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Does using a human resources management system make work easier?

Does using a human resources management system make work easier?

Adam Gorley, Editor, HRinfodesk.com---Canadian Payroll and Employment Law News, September 2010

In July, we opened up a discussion on human resources management systems, with a poll asking, Does your company use an HRMS? Two-thirds of the respondents said they do not use an integrated HR management system. I followed up the poll with an article describing what HRMS are and what they do, and outlining some of their many benefits (along with a couple of pitfalls).

But the discussion didn't stop there. In August, we asked the follow-up question, Does using an HRMS make your job easier, more difficult or the same as not using it? Unfortunately our sample size was small (only 50 people said “yes” in the previous poll), but of that group, a clear majority feel that using an HRMS makes their jobs easier. This time the poll received 51 responses, of which 33 (~65 percent) said that integrated human resources systems make it easier for them to perform their work; eight (~16 percent) said HRMS make their jobs more difficult; and 10 (~20 percent) said using their HRMS makes their work neither easier nor harder.

Since I've already discussed the benefits of using a human resources management system, I guess the remaining question is, How can users make their HRMS experience more effective?

As with the introduction of any new process or system, the first step should be planning. It's crucial that a plan cover what you want the system to do, what available systems are capable of doing, and what resources you will need to run the system. Without addressing these concerns, you can't possibly expect to implement a system that meets your needs. This process should involve more than just your HR department. Your employees and your IT staff should also be included.

If you attempt to implement a system that doesn't match your needs, you'll be forced to alter your existing processes to match the system, which is backwards, unless you are contemplating a complete overhaul of your HR management, which I hope you'd do before looking at third-party applications.

A closer look at planning

What do you want the system to do? Do you want it to track and administer payroll, attendance, overtime, personal employee information, benefits, recruitment, training, performance reviews, legal compliance? Do you want to offer employee self-service? Do you want to start by including only a couple of functions but have the option to add more in time? Which of these features would you benefit most from automating?

Is there an HRMS available on the market that can perform all of the functions you need? Are the systems easy to implement and use? Do they fit into your budget? Are they expandable? How about customizable? Is the supplier reputable? Will it be around to provide support when you need it?

What human and financial resources will you need to implement and run the system? How much training will employees need? Who will provide the training? What type of initial and long-term funding will the system require? Will you need to hire new staff? Will you need to consolidate departments or functions? What type of maintenance does the system require, and how much does that cost? Will you need to train or hire IT staff to maintain the system, or will you contract that service from the supplier? How will you respond if your system stops working? Will your information remain available to you to access and handle outside of the system?

Gaining employees' buy-in is another step in the planning process that will help the transition go smoothly. How do they feel about the idea of implementing and using an HRMS? Are they worried that the system will replace them, and they'll lose their jobs or be demoted? Are they happy that many of their mundane tasks will be automated? Are they hesitant about learning something new? Is the system too technical for them? What else might they be concerned about? Are they worried about the privacy of their information?

Beyond planning

So let's say that you've addressed all of these issues. You've considered your needs, your options and your employees' feelings, and you've selected and implemented a shiny new human resources management system. Everyone's on board and the system is up and running. But the people who operate it don't see any improvements in efficiency—or worse, they see a decline! What's happening?

A lot of things might be happening. The system might not be functioning as planned or expected. It might be proving technically challenging for its users (e.g., HR). It might be producing errors. Using it might involve unanticipated steps that render it less efficient than previous processes. Any of these problems might lead staff to create workarounds that negate the use of the system, decreasing its effectiveness, or worse, making it useless. Employees might be complaining about how the system displays or prints data and reports. HR staff might be dissatisfied with the level of customer support the supplier provides. Training might be insufficient. Cross-training might be non-existent. Conflicts might arise between HR and employees about access to data. Maybe there's just not enough time to effectively train staff or troubleshoot issues. Maybe the compliance information is out of date.

Some of these problems have reasonably straightforward solutions, particularly the technical and training issues.

If you're getting errors or having other technical problems, you'll have to work with internal or external tech support to resolve them. If you're getting excessive errors that are preventing your system from functioning, you're going to have to move to your backup plan until the technical problems are resolved.

If your employees aren't using the system properly or effectively, they're going to need more or better training and maybe closer supervision. If you don't have enough people who know how to use the system, you'll have to train more and make sure that someone is always available who understands what's going on.

Without a doubt, you'll want to keep a pretty close eye on things for the first few months while the system's users iron out any wrinkles in its operation.

Other problems might be harder to diagnose. If the system's users are telling you that it's inefficient or ineffective, how can you tell?

Measuring goals

A result of your planning process should be a set of standards representing current and past HR achievements before implementing your HRMS, as well as a set of efficiency and productivity goals that you hope to achieve after implementation. This way you have a baseline that demonstrates how effectively your department has been operating, and therefore the minimum level of effectiveness at which it should continue to operate. You also have an expected level of improvement to measure against. In other words, if after some time using your HRMS, your HR department is operating at a similar level as it was before, you're probably not utilizing the system to its full effectiveness. If you're operating below the baseline, then you've probably got reason to worry. Without these measurements, you can never really know how effective your system is.

Furthermore, relying on anecdotal evidence that your HRMS isn't functioning efficiently won't lead to solutions; in fact, it might make matters worse. If an employee tells you that the system isn't working properly when it is actually working as expected or better, you might waste time looking for problems where there aren't any.

It's important to outline to users their responsibilities as custodians of the system: they must operate it according to their training; they must avoid taking any action that might damage the system or the data it holds; they must respect the privacy of employees and their personal information; they must report any concerns or problems to the appropriate person; and so on.

On the other hand, those responsible for managing the system and measuring its progress must take users' and employees concerns seriously and also learn to distinguish between personal problems with the system and real technical problems. These factors will surely have an effect on measuring the effectiveness of the system.

There should be no doubt that human resources management systems suffer serious and real problems in the eyes of users and employees, and I'm sure I've barely scratched the surface here. But they do perform their functions, and for some businesses today—both large and small—they are indispensable—or else nobody would use them! If you're not experiencing the effectiveness that you hoped for or were promised, it's never too late to plan and measure. Indeed, this might be the only way to diagnose and treat your troubles.

If you're looking at implementing an HRMS, consider HRTrack from First Reference, which manages personal information, benefits, reviews and evaluations, absenteeism and vacations, training and education, compliance obligations, and much more. HRTrack is a low-cost option specifically designed for small and medium-sized businesses. Start a 60-day free trial today.

To comment on this story, send an email to editor@hrinfodesk.com.