel spreadsheets. I know—hilarious, right? Being a self-proclaimed techie, I decided to check out real HRIS systems for the first time and see how or if there was one that would increase my efficiency, yet still be cost effective.
Finding the Best Fit
I demoed all sorts of HRIS systems—from bulky, well-known systems made for huge companies that purported to do so much that they could almost make me redundant. I looked at other solutions, too, that were far more appropriate for medium-sized businesses.
For my first HRIS system, I settled on a platform that was within my limited budget and seemed to be a step in the right direction. But, I had to face every step of the implementation process all on my own—and that was a nightmare for this HR Department of One. Therefore, I ended up just returning to Microsoft Excel. The HR software manual now sits in the far back corner of my bookshelf buried under board games, policy manuals, and piles of SHRM magazines.
A Giant Leap Forward
But that is all so 2008. Let’s take a more positive flash-forward. The economy has improved and things are incredibly busy. The directive is no longer to do more with fewer resources. The new directive is to do more faster, and in less time. Once again, I set out to embrace technology to help me to meet the directive of the new economy. This time, because of my previous techno-failure, my search for new technology was much more fruitful.
I’m happy to share that the new system was far more robust than the previous one and shockingly, it actually did what it said it would do. Furthermore, it connected other business units to HR instead of just serving HR alone. That, of course, meant I would need to include more people in the process this time, which as you can imagine, had its own set of unique challenges. Nevertheless, we are able to meet the fast-paced demands of the current economy in all the ways that matter (go team!). And I’m also proud to say that overall, the process of finding and implementing a system that met our needs in such a demanding time was well worth the effort.
You know what they say about hindsight? It’s true. Having seen it all when it comes to HR tech implementation, here are three takeaways from my technological journey to set you in the right direction on your way to HR tech enlightenment:
1. Invest your time wisely before you turn the system on.
If you’re like me, when you decide to act, you want to act now. However, when introducing a new system of any kind, slow the heck down. The setup period is the time you should definitely get into the weeds, the details.
Gather the people who will be using the system with you and dialogue intensely. Teach them how the system can work. Ask your team how they see the system working for your company, and empower them to look for ways the system can be customized to those needs. Everyone needs to examine the system closely through the lens of your company.
The system should be flexible enough to allow you to build it around the way your company functions. The bottom line here is: ask as many questions and dialogue as much as you can before you begin to enter data and use the system. All the setup meetings and dialogues help ensure that you build the system wisely.
2. Communicate and educate—a lot.
When you move like I do throughout a process, there is a tendency to forget that the people you need along on the ride with you may be moving at different speeds than you. From the very first moment to the final rollout, you will need to commit to constant, specific, and passionate communication about the process. How you choose to communicate depends on your company’s culture and your own style but regardless, you’ll want to communicate regularly and in various modes.
Write it out. This allows people to refer back to information whenever they need to.
Paint it out. Use a lot of visuals through the process to help people learn quicker about what’s happening.
Talk it out. It is very important that you are dialoguing face-to-face with people about the process. Doing so will help eliminate gaps in their understanding that the other modes of communication may have failed to address. Nothing can capture your passion and get them more engaged than a lively dialogue directly with you.
Finally, remember to be specific in all your communications. By the time you are communicating what is happening to your staff, you have advanced in your learning process enough that you risk forgetting the level of learning you went through when you began the process. In order for them to get onboard and get up to speed, they will need just as much education and training as you had, probably even more. The more specific you are, the better it is for them and for you.
3. Identify your techie champions.
You may be leading the charge. You may be the primary visionary. And you may be super passionate about the HR system you’re introducing into your company. Still, you’ll make even more progress if you identify tech-savvy people throughout your company that you can enlist in your process.
Of course, you need team leads and department heads engaged in the adventure with you. But I encourage you to locate people outside those groups, people with natural interests in technology who you can ask to help you champion the platform’s usage throughout your company.
These people may be entry-level or senior-level. They work beside you or across the company in another area. Don’t be surprised if these techie champions come from age groups or generations you might not expect. It’s rather foolhardy to assume that all your techie champions will be young or from a specific generation. There are just as many tech-challenged millennials as there are tech-savvy ones. And the same is true of employees from other generations as well. Regardless of where they come from, each and every one of them will bring a unique perspective to the process that I think you’ll find useful and rewarding.
It’s been two years now since I lead the successful roll out of new HR technology in my company, and my team is already more efficient in many ways. Truthfully, there still remains some learning to be done from some on the team, especially because not surprisingly, as our needs evolve, the software evolves too. Therefore, the learning quite honestly, never ends. But despite it all, long gone are the days of total dependence on Microsoft Excel. Lessons learned: past foibles can positively influence future success. And as far as human resources are concerned, technology is a great resource, but it will always require a human. Thank goodness!
Joel Peterson is a progressive HR generalist and business partner at a leading professional design firm in NYC. He writes a blog on life as an HR Department of 1, and is the Social Media Director for the New York State Council of SHRM. Connect with him on LinkedIn and follow him on Twitter.
Get the latest news from Namely about HR, payroll, and benefits.
We send out emails once a week with the latest from the Namely Blog, HR News, and other industry happenings. Expect to see that in your inbox soon!