Transforming Your Small to Mid-Sized HR Department through Technology

Tracie Sponenberg, SVP, Human Resources, The Granite Group
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Tracie Sponenberg, SVP, Human Resources, The Granite Group

Tracie Sponenberg, SVP, Human Resources, The Granite Group

SHRM, the world’s largest HR professional society, previously offered a technology track at their annual conference.  It was an amazing opportunity to learn about the ways HR can leverage technology to transform departments and companies.  However, HR professionals were not interested, and SHRM discontinued the track. At this year’s sold-out conference, which drew more than 17,000 HR professionals from around the world, I noticed only one AI-focused vendor and an astonishing lack of technology vendors that previously frequented SHRM.  HR has a reputation of being slow to embrace technology and that must change. A new technology age for HR professionals is here. We need to understand AI and Blockchain—they will revolutionize HR in the coming years. And we need to embrace and learn about all forms of HR Tech. This takes time, but in the end the effort is well worth it.

  The Technology Must Solve a Business Need​  

At The Granite Group, we have 500 employees and 35 locations across New England. And we have an HR department of three.  When I started nearly three years ago, we handed new hires a 51-page packet of paper. Managers reviewed this with the new hire, then scanned or faxed it back to us. Our HR Coordinator manually entered all personal information for each new employee up to 18 different times. Technically, the process worked fine. However, digging deeper, it was taking managers several hours completing paperwork with their new hires, and they were not fully trained to do so. We were not providing the best customer experience for our new hires. Additionally, as we consider each manager to be essentially a CEO of their “company” (location), they were taking valuable time with a process that could be completed a different way, with better results. The valuable time takenout could be used to focus on increasing sales, customer visits, or training the new employee.  Exploring even further, we discovered we had a Learning Management System and a Performance Management System that confused our employees and managers, and frustrated the administrators. Over a two-year period we embarked on a process that transformed our HR department technology, taking us virtually paperless. The packet of paper was eliminated and the onboarding process became error-free and user-friendly. We added our first ATS; a benefits module with carrier feeds; a wellness platform; changed our performance management and learning management systems, and added several new additional modules to our HCM platform. Even the smallest of HR Departments can utilize technology to transform the customer experience. Here are three important things to keep in mind as you consider a technology transformation for your organization.

The Technology Must Solve a Business Need: I am not a tech expert, though I do love learning about the latest and greatest new technology, and tend to gravitate toward technology as a solution for everything. At The Granite Group, our most dramatic technology upgrade involved onboarding and benefits.  Managers would be getting back time in their day to serve their customers, and our employees, and HR would be getting back valuable time to focus on our customers as well.  I could demonstrate potential ROI by estimating the number of new hires and hours per new hire, and measuring that per branch. It’s also helpful to talk to your heads of finance, IT and marketing at this point. I teach an HR certification class and constantly remind my students to make these individuals your best work friends. They can help balance out some areas that may not be your main focus, and you can do the same. And they can be invaluable in a tech transformation.

The Sourcing Process:  Google “Benefits Vendor” and you receive over 18,000 results.  It’s completely overwhelming to source via the internet. While I embrace technology, I prefer to use some old-school methods for sourcing it.  I highly recommend attending SHRM and/or the HR Technology Conference. If you are a CHRO or head of HR, there are also a number of smaller, more intimate events that you can attend and meet 1:1 with vendors like BLR Forums and ConnectHR.  I attended all of these during our process, and all were very worthwhile. Also reach out to any groups you belong to - like LinkedIn groups, local HR groups or Listservs (NH has an excellent one called NH Labornet), Facebook groups, industry groups, etc.  Your colleagues in these groups can provide some excellent information on their experience with sourcing vendors. Narrow your list to four or five vendors, and ask pre-determined questions of each. (Ask A LOT of questions.) Pay particular attention to questions about how their technology is stored (most, but not all, are cloud-based), and how it can integrate with your other technology.  Get comfortable with terms like SAAS and API. Many vendors have old technology that they make look pretty on the surface, but may pose challenges to administrators. Ask about implementation. An excessively long implementation may give you a clue that the system may be difficult to work with. The LMS we chose was implemented in about two weeks, offered amazingly easy content creation, and required little to no training to use. This was essential for us but your needs may not be the same.  But know them and ask about them. Use the questions to narrow down your vendors to three. At this point, get a group of people involved - IT, finance, other interested end users - to help you poke holes in the technology and determine the best fit. Depending on your comfort with tech, you may need to do this earlier in the process. View demos, visit other companies that use the technology - do what you can to determine your best fit.

Everything is Negotiable:  Once you get to this point, you will receive a quote from the vendor that is likely inflated.  Poke holes in it, look for areas that you can do without (there may be services built in that you do not need.)  Multi-year contracts may reduce the annual spend, but be careful of locking yourself in. If the quote is more than you expected and negotiation yields a small adjustment, consider reviewing contracts with other vendors and making adjustments there.  Ask your broker if they will financially support the technology. If it is benefits or wellness related, many will. We were able to use these strategies and save enough money to make our upgrades cost neutral.

Implementing new technology can be a daunting process, but it doesn’t have to be.  With a little patience and some networking, you can find the right solution, even with a small HR department.

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