HR needs to embrace technology

New research from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) shows that HR professionals are failing to make the most of the new technologies available to them, with four-fifths running systems that are not integrated with the rest of their business.

And a separate report from Henley Management College and Microsoft reveals that flexible and remote workers are being badly managed.

The CIPD’s poll of 322 HR professionals found more than a quarter said that their systems were difficult for HR to use.

The survey echoes a study published last December by Personnel Today’s sister publication IRS Employment Review, which reported that one in three HR professionals were either dissatisfied or totally dissatisfied with their new IT system.

While most new systems were brought in to reduce the administrative burden in the workplace, a third of those polled by the CIPD believe the reduction had been less than expected.

Martyn Sloman, training, learning and development adviser at the CIPD, said that by failing to use IT systems to their full potential, HR professionals were badly letting down their organisations.

“They will not be able to provide line managers with the information they need to manage labour costs and develop their staff. Nor will they be able to report on human capital,” he said. “HR could be much more ambitious in its requirements, and join forces with IT to make full use of the systems.”

Brett Walsh, partner in human capital at consultancy Deloitte, said HR professionals were traditionally wary of IT.  “There is often a general lack of comfort about technology from the HR perspective,” he said.

The introduction of technology must be linked to new service delivery models if truly significant cost savings are to be made, Walsh suggested.

“Using technology alone, you can probably save around 10% to 15%,” he said. “But if you create a new ‘service delivery model’ (new business process) that is enabled by new technology, you can probably save 30% to 50%.”

Allowing staff to work remotely and flexibly has been one of the major consequences in developments in IT, raising issues for HR over how to manage them.

But despite these different ways of working, UK managers have not adapted their skills to manage flexible staff, according to the Managing Tomorrow’s Worker report by Peter Thomson, director of the Future Work Forum at Henley.

Thomson believes the findings are indicative of a workplace that has yet to get to grips with the challenge of flexible work.

“We’re still in the early stages of evolution for managing in the 21st century, and we’re using 20th century management practices that have yet to adapt to the changes,” he said.

Angela Baron, adviser for organisation and resourcing at the CIPD, said technology had advanced far quicker than management thinking.

“For some reason, managers still think people who work long hours are committed to an organisation, rather than thinking they are incompetent and can’t get things done sooner,” she said.

Petra Cook, head of policy at the Chartered Management Institute, admitted there was still a long way to go for getting effective performance management systems in place.

“A lot of it is about communication and trusting teams to work effectively,” she said. “But that challenge exists within the office just as much as it does among remote workers.”

Thomson identified a ‘double whammy’ in a situation where flexible or remote working was badly managed.

An employee may be reliant on their manager to keep them in touch with the rest of the organisation. If the manager fails to do so, there is no other route by which the employee and the organisation can achieve a positive relationship. At the same time, the organisation may not notice the incidence of bad management that is occurring until retention becomes an issue, as the failure is happening outside the official workplace.

But if flexible working is managed properly, staff will happily put in more hours, because they have control over when they work, and so can make time for the rest of their lives, Thomson said.

“A more flexible approach to work allows people to be more productive, and enables them to manage their own balance of life and work,” he said. “Managers need to learn to trust and empower employees to do that.”

HR and IT still divided:

  • Four-fifths of HR professionals are running systems that are not integrated with the rest of the business

  • More than a quarter said their systems were difficult for the HR department to use

  • Fewer than half of employers use their intranet to get feedback from employees

  • HR information systems are most likely to be used to monitor absence management (85%), training and development (75%), and reward (75%)

  • The most popular reasons for introducing a system are improv-ing quality (91%), speed (81%), flexibility (59%), reducing the administrative burden on the HR department (83%), and improv-ing services for employees (56%)

Source: CIPD

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