When managers balk at doing HR’s work

Hewlett-Packard launched a new more comprehensive HR self-service system a little more than four years ago. At first, some managers questioned the changes, said John Cross, vice-president of HR for HP Canada.

“The initial reaction was how come I have to do that when HR did that in the past,” said Cross.

But soon after they began using the system, managers realized considerable productivity gains and while they may have been doing more in terms of human resources data entry, the process improvements were so great that overall managers were spending less time on administration, not more.

For example, managing salary increases in the past was an extremely time-consuming and onerous process as managers had to pull together a number of different paper files and review salary scales. They would then have to take out the calculator and do some math to figure out who could get what. After that, they would fill in a form which usually went to an administrative assistant who redid it in a form that had to go to both payroll and HR.

It got a whole lot easier for managers and cut down on the number of errors, said Cross.

Similar changes for things like flexible benefits plan registration have saved the company hundreds of millions of dollars worldwide through productivity improvements.

A comprehensive new global study on HR self-service technology revealed many organizations are facing similar challenges and, in some cases, comparable success stories.

For example, on average, the cost of transactions can be reduced by 50 per cent and an HR system typically pays for itself within three years, however, many managers remain skeptical about self-service tools and that sometimes complicates implementation. On the whole, respondents say they have enjoyed some success with HR self-service initiatives, but in the last year there was an increase in the number of disappointments in manager self-service implementation.

Software consulting firm Cedar surveyed 299 organizations from around the world about HR self service, portals and other HR technologies to produce its report Cedar 2002 Human Resources Self Service/Portal Survey. Most of the respondents were from the United States (226), though 10 were Canadian.

Introducing HR self service for managers and employees represents a significant change for an organization, but they often don’t commit enough resources to helping people understand and adjust to that change, said Alexia Martin, director, research and analytics at Cedar. “Attention to change management is really critical to achieving return on investment.”

Aside from the survey, Cedar also conducted in-depth interviews with early adopters of HR self-service technologies (those who started in 1997).

Success, according to these HR self-service pioneers, depends on listening to employee and manager ideas.

A common observation was that more of their implementation budgets should have been dedicated to change management — particularly for managers being introduced to self-service tools.

Early adopters really regretted not allocating enough money to change management in their implementation, said Martin. For example, one said the technology is the easy part. “It is the change management and the process redesign that is the most difficult. You should spend more on that.”

Unfortunately, the study indicates many organizations aren’t getting that message. “The amount of money spent on change management significantly decreased (in 2002) from what was budgeted last year,” said Martin.

“Last year, organizations planned to increase their spending for marketing employee communications from 10 per cent to 12 per cent of their overall budget, but they actually spent five per cent on this critical success factor,” states the report.

The 2002 numbers also reveal a greater degree of disappointment in manager self service. Just 45 per cent of North American respondents said manager self service has been successful, another 41 per cent felt it was somewhat successful and 14 per cent found it less than successful. “We caution organizations to conduct effective communications programs focused on the value that manager self service can bring to the organization,” states the report.

“Given that manager self service is a radical change from the model where managers are supported by their HR or own administrative staff, we suggest that this drop in manager self service is a result of ineffective communications programs.”

Managers sometimes resist HR self service if they feel like they are being asked to do HR’s work.

But rather than taking over the work of HR, self service should save managers time; it will be easier to complete transactions, forms will be pre-populated, information will be more accessible and there will be fewer errors. It’s important to explain that to managers, Martin said. “You can’t just shove it down their throats.”

Holly MacTaggart, director of HR for Dell Canada, has been involved with the roll out of Dell’s HR self-service system, HR Direct, in Canada and the U.S. In both cases some managers sometimes felt work was being taken off of HR’s plate and given to them.

But that simply isn’t true, said MacTaggart. Dell conducted studies to prove that in the time it takes a manager to complete many HR-related actions the old way — meeting with HR and explaining what is needed, finding and filling out forms — managers can do it themselves much faster and easier.

However, Dell recognized that manager concerns had to be addressed and addressed early.

“This was a change management kind of a thing,” said MacTaggart. “We talked to the managers for months before we introduced the product so that they felt like they were part of it.”

In the end, though, managers had to accept it. “Did we market it? Yes, we did,” she said. “There were no options for them on this. This was something they had to embrace.”

But the system is in keeping with the Dell HR philosophy that human resource management is not the responsibility of the HR department. Every manager is expected act like an HR manager. The system allows the HR department to assist and guide front-line managers.

“What they are finding as managers is ‘I would rather have (someone in HR) spend an hour with me helping me plan my organization helping me position my employees for success, rather than having her filling out forms and having me sign them.’”

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