Corporate Wellbeing Asia 2023
human resources online

Clearing the clouds on HRMS

Rolling out HR management systems is often an organisation-wide initiative requiring early adopters and top management to champion the cause.

Jerene Ang and Aditi Sharma Kalra find out just how to make a case for the technology, and ensuring enough people use it for the right reasons, once it is implemented.

Philanthropist and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates made this case for automation in business processes years ago: “The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.”

His view reflected a challenge that many HR professionals face today, with a lack of technology forcing them to spend time doing things that can easily be automated.

On the other hand, many of them have implemented technology that promises to provide HR and employee information at line managers’ fingertips, only to find there aren’t enough takers because it requires an additional learning effort from line managers before it starts to reap them benefits in time savings.

In the past month, we have spoken to HR leaders who are in the various stages of implementing some sort of Human Resource Management System (HRMS) at their organisations. Their views helped us identify some of the key challenges they face, not only in considering an external vendor, but in the implementation and utilisation as well.

Norbert Modla, global head of HR at beverage logistics firm JF Hillebrand Group, is on the cusp of rolling out a system, with the objective to “make better decisions about talent based on data”.

Working in more than 35 countries globally, he notes that capturing prompt and reliable HR data can be a very cumbersome exercise if a system isn’t automatically doing it for you.

Given that both managing talent and growing the future talent pool internally are priorities for the firm, it became clear that accurate information, beyond the existing talent reviews and succession plans, would enable managers organisation-wide to make much better talent decisions.

That was the one big objective driving this exercise, and he affirms it is important to know this even before a firm ventures out to contact a vendor for support. For example, in JF Hillebrand’s case, automation of processes was important, but it was not the top priority.

“It was most important for my board to make better talent-related decisions based on the data we capture and analyse – so that is what we focused on,” he says.

At Singapore-headquartered medical devices company Biosensors International, the primary consideration for opting into SuccessFactors as an HR cloud solution was to cascade organisational objectives more clearly across all levels, hence, aligning the organisation in one direction, explains David Chin, chief human resources officer.

He says: “We wanted to use the system to translate the key company priorities into specific objectives for each member of the management team, to subsequently cascade it to their staff and teams. So everyone can understand how their goals are lined up with achieving what the company needs to do on a global basis.”

Over the past 12 months, the company has rolled out an external system that is being implemented in phases, the first of which involved setting up organisational goals on the balanced scorecard, and then using the system for objective setting, performance and compensation management.

Freddie Chow, chief talent officer for pharmaceutical major Sanofi in Asia Pacific, is also in the midst of a new HRMS launch of Workday, rolled out two years, and being implemented in phases on the basis of regions.

“The more mature countries such as North America, France and Europe are in the earlier waves. Asia, being an emerging market, is in the last wave, meaning that full implementation is expected to be complete by 2016,” he says.

Even so, some modules have already been implemented such as performance management, talent management, and the employee database, which allows the firm to capture annual merit increases and appraisal data.

The big goal here is to have a common integrated system for the company with employee strength of more than 120,000, especially given the number of recent acquisitions.

“At Sanofi, we try to move our talent across businesses, countries and regions. If we don’t have a common system, we won’t even know who our talent is,” he says.

“In other words, employees will remain in the same business they first joined, if it wasn’t for internal mobility.”

But … will they use it?

Utilisation and adoption rates of the technology, apart from the HR team, emerged as the biggest challenges in the implementation of any cloud technology, more so when it involves sensitive employee data. Ironically, these also play a big part in helping to determine return on investment.

Our interviewees have taken varied approaches to this.

Biosensors’ Chin says: “A big factor that determines the success of a technology implementation is to do with how it is implemented, what is communicated, and how people use it as opposed to just the technology itself.”

In doing so, organisations have to keep usability and customer interface in mind when considering vendor options, as much of it is expected to be very intuitive – so as not to require hours of training.

As Chin points out: “Technology won’t always do what you want it to. There’s always a challenge in how much and how fast you push it through to the organisation because it is a change for people. These are challenges you need to work through, and account for in your implementation process.

“My concern is more about whether or not people maximise what they can get out of the platform, and if they are using it as well as they could be.”

Modla echoes and adds to this from the HR team’s point of view.

“During implementation, the biggest challenge is managing the proportion of workload on the local HR teams. It is important that they immediately realise some benefits from the system,” he says.

“It can very easily turn into a situation where they now have a bunch of new administration things to do, so there’s no benefit for them in using the system.”

Additionally, getting people to use the system outside of the HR team, he says, goes back to the initial point on being crystal clear about why you are implementing this system from day one.

“You have to be able to communicate what you want to change in the organisation through using such a system. A system is just a system – what matters more is what you use the system for and how you are using it,” he says.

Essentially, much of the adoption comes down to how well the benefits of the system are communicated – and the business case built around it.

Chin agrees, and adds that managers not only need to be brought up to speed around the technology, but the actual thought process behind it.

“In being provided the technology and platforms to set objectives for their teams, you also have to educate managers on how to set effective objectives, otherwise it can defeat the purpose,” he says.

All of this, he adds, is supported by communication briefs and training that are aimed at helping managers set objectives in line with organisational goals.

Along this thought, Modla comes in with another suggestion on imparting time-relevant training to the line managers.

“Link learning to immediate use, rather than asking managers to learn the system at one go. I would rather go for on-demand training in bits and pieces,” he says.

So if their immediate need is recruitment, that’s when they should be trained on how to use the system for that process.

He adds: “I suggest short snappy e-learnings on specifics, instead of spending two days in a classroom about everything the system does. Otherwise, they will forget what they have learnt when they are actually trying to use the system weeks later.”

Besides this school of thought, another way to boost adoption rates is to weave the technology platform into the company’s daily processes, something the team at Sanofi has tried and seen success with.

Being a global project, Sanofi followed a top-down approach in implementing the system, endorsed by the group CEO and the executive committee.

“They are the ones who lead by example, and inaugurate the implementation in conjunction with HR so that this is seen as a company project,” Chow says.

He takes the example of the employee database functionality in the software solution that conveniently allows all details from an employee’s social media profile to be captured and stored in the system – forming the basis of all people processes thereon, including then a high focus on internal mobility pointed out by Chow earlier.

“The question is how to motivate people to update their profile in this self-service system,” he says.

The solution, in this case, is not about choice, but about what is “mandatory”.

“All employees’ merit increases have to now be updated on the system. So if managers don’t do it, it means that the employee will not have a salary increase because we have not received any information,” he says.

Of course, initially both managers and employees may feel like it is an additional workload for them, as in the past, the HR team would update everything for them post an hour-long meeting.

Chow shares more about this dilemma.

“There is a bit of resistance in this aspect of the behaviour change, as the responsibility moves from HR to the managers and employees. We see this as empowerment – that they are empowered to go into self-service mode and HR can enact the role of the facilitator.”

Apart from the training and communication listed earlier as a possible solution to resistance, Sanofi has also instituted the concept of get-togethers to spread the message, for example, a recent launch party where the HR team set up a booth with laptops that enabled employees to update their profiles on the spot, after seeing a demo.

“They then realise that the system is wonderful and so easy to use,” he says.

“Once you role model it, employees will start to use it and then buy into the idea.”

Measuring up the system

As part of the implementation, there are two resource issues to consider – one is the partnership with the IT team, and two is the requirement of support staff who can enable the smooth day-to-day running.

Modla goes into the details.

“The IT team has a stake in dealing with issues like security, how the system integrates with the company’s other systems, how data gets transferred, etc.

“The good thing is with today’s systems is since everything is hosted on the cloud, nothing gets saved on local servers. So you don’t need a whole department looking after it like we had a few years ago.”

Chin agrees the IT team is a valued partner in the process when it comes to evaluation between vendors – however, since the HRMS does not particularly impact the hardware or infrastructure, it may not be so extensively involved.

Having gone through one phase of implementation, he has seen the system’s impact on transparency and visibility across processes.

“When you do things on paper, you never know the extent that it really gets done and by when it will be completed.”

Another result has been the consistency in the employee experiences.

“All employees have performance appraisal, objective setting and salary reviews – but using technology for them provides a common experience for both the employees and managers, and it also allows us as an organisation to communicate how we expect things to be done,” he says.

The tangible return on investment, however, can be hard to quantify, as we have observed in various conversations with HR professionals.

Sanofi’s Chow says that having a common system is a mandatory matter of supporting business goals, instead of treating it like a nice-to-have.

“As this is a high-cost investment, a strong business case was put up for the executive committee to approve it,” he adds.

Alongside, the HR team also conducts surveys to find out how the employees feel about the new system, and uses this to address system issues.

“That is one way to measure employee satisfaction, but it is not as tangible as dollars and cents.

“Employees have moved from the resistance phase, to the acceptance phase, to the point today where it is accepted by everyone today, and they are using it in their daily conversations.”

To achieve such penetration, he says the initiative must be driven by top management, as a key organisation project, not just an HR project.

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