Hand it all over

first_img Previous Article Next Article Comments are closed. Related posts:No related photos. Hand it all overOn 1 Jun 2001 in Personnel Today Peopletasks have been passed down to line managers in recent years, but withoperations spreading across the world, HR increasingly relies on technology tospread the workload, says Sally O’Reilly It’sa truism that global HR managers need to think strategically, rather than spendtheir time on routine administration. But achieving that goal isn’t alwayseasy. And while devolving some of the day-to-day responsibility to linemanagers has, for some years, been seen as one of the solutions, increasing workpressures have made it difficult for line managers to take on additional peoplemanagement roles. Forglobal firms, this has been further complicated by the sheer scale of theiroperation, and the legal and cultural variations in different countries. Now,however, technology seems to be unblocking the log jam, and global IT companiessuch as Cisco Systems and Oracle are leading by example. “Technologyis the enabler to provide the type of information in real time which gives linemanagers the ability to take on more HR responsibilities,” says PetraElliott, managing consultant with Chicago-based management consultancy HewittAssociates, which works in 40 countries across the world. “Prior to theexistence of portals, it was difficult to give line managers this type ofinformation.” Forinstance, while line managers could be given relatively static informationabout the pay received by an individual employee, they couldn’t be given themeans to look at different pay options for that person. For global firms, therewas the additional difficulty of maintaining consistency and control across theorganisation. Elliotbelieves there is an obvious reason why technology firms have now taken thelead in this area. “IT companies have more consistent technology platformsto base this on,” she says. “To work effectively, the softwareproducts need to be flexible enough to host the appropriate content, and toallow flexibility to evolve over time. Any firm with a devolved HR system inplace needs to keep up with corporate change caused by mergers and acquisitionsor developments in business strategy and hiring profile.”Areasthat can be most effectively devolved using IT include performance management,career development, e-learning and salary review. Line managers can also haveinstant access to information about HR functions which have been outsourced –such as pensions, flexible benefits and induction processes. In companiesoperating globally, a unified system for storing and retrieving information isan essential tool for HR departments. KevinDelany, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers, says that this is another field inwhich the US leads the way. “There are different markets and differentfactors across the world, but this approach to devolving HR is mostly happeningin the US and Europe. For instance, General Electric has devolved peoplemanagement down the line.”CiscoSystems is another major US firm that has used IT to devolve HR. The company,which employs over 43,000 staff worldwide, provides computing devices andcomputer networks to client companies, which allow them to access or transferinformation across the globe, and sells its products in around 115 countries.It also uses the Internet to streamline nearly every aspect of its own internalbusiness – a method of working known in the US technology industry as”eating your own dog food”. Employeesarrange benefits, file expense forms and complete training programmes on-line,while managers use it to monitor staff performance. A typical Cisco employee isestimated to tap into the company intranet more than 30 times a day. Prospectiveemployees are also encouraged to apply on-line – and more than 80% use thismethod. Much of the company’s training also takes place on the Web – forinstance, the company posts audio-visual presentations about new acquisitions,products and technology. YochananAltman, professor of international HRM at the University of North London and anindependent consultant who has worked in France, Austria, Hungary, Israel,Australia and Hong Kong, warns that the Anglo-Saxon background of thisIT-enabled trend could cause global firms to overlook national differences.Technology makes the process more efficient, but not less complicated. “Youhave to be cautious about delegating too much to the line without taking intoaccount the legal framework in the country you are operating in – for instance,Marks & Spencer made this mistake in France when it tried to close down anoperation without going through a 30-day consultation period,” he says. “Often,you have to have staff of a certain position in the hierarchy to make decisions– in Belgium, which has the highest union density of any country in Europe,there are certain matters which have to be dealt with by staff at board level.”So,whatever system is used to streamline and focus global HR policy, there aresome areas of responsibility that senior personnel managers will need toretain. But Vance Kearney, European HR director with Oracle (see case study),says that if IT systems are thought through by HR managers strategically enoughat the outset, such considerations can be built into the overall strategy. Andit is possible to create a new way of operating a personnel strategy which canreact to changes and developments as they occur. “WhereHR involvement is key, is in drawing up the right system in the firstplace,” he stresses. “You have to have a common language, by which Idon’t mean English, but an agreed way of defining such things as jobs, skillsand staff turnover. Everything needs to be standardised across thecompany.” That means acknowledging national differences and the need forregional flexibility while still building a consistent system. “If thereis too much compromise across international borders, then everybody will bedoing everything slightly differently – and that is a recipe fordisaster,” he asserts. “Andyou won’t be able to take advantage of new technologies as they arise, becauseit won’t be a case of switching off the old way, and turning on the new, but oftrying to switch off 200 old ways – which could literally take years. You haveto take a very strong leadership position and be determined to fix it once –for everybody.”PetraElliott of Hewitt Associates agrees, and says that this calls for improved linksbetween IT and HR staff at senior level. “There has to be a strong bridgebetween HR and IT,” she says. “Both sides need to consider thepotential of the other when developing new products or introducing newpolicies.”Shesees IT staff as offering not only the means for personnel strategies to bedevolved to the line, but also as role models for HR managers who are seekinggreater corporate influence. “IT has really risen in importance in thepast five or six years – the CIO is now one of the most important people on theboard,” she points out. “And HR is going down the same route.”Tipsfor devolving HRDevolvingHR has enormous implications for an organisation, says Adrian Hobbs, COO of HRPayroll at Microsoft Great Plains Business Solutions. He offers somefundamental points to help ensure successful implementation and fullorganisational support:–Know your people. Understand how employees adapt to new working processes andwhether they adopt new technology easily; what will help them to work with thesystem?–Involve key colleagues at the start. Getting “buy-in” fromstakeholders can make or break the process. These could be the IT department,senior executives, line managers or even “evangelists” who willpromote the system down the line.–Create a clear business plan with defined goals. The plan should be allencompassing, but goals can focus on particular organisational areas that needimprovement – this will also provide a clear measurement tool afterimplementation.–Ask for expert advice about the solutions available to implement the right onefor your organisational needs.–Create a rollout schedule that fits your organisation. Once the human resourcemanagement system (HRMS) is up and running, create small steps to helpencourage employees and managers to take part. Show how easy the system is touse – and, importantly, why it eases their workload or benefits them.–Support the employees; support the new system. Show the organisation that you are on hand to answer questions and helpwith dilemmas. Deal with employee questions straight away to help get themonside. Always remember that some people take longer to adapt to new processes.–You may want to use the marketing department to promote the system, explain whyit is being implemented and raise its profile with success stories. Consider”launching” it by showing it in the office reception or anothervisible employee meeting place; hold breakfast meetings or seminars;communicate via the company intranet or newsletter. It may also be worthregularly researching how the system is working by holding focus groups orissuing surveys.Foryour copy of the Microsoft Great Plains Business Solutions white paper on thefull implications and strategies surrounding e-HR, contact +44 (0)1628 404505or visit www.greatplains.com/europe/hrpCasestudy: OracleInEurope, the Middle East and Africa, Oracle has 14,000 employees in 32countries, whose needs are met by an HR department of around 140 people. Forthe past four years, the HR department has been devolving certain HR functionsto the line, using its own Oracle HR system. “Westarted with pay slips on the Web, instead of having hard copy pay slips,”says Vance Kearney, European HR director. “Then we enabled employees toaccess and update their own data, and since then we have introduced more andmore Internet-based processes.” The full range of HR activities nowavailable on the Internet includes: –employee data– pay slips– salary reviews– flexible benefits – management of purchasing of products and services bought from internaldepartments of the company.”Ithas given us far more flexibility,” says Kearney. “And it has endedthe linear relationship between the number of people in the HR department andthe number of people in the organisation as a whole. We could probably increaseoverall staffing levels by 50% without adding more HR people.”Towork effectively, stresses Kearney, a devolved HR system needs to be thoughtthrough in detail before implementation starts. It will need to be updated andadded to over the years, but getting the system right in the first instance isessential if the organic process is to work properly. “Youneed to work out what needs to be different and what needs to bestandardised,” he warns. “It doesn’t make sense to have 32 differentsystems to do one thing. But there will be a slight difference in the way thatthings are done in each country. For instance, when we started, we had 32different telephone systems in operation, and now we have one global system.That is a process that can be standardised.”Otherfunctions need more careful handling as well. Kearney cites the example ofupdating records – a simple process in the UK, but in Switzerland, wherecitizens are taxed according to the canton in which they live, the line managermust inform the tax authorities if an employee has moved from one canton toanother. Asfar as the role of HR is concerned, Kearney says staff at all levels have benefited.”Admin staff have been trained in dealing with people, rather thankeyboards – they come in when there are specific problems to be dealtwith,” he says. “Beforethis system was set up, we couldn’t answer a simple question like ‘What is thestaff turnover across the company?’ because each country had a different way ofdeciding what this meant. It only took one computer to blow up in Kazakhstanfor the whole thing to be out. Now we have one system which works across theworld.”Furtherinformation…–Cisco Systems: www.cisco.com– PriceWaterhouse Coopers: www.pwcglobal.com– Oracle: www.oracle.com– Hewitt Associates: www.hewitt.comlast_img read more