The intersection between HR strategy and HR technology

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The Self Service Experience

systematicHR Avatar

Every vendor you ever meet will tell you how much time and money your organization will save by implementing self service tools and workflow automation.  It’s definitely true that the initiative to go paperless has shifted work, but whether or not it has reduced work is another question completely.  I’d like to theorize that overall, HR doesn’t actually have any less work, nor do managers or employees.  However, they may overall be happier bout the work than in paper environments they had before.

Let’s start with HR.  Before, we had huge organizations sitting around just to process and data enter address changes, annual performance reviews, and merit increases.  The hope is that all of this work has gone away, but the reality is that this work has created a data maintenance nightmare for HRIS.  However, there probably is an overall reduction in the number of employee hours spent doing some of these tasks, and I think the overall trend for HR has probably been positive.  Don’t discount however, that the work of a few HRIS people is work a great deal more than the work of a dozen data entry people.  Dollar for dollar, I’m not sure we won this battle.

Moving on to managers, we can take the exact same scenarios of performance reviews and merit increases.  The fact that these are no longer paper based, and that these data points for all employees can be found in a single place has been great for management.  Again, the honest truth is that the work has not been reduced, it has just been removed from a paper process to an on-line process.  The quality of the implementation will determine if the manager is pleased with the new process or not.  Poorly thought out implementations yield poor experiences that leave many questions to be asked and answered, a lack of flexibility for the managers to operate within, and a significant amount of confusion.  Good implementations will have included a good change management process and will be defined by good adoption rates.

The real coup has been with the employees.  Again, all we did was shift the work from the employee, a piece of paper and the HR department, to the employee’s off time hours.  However, what we’ve done is given the employee some empowerment to perform some of these hated tasks on their own, and for the most part, they have been very pleased with this newfound sense of control.

I know there are plenty of studies out there announcing how much money you can save, but the facts are that while HR might remove manual processes, these studies don’t necessarily measure the amount of work that has gotten shifted to other parts of the organization like managers, nor do they account for the support of all this new technology.  The real measure I think is not cost, but in the overall satisfaction that you’ll get from your managers and employees.  For these technologies to be successful, not only do you need adoption, but you need positive satisfaction and the belief from users that the technology is more effective than the prior paper methods.

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5 responses to “The Self Service Experience”

  1. Ed Wolyniec Avatar
    Ed Wolyniec

    Your comments on self service pushing work from traditional work hours to off hours is absolutely correct. While running operations for a large benefits outsourcer, I regularly reported to employers employee usage of self service by time of day, day of week, orginating domain, etc. The interesting point here is that while this data was of interest to clients, it was generally overshadowed by their interest in program related selections. i.e Did more employees chose the Consumer Driven Medical Plan versus the HMO.

    A challenge for all tool and service providers in the HR domain is that our offerings can generally reduce costs at “the edges” of HR (administrative costs, efficiency of HR personnel and processes). The larger costs for the corporation, and the ones that non-HR management focus upon are the costs of the benefits and employee compensation.

  2. Brandon Smith-Daigle Avatar

    You make an excellent point! Prior to entering the world of HCM, I worked in an environment where we worked hard to drive efficiencies. If you were speaking to the CFO, they wanted to know the ROI in terms of how many heads we could lose to attrition. If you were speaking to the COO, they were more interested in what could we do with the time gained.

    I think the same holds true for self service. You are right that it doesn’t mean the net amount of work is fully eliminated (although you might be able to argue by cutting out the middle person in many regards, you do eliminate some work). I prefer to point out to customers that they have a significant challenge ahead of them to become a more strategic organization. To do so, you have to shift from data entry to analyzing your workforce and retaining your talent. You have to be able to execute efficiently on administrative activities to be able to then redeploy your staff to make the strategic leap. And as we all know, that is no trivial task!

  3. Dave Avatar

    I think you are taking a very simplistic look at the cost issue here and failing to include a number of additional ‘saved costs’ to the equation. For instance, on the front side of the process is the cost of all the paper based forms and documents that no longer need to be printed. How about the envelopes and mailroom time / personnel used to sort all the PAFs and Performance Review documents that no longer need to be shuttled around the company? Also, what is the cost for processing late forms which missed their effective dates due to the time associated with getting the paper to the proper data entry point (or paper that has to be resent due to it going missing during the process)? I can tell you from personal experience, the volume of delinquent or late paperwork dropped considerably when we went to an electronic PAF process. In addition, the volume of calls from managers needing additional information to complete their PAFs dropped off to almost nothing once they had access to the most current information online.

    While I agree the ESS application is a powerful tool for employee satisfaction and cost savings I think you can’t minimize the fact that you can get the same type of results with MSS as well. I feel what I’ve mentioned above are but a few of the costs you failed to take into consideration in your analysis.

  4. systematicHR Avatar

    Ahh Dave: I love it when people argue with me – especially you (I think I know who you are). There is certainly a great argument that the process efficiencies alone cost justify any movement of tasks from HR to the managers, and that the simplification of workflow from the mailroom to electronic workflow managers is also an incredible savings.

    I’m not sure I’m arguing those statements here, but also pointing out that that poor adoption and process design will negatively impact the cost analysis in ways that are traditionally not measured.

  5. systematic Avatar

    I think if ESS is done right the value ends up playing out along employee engagement lines and that’s a long term scenario. For near-term value realization I believe that improving manager transactions is where early success can be achieved, primarily in terms of process efficiency and accuracy. Then the engagement benefit factors in over time.

    When it comes to justifying ESS/MSS, I find that not all CFOs automatically jump to headcount reductions – I’ve spoken with some pretty astute CFOs who recognize that self-service for corporate administration is essentially a workload shift as Dubs points out, and that isn’t going to net out in headcount reduction.

    A CFO who enjoys a full-featured reporting dashboard will probably admit that the tool didn’t allow them to reduce headcount, and that the benefit comes from on-demand access to the right information. I find that these executives see value in automating as much of a process as possible and surfacing better decision support for managers and employees. The challenge is that the return is less tangible than they’d like. Speaking for myself I haven’t seen any organization with a metric that isn’t very localized specific to their culture, and I’m not sure what that would be.