HR (Helpfully) Off to The Side

creelmannarToday’s guest post was written by Workforce Institute board member David Creelman.  David spends a lot of his time thinking and writing about the role HR plays in helping organizations maximize the potential and contributions of their employees.  In today’s post, he talks about how sometimes the best thing HR professionals can do is to give people the tools they need to thrive and then get out of the way.

One of the major trends at the recent HR Tech show in Las Vegas was HR applications that were not directly aimed at HR. In other words, these are HR-related software applications that are aimed at either the employee or manager as the main user. This is a trend of particular import to HR leaders involved in workforce management, where the space has always been led as much by operations, and even finance, as HR.

By HR applications not aimed at HR, I don’t mean the familiar employee or manager self-service functionality. Self-service was usually about pushing some administrative work off of HR and onto either managers or employees (presumably because it made more sense for them to do it themselves). What interests me are applications that help employees or managers with their work or personal lives in a way that sits to the side of HR.

One example is career-planning software where the employee owns the data. They can take the app with them as they move between companies. HR enables this by getting employees started and paying for the app, but after that it’s not HR leading the career planning; HR is off to the side while the employee manages their own career.

An example directly related to the workforce space are apps that allow an employee to see who is on their shift and to swap shifts. While of course HR and operations have the ability to create restrictions on who can swap shifts with whom, fundamentally this is about HR giving a great tool to employees and then stepping aside – all the while taking employee self-service and scheduling empowerment to the next level.

A management example is those apps that focus on setting and tracking goals rather than focusing on the performance appraisal cycle. HR departments need appraisal for its own purposes, but the day-to-day management of goals is the domain of managers. Again HR is off to the side, enabling this capability rather than being directly involved.

What I want HR leaders to take away from this is the idea that they have a role in people issues that goes beyond things that involve HR processes. HR can create an ecosystem of tools that empower employees and managers. HR off to the side may have more long-term impact than HR in the midst of things.


One thought on “HR (Helpfully) Off to The Side

  1. I couldn’t agree more David!
    For an HR function to be optimally effective HR folks need to be spending a large percentage of their time proactively working with business leaders to address talent-related business challenges. Moving to a self-service model for managers and employees in general, when done right, enables HR to become more strategic and less tactical / reactive because it materially decreases administrative burden for the function. That said, this work must be done in a very thoughtful and focused manner. Once a system is implemented the resulting management behaviors and activities become hard-wired in the organization. That’s great if the outcomes are aligned with both the company and HR strategy but it can be not great if it is not aligned. The potential unintended consequences of implementing these types of technologies must be thoroughly thought through pre-implementation. Great topic.

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