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Life After Electronic Forms

So your company recently installed an electronic forms software program, and you’re feeling pretty good about easing your human resources …

So your company recently installed an electronic forms software program, and you’re feeling pretty good about easing your human resources department’s workload while saving a few trees in the process. As a bonus, your new central HR system also helps track and maintain voluminous personnel records. OK, you now can turn your attention to another part of your business, right?

Not so fast. This is just the first step toward revamping your HR department, and the only one taken so far by most companies. But in today’s world of rightsizing, downsizing, re-engineering-call it what you will-business survival depends on “lean and mean” operations that achieve strategic goals with minimum resources. For the oft-maligned HR department, that requires integrating a lean work force and mean, high-payback technologies to both eliminate administrative burdens and support strategic objectives such as screening, engaging, and managing a stable, productive work force.

Taco Bell, for instance, has found that stores with the lowest employee turnover have twice as many sales and 55 percent higher profits than stores with the highest turnover. Thus, implementing a software system that can evaluate potential employees and help avoid a hiring mistake can have just as long-term a payback as any finite marketing initiative.

A major Midwest retailer can attest to that. Within three years of automating and retooling its human resources department in 1992, the company has increased sales from $300 million to $733 million, and doubled its number of stores to 800 across 44 states-opening an average of one new store every three days.

Holding the line at just 15 HR professionals to service more than 8,500 employees working all over the country, this company had to be innovative about taking advantage of technology. In addition to eliminating paperwork as much as possible with electronic forms, it now uses advanced systems to automate initial applicant screening, employee training, skills assessment, and proficiency testing. For example, new assistant managers receive two weeks of training delivered via a mix of computer-based training, instructional videos, and traditional one-on-one methods. Two weeks are allowed for knowledge assimilation. Then, a computer-based skills assessment is performed. If a problem is spotlighted, the trainee gets another two weeks to work on bolstering his or her skill levels. This is followed by a demonstrated skill feedback test to ensure that the employee can handle all tasks according to expectations.

Some companies are experimenting with an automated interviewing software package that prompts managers to ask the correct questions in order to hire the right employees. Based on interviewees’ answers to certain questions, the program comes up with additional inquiries. Other programs run potential employees’ credentials against a company’s criteria for the position to determine the best fit.

“By filling jobs with the right people at the right time and ensuring that the work schedule for every shift is complete by using automated labor scheduling, we have effectively increased the volume of sales per hour and per transaction,” says the retailer’s CIO. That means the HR department now can contribute to improving the bottom line rather than just paper-shuffling.

The key is to select technologies that enable converting administrators such as those in the HR department from expensive corporate watchdogs into effective business partners of those in the operations areas. Says consultant Kathy Urbelis, who has followed the HR industry for 20 years and whose firm, Urbelis and Summers in Diablo, CA, specializes in HR technology issues: “Technology advances finally have made it possible to produce HR systems that do more than collect data without monumental effort and expense. These advances also have spawned a new type of HR software vendor; one with in-depth understanding of HR business practices. These vendors offer adjunct tools-applicant screening, computer-based training and assessment, career development, performance evaluations, expert assistance with compliance issues-that can make a significant difference in a company’s operation and provide it with true productivity gains.”

Don’t sell your HR department short. You must articulate a vision and insist on systems that creatively apply data in ways that ratchet up technology’s contribution from administrative to strategic. After all, there is life after electronic forms.

Randall K. Fields is chairman and chief executive of Park City Group, a Utah-based developer of the ActionManager family of software solutions, which automate business operations in human resources, operations management, forms workflow, and labor management.

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