•   Article   •   6 mins

Designing Technology for the Workforce vs. HR

Solution providers have been developing HR technology for generations. First, there were custom-built solutions (the first business application developed was Payroll). Then, vendors developed mainframe (McCormack & Dodge, MSA, Tesseract) and mini-computer-based (Cyborg, Lawson, Ross Systems) packaged applications. Next, client/server applications (Oracle, PeopleSoft, SAP R/3) arrived on the scene. Today, we have software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions. The common thread for all of these generations of solutions was that they were designed for automating HR processes.

The design imperative was improving the quality and velocity of information to the HR team, which required moving data entry closest to the source — employees and managers. Thus, vendors added self-service capabilities to their solution. However, it was still in the context of automating the work of HR, not really improving the experience for employees and managers. So, adoption of self-service tools by employees and managers has been poor for most.

Fortunately, that has started to change, largely because modern SaaS applications start from a different design point of view, with employees and managers at the center, to deliver what HR needs as a byproduct of that experience. The thing is, anyone can say they do that. In fact, every vendor does. But it’s easier said than done. Tigers don’t change their stripes just because they say so. What really matters isn’t whether a feature exists — it’s how those features work. And that’s determined by who they’re designed for, and how those designers define the problems to be solved.

Here are 3 tips for identifying solutions designed for the workforce instead of HR:

Is the solution solving specific problems/issues for employees and managers?

Most everyone who has worked in an enterprise has used traditional HR applications. The initial packaged applications largely used relational databases to store data. The user interfaces reflected that. They were composed of lists, tables, and forms (which is basically how a relational database works). The primary user was an HR administrator who needed to accurately track and report on employee data. That was great for HR, but it did not really provide much direct value to employees and managers. Since they personally do not get a lot of value from it, they find ways not to use it.

Employee and manager self-service came into being because HR (and other departments) realized that they would have higher data quality if they moved the entry closer to the source — employees and managers. It was a great thing for HR to have employees update their personal information themselves. The employee knew when it changed (for example, moving to a new address), what the change was, and could accurately enter the change. This was much better for HR than an employee filling out a paper form and then having someone from HR enter the data. However, for the employee, it was more work for them to enter it themselves and they still didn’t receive any real benefit.

Real workforce-centric applications start with a different approach. They start with the employee and manager at the center of the experience. What do they need? What are they looking to get out of the experience? What specific problems or issues are they having? What are their goals and objectives?   The capturing of data HR needs is a byproduct of that. It’s still important, but data is generated as an outcome of the core user behavior. The good news is that when you get strong adoption by employees and managers, you get more high-quality data to use.

Does the solution use data to personalize the experience?

Another important reason why adoption of self-service by employees and managers is so poor is that it was so generic. It treated every employee and manager the same way because for traditional applications, it was a data entry exercise. It was about automating and scaling the process, not delivering value to the workers. For example, the goal of most traditional learning management systems was to help the training organization track all of the courses conducted and all of the approved training employees received. When that is the goal, you get a pretty generic employee experience. You get an experience like this:

Traditional learning technology platform

The good news from a vendor perspective is that it is generic enough that it can work for all learners.  The bad news is that it does not really engage the learner well. If you start from the perspective of the learner, you can start to make it relevant to them personally. How do you do that? You leverage data. Think about a modern application like this:

Modern learning technology platform

Workers do not have to search for courses — or other resources, like articles, videos, podcasts, or even subject experts or mentors. The system can make recommendations that are relevant to them.  There is no entering a lot of data into forms, but rather learners are presented with learning opportunities to act on, or even contribute to. 

The workforce wants guidance on what to learn

This looks and feels very different because this experience doesn’t just offer courses in the traditional sense. It is learning that can happen in many ways through instruction, through individual trial, error, and reflection, or through interactions and feedback with other people. It is not just informal learning. It can be experiential learning as well, so that means that a modern learning solution would also know about projects, gigs, stretch assignments, and other opportunities that would be relevant to you and be able to recommend those side-by-side with other developmental opportunities. For example, as a key piece of Imperial Brands’ upskilling strategy, it created a mentorship program called MentorMatch, pairing up employees based on their roles and interests. One major U.S. financial institution created a reskilling funnel, allowing employees to teach themselves new skills and then test those skills with stretch assignments on different teams. 

Does the solution guide the employee and manager?

This is not to say that there is no data entry or workflow required. Sometimes there still is, but it is just secondary. It is in support of meeting the worker where they are at. The task that the person may need to perform is not always one they do all the time. For example, they may not request to do a stretch assignment very frequently. So, the system should make it as easy as possible to do that task without needing further assistance. A modern application will guide the employee (or manager or contractor) by: 

A modern application will guide the employee or manager or contractor by making it personal, providing in-context information, and inferring data as much as possible

This is still “self-service.” There is still data entry. There is still workflow and approvals. Those do not go away, but the employee feels like there is value to them — that is the difference. And better experiences drive greater adoption because they deliver value to employees and managers. So, when your organization is looking at new solutions, use these three tips to make sure you select a modern application that will deliver a great workforce experience. In our next blog post, we will tackle how you design experiences for the workforce that are enabled by modern applications.

About the Author

Jim Holincheck has more than 25 years of experience in the HCM technology industry and is the Vice President of Advisory Services at Leapgen. Before joining Leapgen, Jim gained experience as a vendor (Workday – Services Strategy and Product Management), an industry analyst (Gartner and Forrester/Giga), and a consultant (Accenture).

Jim has spent his entire career working with customers to strategize, select, implement, support, and optimize their usage of enterprise applications. Helping customers successfully get the most out of their enterprise software investments is something Jim is very passionate about. He launched his career in Chicago at Andersen Consulting (now Accenture) in its Software Intelligence group, where he worked on the full lifecycle of Financial and HCM application projects, including application strategy, requirements definition, software selection, implementation, and production support.

After ten years at Andersen Consulting, Jim moved to Giga Information Group (acquired by Forrester), where he was an industry analyst covering ERP applications. In 2000, he joined a startup, IQ4hire, to create a consulting marketplace around ERP and CRM applications. In 2002, Jim joined Gartner as an analyst covering the HCM market, where he also managed the research agenda for Financials, HCM, and Procurement applications. Jim graduated from Washington University with a BS in Electrical Engineering and an MBA in 1988.

About Leapgen
Leapgen is a global digital transformation company shaping the future of work. Highly respected as a visionary partner to organizations looking to design and deliver a digital workforce experience that will produce valued outcomes to the business, Leapgen helps enterprise leaders rethink how to better design and deliver workforce services and architect HR technology solutions that meet the expectations of workers and the needs of the business.

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