There are various great polarities (and tensions) in the universe. Male vs Female, dog or cat lover, heaven and hell, yin and yang, the Law vs Grace.
But one of the great tensions and juxtapositions we regularly run into, is the tension between HR and IT departments within an organisation.
[Health Warning: the following is decorated with some slight stereotyping, for absolutely no justification other than indulgence, and your (hopefully) mild amusement and glimmered recognition of behaviours…]
A typical conversation might proceed thus:
HR Leader: “We really need a new HR system to ensure we that we have a mobile-enabled, modern HR solution in the cloud. A solution that not only stays up to date with legislation so that our payroll is COVID-19 and future proof, but allows us to push self-service to all employees via their mobile devices and also enables us to communicate effectively. A system where we can easily monitor and manage staff wellness and that our staff love!.”
IT Leader: “We already have an enterprise software solution with an established vendor, and we’re locked into 5-year enterprise license. This solution has been in place for 10 years and is tried and tested – besides why would we want to risk making changes that affect payroll at this time. If you really want a new HR system can I suggest you fill in this procurement form on sharepoint. Then submit a 50-page business case including our latest BPM/EAI/DSDM/SSADM/UML [choose an acronym] IT methodology. We’ll then review and lacerate on the basis of lack of BA resource availability or GDPR risk, and speak to our mates in finance to kibosh it – oh did I mention that finance trust us with procurement choices…[supercilious grin]”
OR occasionally the conversation goes the other way round…something like:
“We really need to accelerate the transformation of our IT systems to ensure that we’re outsourcing appropriate components of our IT so that we focus on our core business. We should be selecting modern cloud vendors who decrease our operational running costs, which will keep our CFO and CEO happy. We urgently need to select vendors that really understand our business model and ensure we remain secure, compliant and aligned with modern and mobile-first technology trends”
“I’m far too busy working out our talent management, communications strategy, and latest imperatives of organisation design to consider toxic systems re-implementations that might be career limiting for me to sponsor. Besides I’m out of action for the foreseeable future as part of a focus group on how HR should train its managers with NLP techniques to influence productivity [rolls eyes in you-wouldn’t-understand fashion]. Oh and, I’m far too busy right now to think about systems, because of COVID CJRS reclaims, and I’m in the trenches filling in spreadsheets for payroll”
A happy marriage between HR and IT
Of course its not always like this – and the tongue-in-cheek stereotype prose above is made (just slightly) in jest. Very often IT and HR colleagues are happily aligned, communicating and “married” in their objectives. However, there are sadly also too many cases we see where HR and IT teams are heading in opposite and seemingly irreconcilable directions.
The remainder of this article seeks to find common ground between HR and IT colleagues, and aims to offer some advice and guidance for companies finding themselves needful of change, but paralysed through lack of decision making.
For HR Leaders
Never has there been a time where companies need strong and adaptive HR leadership. Remote working has become the new norm, and requires different working practices. The pandemic has undoubtedly required us to support our people, and carefully reflect on the status of our processes and systems – but how can we measure the productivity and performance of staff so that they support business objectives effectively in the New World? What started as a little virus in China, that required some temporary measures has morphed over the year into a permanent state of global paralysis.
“Never has the people aspect of a business been more important than now”
It might have been acceptable to manage furlough in Excel for a pay period or maybe two as a temporary measure. But 6 months later, with HRMC hovering to audit CJRS claims, it is not acceptable to live in Excel Hell. If your systems are not up to scratch, it is essential you shout – LOUDLY to your leadership, to mitigate risks built up in Excel workarounds. Never has the people aspect of a business been more important than now – they understand the importance of HR systems and will listen to you.
Being even more factual and objective than usual is often the key to influencing IT and Finance “if you can keep your head when all around are losing theirs and blaming it on you etc”. Keeping your head by working with the facts, and ensuring the data to support your case is complete, correct and well-presented goes a long way with IT and Finance colleagues, who typically respond well to the perception and (even more crucially) the reality of control. Don’t let them claim fluffy HR. Not now, not ever.
Your IT colleagues are very stressed keeping the lights on across the enterprise, and (depending upon the industry sector within which you operate) are dealing with numerous suppliers in various degrees of difficulty, trying to plan but at the same time demonstrate agility. At the same time various services need to be securely turned on and off as sites or offices close and reopen. The pressure is immense, and your IT colleagues will tend to want to de-risk their position rather than take on more pressure and points of failure at a time when they are stretched and exposed.
More than ever, as an HR Leader, believe in yourself, your role, and your intuition – the people in your company need you to lead, inspire and set in place the processes and systems that enable your company’s progress in the “new normal”.
For IT Leaders
The shift in working practices, and its impact upon company systems and infrastructure has been immense and intense. It is reported that 9 years of evolving workplace trends (regarding flexible and remote working), have been compressed into less than 9 months. This speed of change comes with high risks. Aside from the obvious operational risks of things not working effectively (home broadband was never really designed for remote Board calls whilst your kids sap every ounce of bandwidth for their PlayStations), there are numerous other risks that require consideration and prioritisation.
Whilst Office 365 and the trend towards SaaS has undoubtedly transformed business applications it may be that not all your systems are designed for being accessed over the internet. This is nothing to be necessarily ashamed of (there are of course VPN and remote desktop solution to allow secure access to company networks). However, remote access to these on-premise systems does require additional security consideration – such as BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) and how to adequately authenticate and authorise users onto corporate systems. It is more critical than ever to ensure that your joiner / mover / leaver processes and systems are robust, so that the identity of the people in your organisation is appropriately provisioned, controlled and relinquished where necessary.
Personal data and GDPR
Data is already a key concern under GDPR, but with companies shutting up their offices and sites, and working from home, there are greater risks that sensitive and personal company data can get moved onto home devices, and/or into the wrong hands.
You might be used to working in a systematic and structured environment – but some of your colleagues in other functions may not be. Don’t underestimate the importance of regular communications at a time of crisis to mitigate mental health risks of people working from home, and unleash the power of people. Investing in systems that facilitate communications, self-service, and that provide engaging ways to capture feedback and wellness – may just be the differentiating factor of companies when they come out of the crisis.
In the post COVID world, companies may well be judged by their employees based upon how well they treated and engaged with their employees during the pandemic.
For all Leaders
After living through 9 months of COVID-19, to say that we’re living in unprecedented times almost seems hackneyed. Battening up the hatches may even seem like a reasonable strategy to ride out the COVID-19 storm. But during times of great change it is a mistake to ignore change management opportunities. This is a great time to reduce risks and improve compliance, implement organisational changes, and focus on staff communications and wellbeing to improve productivity, performance and engagement.
Achieving the best results
Whichever projects and change you deem most important, it is critical that HR and IT colleagues communicate regularly and effectively. We’ve found that the best results are achieved when there is deep rooted respect and balance between the HR and IT departments.
HR are at their inspirational best by painting the vision for People Systems, defining the requirements clearly, and providing expert deployment skills (and also mucking in wholeheartedly with the testing!).
The perfect marriage is when IT departments reciprocate with enthusiasm and drive for change, provide tool-sets and methodology for objective testing and progress tracking, and inject “can do” enthusiasm to make the superhuman parts of a project happen rather than stall.
Above all, leaders need the courage to take action, and not fall into paralysis by analysis. Compromise is sometimes necessary. But it is the passion, mutual respect and chemistry of the relationship between HR and IT that makes great things happen.
If your HR and IT departments need marriage counselling – we are here to help. We have over 20 years’ experience in defining HR and People Operating models, both in terms of functional decomposition of what HR needs to perform, and how this maps onto underlying IT system functionality and infrastructure. By defining clear requirements, user stories, and applying rigorous methodology to control scope and track progress – implementing People Systems change need not be as onerous or political as you may remember. Never has there been a better time to make a new start to transform your people systems and processes. You may even enjoy it…