Learning from Our Cousins


Figure 1: Change Adoption

Although it might not seem like it, the human resources function shares a kinship with information technology. We may lack some of the cool “toys” or deal with predictable phenomenon, but we share more than one might think.  Both areas embrace a customer-focus, offer considerable strategic value, enable traditional operational departments to deliver their services or products more efficiently, and effectively, possess tools for improving efficiency and effectiveness, and contain valuable ideas and innovations.  Although, information technology gained momentum and visibility first, human resources has closed the gap some in the last decade and appears to be following the same evolutionary track.

What do I mean by evolutionary track? Like most business changes, certain phases accompany the transition from idea to reality.  Both, information technology and human resources management developed from being an idea how we might improve operational performance to being critical components of doing business.   Figure 1 summarizes the typical adoption process.  First, a few employees and leaders gain knowledge and understanding of the potential benefit of changing the way things work.  Once understanding reaches a critical threshold, then the value recognition process begins and others learn as well.  Limited experimentation may occur in certain departments or work units to “pilot” the tool, process, or concept.  If the experiment proves successful, then more universal validation or acceptance follows.  Finally, the change gains in use and value in the organization.  At any of these phases, the process can stall or even fail. 

Clearly, information technology has transitioned from knowledge and understanding to full integration in all but a few organizations. Best practice processes and tools in human resource management continue to transverse this road a few miles behind. Many large, successful organizations have reached full integration. However, they exist as exceptions.  In the average organization, implementation of change resides between experimentation, validation, and limited integration.

If we talk with our cousins in information technology, some lessons seem very relevant to us as well.

 We need to know business processes better

Human resources staff, now more than ever, needs to have knowledge of the business operations they serve. Specifically, in order to add value, human resource professionals must understand the inputs, processes, and outputs of each major operational area. While cursory knowledge might have been sufficient to assist with transactional processes in the past, the need for strategic support demands a deeper working knowledge. Think about how often you hear “I do not know what to ask for or how you can help.”  We have to be ready with an answer.

Develop creative solutions through collaboration

Information technology made huge gains in the last two decades from an integration standpoint.  Among the actions that helped push integration was the acceptance that the best solutions come about through collaboration.  Some of you may remember the days when the information technology professional held “secret machine knowledge” that could not be explained and seemed to work more like magic than science.  If you asked why something happened or failed to work, the response was a look of pity followed by a patronizing smile and “I really don’t think you would understand.” Today, we work more directly with our technology professionals.  We have found a way to converse, which maximizes the value of interaction.  Human resources with a plethora of rules and laws coupled with the science of human beings can appear to operate in this inaccessible, byzantine cloud.  We need common language and goals.   We need come out of our cloud and collaborate more.

Predict customer needs

Most managers only call human resources when an issue arises.  I might have a bad employee, someone that did not receive the right benefit, or desire a development opportunity recommendation. In each case, the manager desires a simple answer to the issue.  Clearly, resolving the concern creates a certain amount of satisfaction.  Nevertheless, most would agree that anticipating or predicting customer needs would enhance satisfaction.  When information technology made this transition from being the folks that deal with something broken to the innovative team members that bring ideas and full integration resulted. We have to think like our customers and be proactive.    

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