It's time to change how we talk about human resources software

HR pro painting office new colors and making change

I know in HR it seems like every few years there's some new fad around or trendy way of referring to HR software, and you may think based on the title that I'm just trying to start that old hype train back up again. I mean we've even talked about this confusion in HR software before, so why would we go and complicate things now? Well, that's why I'm going to make you a promise up front — we're going to keep this practical.

See I'm not asking you to change what you call your HR software. The truth is that doesn't matter so much. What does matter, though, is how you think about its impact on your people and your organization and how you communicate that to other teams. So with that in mind, let's talk about how you can talk about HR technology in a way that's both personal and strategic.

People vs. process

First, let's take a second to think about what all those acronyms we hear thrown around about HR software actually mean. HR management software, Human Resources information system, human capital management, benefits administration, applicant tracking...notice a pattern? These terms all refer to processes, not the benefits that come from following those processes.

People and their needs should be the focus when you make the case for HR software, regardless of if you're getting a new system or trying to boost adoption of what you have. The more personal you make it for the different audiences you're talking with, whether they're employees, managers, payroll, fellow HR colleagues, or leaders, the easier it will be for them to see all the ways HR technology is helping them work effectively and accomplish strategic goals so they have meaningful experiences and see real results. If there's one thing that's become even more clear throughout the ongoing pandemic we've all been facing, it's that the people-focused organizations have thrived through situations that seemed impossible. So why wouldn't we make people the center of what we talk about when it comes to HR software?

Let's compare a couple examples quick:

Process-focused: HR is trying to get employees to use the mobile app for their new HCM solution. The team sends out an email announcement explaining the app will allow schedule tracking anywhere, facilitate performance management, and build a new channel for company announcements.

The Reaction: People get nervous that HR and their managers will be able to track them anywhere they go and intrude on their lives at random times. As a result, not many employees download the app.

People-focused: HR creates a rollout plan for their HCM solution's mobile app. They build email announcements, book time with their vendor's services team to train key members of the workforce, and  schedule a few town hall meetings to answer questions. When the HR team talks about the app, they emphasize how it lets employees control their own schedules and change shifts quickly when needed, talk transparently with their managers on a regular basis about their goals for career development, and get all the information they need to succeed anytime, anywhere.

The Reaction: People get excited about the new app, clearly see its value for their particular role, and adopt the new technology in higher numbers.

In short, and this may be preaching to the choir for some HR folks, people don't want to be talked to like they're "human capital." The modern workforce wants to know the things they value are taken seriously by their organization, and will have a more fulfilling connection between their life and their work when they can clearly see that.

Action vs. analysis

Another frequently talked about area in HR is that dreaded word that pops up all across all the different activities in the employee life cycle at different times — reporting. It's something that always seems like a scramble, like we're reacting to requests for information and by the time we get to something usable we're already behind. But again, part of that is because of how we talk and think about reporting and people analytics.

More than most HR processes, analytics is an area where it's easy to get stuck in the how and lose focus on the why. When you're caught up in the moment, digging around for that one performance management KPI or the latest hiring and onboarding numbers, it's easy to forget that just finding that fact isn't reason enough to look for it. It needs to lead to concrete action.

We need to reframe our thinking when we engage with our HR software to perform people analytics, prioritizing what action we'll take once we have the data we want in hand instead of how we'll get that data. There are so many different possibilities that get unlocked when we make this change, but here are a few quick examples of how to get started:

  • Ensure you're gathering real-time data if possible so it's not outdated right after you get it. This way the decisions you make based on it won't risk being stale.
  • Invest in HR software that helps you help your people, proactively serving up relevant insights as you move through your day so you don't have to search for that information
  • Help managers and HR build stronger relationships with pre-built dashboards and charts around common analysis questions that they can check regularly to stay up on the people data that matters for their teams
  • Look at when and where people can access your analytics solutions to ensure that your executives can present the right facts even on the go

In each of these cases we're not even talking about the kind of HR data we're looking for yet. We're starting from a place of ensuring that data will lead to action, and that's a powerful way to bring your reporting and people analytics efforts in line with the goals of your business and the needs of your people.

Life-work vs. work-life

The final area where we need to reframe how we talk about HR software is when we think about the ways that technology and the activities it supports for our organization weave into and interact with our people's lives. When we talk about things like hiring and onboarding, talent management, employee engagement, or even time and attendance, the tendency is usually to focus on what up to this point we've called "work-life balance." The issue with this is similar to what we ran into with the first point I touched on —  like we did with process, we're putting work first.

The past year and a half or so has really put a spotlight on the fact that there's not really a clean divide between life and work. What's really important is that HR makes it easy for people to be their authentic selves at work and provides the space to let them negotiate both personal and professional events in a way that makes them feel like they're part of a community, which in turn motivates them to share new ideas and drive positive changes for their organization.

This is why at UKG we've made the move to thinking about HCM and HR software as life-work technology. It may sound lofty, but it's really not that hard to get into that mindset. Again, like the other topics we've discussed, it's a matter of how you approach the common challenges HR teams see every day. Here are a few more examples:

  • Feedback: Your HR technology should make it easy to gather employee feedback frequently around a variety of topics. This helps you continuously improve HR processes in ways that resonate with your people, makes them feel involved in the process, and helps you uncover all the places where your technology interacts with everyone's lives and work.
  • Flexibility: Build a mobile-friendly self-service portal to help your employees feel empowered and independent in their day-to-day while taking administrative workload off of managers and HR. Letting your people apply for jobs, onboard, enroll in benefits, manage schedules, see pay information, and other similar touch points on their own establishes trust and helps them take the right steps in their individual life-work journeys.
  • Growth: In life and work, people are at their best when they have a clear vision of their future and are moving toward it. That's why your HR software needs to prioritize opportunities for succession, as well as upskilling and reskilling, to let your people experiment with new areas in the organization and see their path for growth easily.
  • Belonging: Beyond all the pieces of the puzzle we've already talked about, there's something more intangible that your HR software can still help you tackle if you focus on the right areas: your people's sense of belonging. Make sure one of your realigned people analytics goals is checking your health in this area, and provide employees with open forums where they can celebrate themselves and interact with others who both share their life experiences and have very different ones.

What it boils down to is life-work technology is basically looking at your HR solutions as supporting everything your people do, not just their work activities. This shouldn't be a big leap in thinking for small businesses especially — if you're a single HR pro wearing many hats or part of a small, tight-knit team you're probably already tapped into what's going on in the lives of your employees. It's time to start looking at your technology solutions as a way to connect that with work.

Conclusion: Changing perspective brings fresh opportunities

It's always tough to face a new way of talking about or looking at things we often take for granted, but this truly is the time to bring the conversation around HR software to a place that reflects how workplaces and the people who fill them have evolved. This represents a major opportunity to increase your HR team's impact and build deeper connections with your people that will lead to better business outcomes.

If you need help communicating the value of your HR technology to your wider organization, we're here for you. Check out our value estimator tool to make your business case.

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