An Open Letter to HR Executives: I’ve Got Your Back With HR Technology

© Jaros -
© Jaros -

Dear Sir/Madam,

We may not have met, but I’ve got your back. I’m on your side when it comes to using effective HRM practices and business rules to drive improved business outcomes in your organization.

I know how hard it is to draw those lines of sight from needed business outcomes, like faster time to market, lower costs of higher quality customer service, greater insight into customer profitability by market segments, and greater organizational capability to support global growth, to the specifics of what HR does to improve HRM. And I know absolutely that information technology is not the answer but rather just one of the critical tools in your arsenal when it comes to attacking your toughest challenges.

Technology is not always the answer

Information technology can be a real power tool, providing enormous leverage when used well. Or it can cut you and your career off at the knees when mishandled. And all too often, through ignorance, benign neglect, delegation to whoever leads comp and benefits, or knee-jerk subservience to the IT powers that be, you’ve been cut off at the knees.

Help (which is just one letter off from hell, so we can’t afford to wander) is on the way. But there’s a fair amount of work ahead if you’re going to take charge of how, when, at what cost, against what objectives, with what redesigned processes, using what types of high quality data, with what governance, etc. you deploy the power tools of IT to the benefit of your firm’s effectiveness in HRM and, more importantly, to the achievement of needed business results.

First up, you need to get comfortable with the idea that technology per se is not the answer to any important business question any more than 42 is the answer to “what is the meaning of life, the universe and everything?” There just aren’t simple answers to important business questions, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t answers.

And where technology is concerned, driving business outcomes via effective HRM is much more about knowing what effective HRM would look like, knowing what practices applied to what parts of the organization would generate the most overall benefit. Once we understand what’s needed in HRM to drive those business outcomes, we can figure out what combination of technical tools, deployed how, with what functionality and so forth are needed to support those practices.

Follow the Yellow Brick Road

For many years I’ve used the metaphor of “Follow the Yellow Brick Road” to describe the thought process that takes us from well-defined business outcomes to well-defined HRM practices/organizational designs/analytics/etc. and right on to the design and delivery of the needed operational capabilities, the HRM delivery system, needed to conjure up your own Emerald City. You can read about that approach at your leisure using the links at the end of this letter.

After you’ve slogged your way through all of that, and having cured any insomnia from which you may have been suffering, I’d like to suggest that, with the help of a select team of business, HR and HR technology/delivery system leaders, you begin work ASAP to refine your HRM and HRM delivery systems strategy. But how and where do you begin this journey?

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Seven (7) steps to follow

  1. Gather all of the organizational strategy, current state HRM and HRMDS information you can find. Read it all through the lens of strategic HRM, looking for the specific impacts on business strategies and outcomes that must come from well-executed strategic HRM. See the patterns in those strategic HRM requirements and design HRM policies etc. to deliver them. Then prepare to update your HRM policies, practices, and operations to support converged HRM and HR technology.
  2. Assign someone to inventory your current HRMDS, including all the “informal” components. What software are you using — brand/module/release – and what is it costing, including both out-of-pocket and opportunity costs? What outsourcing are you doing — provider/scope of service — and what is it costing, including both out-of-pocket and opportunity costs? What spreadsheets, Word documents, private databases, and even paper files (gulp!) are you depending on for some of your HRM processes?
  3. Learn all you can about the differences between poor, good and great HR technology, and about what the market offers — continuous learning needed here. There’s a ton of material on my blog (here, here and here are some good starting points), and an absolute must is attendance at a major HR technology conference. I’ll be speaking (every year since it’s inception) at the big Kahuna of such conferences, HRE’s HR Technology Conference, as well as at the newer European HR Technology Conference.
  4. Clean up your HRM data — including organization data, people data, competency models, business rules, and data granularity — to support converged HRM and converged HR technology. Start with the most important roles, organizations, KSAOCs, whatever, but you really can’t do anything decent with analytics unless your data is sufficiently reliable, granular and properly structured.
  5. Insist upon detailed product road maps, with dates, against which to evaluate vendors and providers for evidence that they’re on top of converged HRM and converged HR technology — and do probe for their strategies around all eight convergence themes mentioned in the blog post on this you will have read in step #3 above.
  6. Determine what components of your current HRMDS platform are serving you well, which are not, what needs to be upgraded/enhanced/replaced, what can remain as it is (but keep on eye on this as all components “age”). Design your future HRMDS to deliver those strategic HRM requirements and then make your HR technology decisions. Be disciplined/methodical in evaluating potential HRMDS platform component changes, or changes in people and process, and don’t be a victim of vendor “promises.” Weed out/de-emphasize vendors and providers who can’t take you to a converged future — and run away from those that don’t even know that the converged future is coming.
  7. Do not judge the needs of tomorrow’s workforce or HRM by yesterday’s standards, but do judge your own responsibilities and their results in terms of driving business outcomes.

You obviously don’t have to do all the heavy lifting yourself; there’s a ton of staff work discussed above that’s properly delegated. But it’s important that you get just as comfortable discussing — and then making “bet the farm” decisions about the technology-enabled aspects of HRM as you’ve become (or been expected to become) discussing and making decisions about the financial aspects of HRM.

And there’s not an MBA program of any substance that leaves out any of this — IT, finance, HRM, and operations management — which is why I’m so grateful for that degree.

We may not have met, but I’ve got your back.

Sincerely yours,

Naomi Bloom

This was originally published on Naomi Bloom’s technology blog, In Full Bloom.

Naomi Bloom is the leading independent voice, business/platform strategy consultant and thought leader in the HR technology/HRO industry. She has acted as a change agent and HRM delivery systems strategist/coach for global corporate and Federal agency clients, an advisor on business strategy and product/service design to several generations of HRM software vendors and HR outsourcing providers, and a provider of competitive insight and due diligence for the investment community. You can read Naomi's blog In Full Bloom, and follow her on Twitter at