Process trumps technology for HR departments

Technology-based human resources (HR) systems are important to businesses but when it comes to talent management, organizations place top priority on process design, according to a recent survey.

In fact the use of HR systems ranked near the bottom of 62 processes studied in a recent poll of more than 750 companies whose executives were queried on issues such as workforce recruiting, performance management, training and succession planning.

“Technology’s value is in automation and streamlining of good HR programs, not creating them” according to Josh Bersin, principal and CEO of Bersin & Associates, a corporate learning and leadership consultancy firm based in California that conducted the survey.

The survey’s Top 22 list of Best HR Practices was led by: coaching, 48 per cent; consolidation of staffing requirements, 42 per cent; identification of current and future talent gaps, 38 per cent; competency management, 34 per cent; and creation of staffing metrics measuring time to hire, cost to hire and quality of hire, 33 per cent.

Other processes included in the Top 22 were goal development, competency training, succession planning, performance-based compensation as well as the use of employer brand and marketing to recruit talent.

Clearly, companies “did not expect to gain value just by buying technology,” said Bersin.

He said it generally takes two and a half years for a new performance management system to generate “positive ROI (return on investment).” This means corporations need to factor in at least two years of training and change management before the associated processes run better.

Companies must first spend time on process design, competency modeling and clarification of business requirements and then automate to realize “immediate impact,” Bersin said.

For instance, he said, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) took an almost entirely non-tech-based approach to solving a recent management issue.

Bersin said the U.S. space agency found that its management team, which was largely made up of engineers and scientists, was having some difficulty communicating and collaborating with non-technical staff members.

NASA embarked on a program to develop a strong coaching culture by employing in-house and third party mentors that discussed various workplace issues with managers. Bersin said the program did not have a “grading or evaluation aspect” but had a “supportive learning atmosphere.”

HR applications have come a long way from simply automating paper-based processes says Alice Snell, vice-president for Taleo Research Corp., a talent management software provider headquartered in San Francisco.

“HR systems are no longer concentrated on streamlining and automating payroll. There are now applications for all talent management processes,” she said.

Corporations can benefit from the deployment of a unified platform that will tie together these “interrelated but disparate processes,” Snell said.

For example, a good system can drastically reduce repeated manual entry of employee data and make the information available almost instantly to managers considering career planning, training or succession issues.

Such a system is ideal for Coveo Solutions Inc. an enterprise search company with a globally dispersed workforce of 100 employees.

“It’s imperative that companies optimize their processes first. But you will need software to support them later on,” according to Laurent Simoneau, president and CEO of Coveo.

Most of Coveo’s research and development work is done in Canada, but the company hires employees from around the world and receives a large number of resumes via e-mail.

“But you can’t have a global view of your workforce via e-mail,” Simoneau said.

That is why Coveo relies on HR applications to consolidate data in its hiring Web site to provide managers instantly access to data and enable them to evaluate possible candidates for vacant positions.

Simoneau said automated HR systems can also help global companies create a “history of their good, bad and ugly hiring processes” to eventually develop best practices that can be applied throughout the organization.

“HR systems provide managers a comprehensive view of the company’s human assets and speed up talent management decisions,” said Katherine Parker, senior manager of human capital for the human capital and consulting practice of the Toronto office of audit and consultancy firm Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu.

But before purchasing or deploying any HR system, businesses must first develop a talent management plan that suits the company’s objectives, she said.

“Organizations should ask: Where do we want the business to go and what role will the HR strategy play in fulfilling this goal?”

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