The Elephant in the Room: Human Resource Transformation

Posted by Charles Williams on 6/14/16 2:46 PM


Over the past 18 months, I have been working with one of the LF clients on an HR Transformation. Transformations generally include organization development and design, leadership development, engagement and total rewards strategy. Recently, I have been pondering what I have learned from working with my clients. Read more to get a take on my perspective.

Labrador – Elephant

We have a good sized Labrador retriever weighing in at about 103 pounds named Magnolia.  Magnolia is a fantastic family dog, but she has a tendency to lean against you when she likes you, and sometimes you just have to push her off.  It can force you to be off balance and pushing her off can make her think you are playing.  We have to regularly train her to not jump or lean on people to avoid problems.  The need for HR Transformation can be like a big animal, sometimes more like an elephant, leaning against you or stepping on you, completely unaware of the problem.  Of course, the elephant metaphor is not about the elephant, but about the size of the problem to solve.

Keep the end in mind

So, what do you do about this big, not quite controllable elephant?  Many of us have heard conventional Project Management wisdom saying something like “Eat the Elephant – one bite at a time”.  In a growing company, transforming a large and lumbering area like an HR organization holds huge value if you make good choices about how to begin solving the elephant puzzle.  Like many complex projects, sometimes you have to turn the problem upside down and sideways to see it from many perspectives before you gain insight into the best way to begin while keeping the end in mind.  Let us say you start your transformation process by converting your employees to a new core Human Resources System with no additional modules, bells or whistles.  The team is limiting the project and company risk and working on one solvable problem.  Efforts are expended to make sure the employee id, address, and other detailed information is correct and clean, the team knows that that data will later drive other systems.  You will take advantage of the “clean” data that may later affect the future modules to be added to the system like Performance Management or integration to the Accounting System.  As successful phases are completed, you may select the best module or add-on to roll in next, all driven by the same data.  The company has the luxury to strategically choose the options to add to the core system, and you are making good decisions based upon known good data.  In the end, you will still have an HR organization, but one that has changed, become more aware of when it is leaning on you and perhaps it has lost some weight or stopped growing. 

Picturing the Transformation

When you imagine HR Transformation, you may picture a streamlined office with clean desks and smiling, happy folks chatting on the phone with prospective employees or typing on a computer while welcoming in a set of new recruits to fill revenue generating positions.  You are picturing the wonderfully fulfilled goal that transformation has completed.  This could be one of the results of your transformation efforts.  Process, Project Management, Automation and Systems are tools in your toolbox to get you there.  Using a Human Resource Information System (HRIS) or Human Capital Management System (HCMS) with modules like Recruiting, Training and Development, Learning Management, Onboarding and Performance Management sounds amazing and perhaps daunting.    Do not let either thought distract you from your goals.  Use detailed company requirements and a governance monitored selection process to help assure proper selection of a core system choice that fits company needs, both technically and culturally.    

Reasons for Transformation

An HR Transformation project is an exciting challenge for an organization.  There are so many strategic reasons to take on an initiative of this magnitude.  Leadership recognizes where efficiencies can be improved to drive cost savings.  Staffing levels grow to handle new employee hiring across the company which engages “back office” requirements to handle onboarding, recruiting, training, compensation, benefits, safety and health.  The complex components inherent in employee record management, duty and supervisory assignment, performance management and compliance drive the desire to improve service delivery in HR.  Service delivery is a general term that can mean response times for open employee requests, communications of benefits changes or something more systems related like Employee Self-Service.

Where to begin

What area should we start?  Which components do we automate first?  What is the business process that currently exists?  Are our policies documented?  Is the software we have in place adequate and scalable?  Are we still using and updating spreadsheets for major HR functions?  Who are the experts and how do we leverage their knowledge? So, in other words, doing a current state assessment is critical.  There are many questions to ask and answer, but there is also a beginning of change.  Each organization is different and has different needs, but one thing is always true – the change must begin.  With my background in information systems, I have had a tendency to lead the beginning with technology or automation, and I have learned after good results to put process first.  I recommend documenting and providing governance support for the company HR processes.  It is an opportunity to internalize policy as you are implementing your system.  When your team takes the selected HRMS into production, processes, policy and systems have been vetted and confirmed by the teams and leadership.

Automation and the elephant

Automation is a way of taking an existing process and making it run smoothly and efficiently, without the need for much human intervention.  The key component in this definition is “existing process”.  Without the process, there can be no automation. Even with processes that are well established, automation does not happen all at once and sometimes a process just does not fit for automation.  Instead of eating the elephant, it may be better (or at least different) to consider feeding the animal where it needs nourishment the most.  Ask the same questions we have talked about in a smaller context or an area that will have large results after you have automated.  Use your tools and talents with the tools to move some processes that are already well thought out into the tools and systems. When thinking of process and tools, there are four major capability areas in each suite. These include Core HRMS processes such as benefits, administration and payroll, Service Delivery (e.g. employee self-service), Talent Management (which includes talent acquisition, onboarding, competency assessment), and Workforce Management (such as time and attendance, leave and absence management).

Partnerships and Leadership

With an effort as grand as HR Transformation, we must accept the responsibility of keeping the team, management, employees, leadership and governance informed about the project.  Each of these stakeholders has a perspective that must be addressed and concerns that must be answered for your project to be successful.  Responsibility provides opportunity to gain a set of partners.  Again, you will find that each organization may have different methods to address each group, but there are still some general guidelines that can be counted upon.  Your working team should raise all team recommendations to the project steering committee for confirmation and ratification as the project moves forward.  Likewise with any conflicts, questions of policy and any roadblocks that cannot be cleared.  Leadership may be counted on as the primary group for testing and training, so they may help distribute the testing and training to their leads and employees as release to each group as approved.  Stakeholder management is critical.

Performance, Process Improvement and Project Management

There is no substitute for core Project or Process Management disciplines in a project of this magnitude and effect.  Whether your organization has a PMO, some project discipline or you use it when you think you need it, an HR Transformation requires the guidelines and practice of sound Project Management.  Indeed, if your operation has seen the benefits of Business Process Management (BPM), then you have likely seen the benefits of defining and managing your processes as invaluable.  When you employ these disciplined tools, they afford you the flexibility to see and change what you are doing now and allow you to get to that efficiently running engine of a process for your future state. 

Change Management

No good deed goes unpunished.  If you have had successful projects, then you are asked to help make other project areas successful.  This is fantastic news for you if you are like me and you love change, projects and transformation.  Be sure to keep in mind that for many on the front lines of business, change is another obstacle that is in the way of them getting things done.  There may be a good amount of fear or uncertainty that you must overcome as you communicate and train the new ways of performing that you are developing or the new systems that you are rolling out.   If possible, in order to improve organizational effectiveness, it is best to keep the change in the right size bites to feed to the teams and be prepared to explain the WIIFM (What’s In It For Me?).  We are a fan of the Prosci framework.  Your partnership continues to every member of your community, so prepare to educate and inform through a SharePoint site or a similar tool that helps you provide videos, Job Aids or Users Guides and answers to Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs).

Elephants and short blogs

Now, the elephant in the room has changed.  It is no longer stepping on you, but now the business becomes dependent on the efficiencies of the Transformed HR department.  The elephant in the room is now deciding if this short blog provided a reasonable attempt to take on such a detailed and complex process as HR Transformation.  I am hopeful that this has given you some guidance and insight into some of the methods we use at LF to help our customers succeed.  Please feel free to add comments and suggestions or reach out to us for further information.

Topics: HR Transformation