Highly paid management consultants constantly remind us that employees are our most valuable resource. However, we rarely treat human resources management as strategically important, often overloading the HR department with paperwork and procedures instead of implementing technology such as electronic forms to enhance productivity and streamline work flows.
The three most important HR functions are staffing, training, and development, / but they usually are superseded by producing employee procedure manuals and coordinating sensitivity training seminars to avoid lawsuits against the company. The other problem is that HR systems typically are task-oriented, so they tend to train employees in completing tasks, not in simplifying business processes.
Technology can go a long way toward cutting down time and mistakes in these areas.
Companies would do well to use software to:
- Strive to add value by level. In a multi-unit operation (particularly a retail or service company), CEOs often think of a district manager as simply a location manager times 10, and a regional manager as the district ager times 10. However, your approach should add value at each level: The location manager should have certain responsibilities; the district manager should have the same responsibilities, plus additional ones such as personnel and cost. This moves staff from the concept of location management more easily to the concept of general management-and one that can be facilitated by a central computer system that allows all managers to share information.
- Manage people, not litigation. Your HR department was formed to help attract and retain the best employees. Today, it mostly scrambles to provide documentation when the company is sued. Why do so many companies end up in court? Aside from the fact that lawyers want to relieve you of your wallet, the people doing the hiring and the managing don’t have the right tools or information to make good decisions-mainly because they are overwhelmed by the hundreds of rules that apply to the hiring process.
A software package can sort these rules and make them available to human resources managers at the stroke of a key. In addition, the software can guide HR personnel hrough each step in the processes of conducting performance appraisals or disciplining employees.
- Use hiring software. Implementing electronic forms; electronic mail; and hiring software can eliminate paperwork, create a central, universally accessible HR communications/information hub, and codify hiring criteria.Disney Stores uses electronic forms software to cut weeks out of the new employee hiring process by directly inputting information onto the computer system instead of filling out papers and entering the data later.
A major foodservice company uses an automated interviewing package to help location managers 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. For example, if an interviewee possesses a Bachelor of Science degree and worked for several years in a non-retail environment, the software raises a red flag and prompts the interviewer to ask why that person wants to go into retail now.
Other packages allow a company to formulate a set of rules that describe the type of employee it requires, and all potential employees’ credentials can be run against those criteria to determine the best match.
- Implement computer-based training. HR computer systems are great at teaching rote functions, freeing human beings to concentrate on the more personal areas such as on-the-job observation and feedback. For example, Famous Footwear uses an automated tutorial software system to train new employees on particular procedures, such as ringing up sales on the cash register and switching shifts. This allows the location manager to focus on teaching new sales associates how to deal with the public.
Implementing these technologies will help. Implementing them in an integrated way (that is, using automated interviewing, computer-based training, and evaluation software, along with networked electronic mail and electronic forms) will help more. Relegating the HR department to a peripheral place in the corporate structure is a mistake-one that may well drain the bottom line.
Randall K. Fields is chairman and chief executive of Park City Group, a Utah-based developer of the PaperLess Management concept, which utilizes flexible electronic management systems.