The Top 5 Questions HR has on Technology

Discussion posted by Mike Briercliffe

Summary compiled by Cris Wildermuth


129 comments (as of 09/24/13)


Questions or Comments on “Making it Easy”:


The gist of it: What is “easy” and intuitive for an IT person is not necessarily easy for non-IT professionals.


·         Why can't IT people design programs that are easy to use by non IT people? It seems to me that when IT people suggest that a program is intuitive, they mean it is intuitive to someone who already has a pretty broad understanding.


·         HR IT systems are in most cases complicated and offer expanded options which are not used by end users. And a question is: How to design a simple and easy to use (for end users like managers, employees) HR systems? How to combine declared needs (design) with IT solutions (tools) and common sense and simplicity (final product)?


·         With my practical mind, I sometimes struggle to understand why a programmer or programming company would design a system where the GUI is at best, overwhelming for someone with limited system experience.


·         How can I make the tool easy for senior management, supervisors and employees to use? Show benefits, safety and ease.


Questions or Comments on “Integration”:


The gist of it: People want one system to do it all.


·         System integration and data consistency is always a challenge. So what are they doing to ensure that all their systems (HR, Payroll, Recruiting, HRIS, Reporting etc.) talk to each other with minimal human intervention, that everyone in the Organization is working off the same data at any given moment, and multiple entry of the same data in different systems or modules, (wastes time and effort, leads to inaccuracy and inconsistency), is avoided?


·         When will we see a technology integrated solution to attract, hire, manage and engage direct hire and contract workers on the same platform? Further, when will we see a procurement tool that has an applicant tracking system (ATS) embedded as part of the tool?


·         There are no systems out there that can do all of what is required to maintain HR and payroll. This is the foundation of comprehensive HR Administration and record keeping. I have seen companies run 3, sometimes 4 systems to be able to store this info.


·         Not only in HR but elsewhere in the business we often have multiple sets of numbers (data) It needs to develop a system that uses 1 set of numbers, from new hire set up, payroll, production, training and more. Enter once and it is done. The other question I would ask is about integrating social media into the different systems.


·         Yes, the most nightmare experience in my past years, we employed one system for EE basic data, one for performance management and talent management, one for payroll. Of course, every system we need some same basic data (I think you know what these are :)), the frustrating thing is that there is few interface among systems. Meanwhile, we even keep our leave status manually in EXCEL!!


·         Will there ever be a fully integrated, "end-to-end," HR solution?


Questions on Interactions between HR and IT:


The gist of it: People wonder how these two groups of professionals can communicate better. There were various comments on whether HR participates in IT design decisions and/or how HR could best help IT.


·         Perhaps the thing to do is select an well versed experienced HR professional with some accounting experience and convert them into IT folks....then they might understand what we need!


·         I would ask how and what representation of real HR practitioners have when it comes to the design and development of HR and HCM systems. Considering the limitations we have in most HRIS as end users, it is quite clear to that, HR professionals contribution in the initial design and development before the product goes to the market is very limited.


·         Similarly, what HR issues frustrate IT professionals most, and are there easily accessed or creative solutions that can meet the needs of both? How can the two compromise?


·         Also, what are the most frequent competing goals, objectives and strategies between IT and HR?


Questions or Comments on People and Technology:


The gist of it: Some members were frustrated that the IT systems designed for HR do not capture enough about the complexities of human beings.


·         The IT function is a support function to HR. IT should provide tools to record, track and quantify those items to which numerical values can be assigned. People (employees) and their innumerable talents, foibles, attributes, personalities, moods, feelings, motivations are not so easy to quantify. IT needs to remember that employees are not little robots, they are human beings!! There are many intangibles that IT cannot comprehend about HR in general. A great beginning to your IT conference would be to remind the IT world that their very valuable role is to support HR and that IT does not run HR, but that HR may rely on IT for metrics for its decision making.


·         When we talk about IT solutions for HR management, generally the first thing that comes to our mind is quantitative/measurable/hard data, However, the core of this subject is purely soft/qualitative in nature based on human emotions, commitment, trust, psychological contract, dedication, attitude, abilities, capabilities, etc.  How can you link both sides in the best possible manner?


·         When are vendors and end organizations going to realize that having candidates respond to a job posting by forcing them to enter lots of information (…) only deters quality candidates from applying at all? The best candidates will not be bothered, nor should they have to do anything more than send their resume to a real person who actually reads it (even it is a 5 second glance). Over thinking and over automation in HR is for the most part a disaster. How is getting back to basics being addressed?


Questions or Comments on Confidentiality:


The gist of it: There were some questions/concerns around confidentiality/data protection.


·         I would like to know what precautions/measures can be taken to protect sensitive employee personal information. What can be done to ensure this data cannot be hacked into or accessed by those who are not authorized access to it, putting the employee and the company at risk.


·         How the data can be secure as it is a confidential data. Although the IT professionals will talk about ethics but an HR should ask for some strong steps or options to actually save the data.


The question I’d really like to know “what is this all about”:


This was an isolated question but I got really curious…


·         It’s official ... Millions of productivity dollars a year are wasted by people wrestling with formatting documents, reorganizing indents, bullet points and paragraph numbering. This is the dirty little secret of the software industry. Yes nowhere near as exciting as clouds, dashboards and the ultimate talent management system but still, many people quietly and openly range at the anonymous guy with the dirty T shirt somewhere in a development lab who developed the code for indents, paragraph numbers and pagination. Training people hasn't worked and is clearly not the answer ('damn', said the vendors product marketer). How can you save hours and hours of wasted time and diminished productivity with the mind numbingly mundane but central issue of document formatting.



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Please fight back

Since Friday afternoon - when I first heard about the Sandy Hook massacre – I have founght overwhelming feelings of sadness, anger, and despair. Sadness at the state of our humanity. Anger that more has not been done to protect those children and others to come. Despair at the complexity of the problem.


I know, as I write this column, that most of you share these feelings. Of course we don't all agree on the solutions - indeed, I'm sure we're about to have a lively political debate on what to do next. I welcome this debate. I hope this debate IS indeed, lively, and further hope that we don't forget - that we don't EVER forget. Not this time.


I dedicate this blog today to the little victims of Sandy Hook Elementary and to their heroic teachers. Let’s take a moment to look at their pictures and memorize their names (you can find them here: )


We weren't there to protect those children with our lives. We didn't use our bodies as shields like Anne Marie Murphy. We didn't desperately try to send the coward elsewhere like Victoria Soto. We didn't run towards danger disregarding our own safety like Dawn Hochsprung and Mary Sherlach. We weren't there to do anything at all - and were powerless to protect the victims or their families from unimaginable grief. Regardless, there is much that we can do right from we are. We can take the time to THINK - searching the depths of our consciences to understand where we truly stand. We can fight our discomfort and ENGAGE in civil yet honest conversations, expressing our views and listening to others. We can ENGAGE even when others' views make our skin crawl and our blood boil. This is, after all, too important of a time for any of us to retreat into the safety of our own unchallenged beliefs.  


Finally, once we feel that we have a better understanding of this complex problem – one that defies simple solutions – we can gather the courage to LEAD. We LEAD even if we lack the formal authority or mandate to participate in government discussions. We LEAD, even if we do not belong to formal think tanks. We LEAD by making our voices known - loudly. We LEAD by organizing others. We persevere - no matter what. We take ownership of our broken society and we refuse to be silenced.


I should be wishing Happy Holidays to our community this week. Instead, I leave you with three words.


Please. Fight. Back.






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Kingdom Tycoons Simulation


We had a blast this weekend with the Kingdom Tycoons simulation in the Ethics Class.  The discussions were simply amazing!  A heartfelt thank you to the students who helped me put this together and to the class who participated so beautifully - you guys made me proud to be a professor and made my job so rewarding...

Here is an explanation of what I did.  A disclaimer: This is not a terribly original idea - simulations like the one that I ran "pop up"  under different names and with different scenarios and rules.  As a colleague in the Linked:HR group rightfully pointed out, one could say that I " somewhat" reproduced the scenario pioneered by teacher Jane Elliott in Iowa thirty years ago (for those unfamiliar with Ms. Elliott's work, go to ).

At the end of the day, what I was trying to do was differentiate people into three groups (upper, middle and lower class), give them different set of resources, and then watch what happened.

Basically what you should do to reproduce what I did is:

  1. Come up with a way to differentiate people into 3 groups: Upper class (I called this group "The Dukes,"  middle class (I called this group "The Knights") and lower class (I called this group "The Peasants").
  2. How do you differentiate? Truly it doesn't matter - any game of chance will do.  However, come up with a system in which *some* skill matters but it's mostly about luck and the beginning set of resources. Give some people more resources to play than others - maybe better cards or more game pieces or whatever makes sense in the game you picked. Then watch - usually people with a better "beginning"  have a better chance to win. For instance, imagine a game of poker in which some folks start with a bunch of Aces and others with a variety of low cards.  Further imagine that in said game some people are given more chips with which to bet than others...
  3. After you differentiate, send people to different parts of the room and give them different sets of resources. In my version we celebrated the accomplishments of the Dukes and showered them with "stuff" (including boxes of donuts and decorations for their table).  The "Peasants"  had basically nothing - the "Knights" were somewhere in between.
  4. Next, give them something to do. In my version, they had to build a prototype of a new kingdom using Lego pieces (and yes, the Dukes by then had far more pieces than the Knights, and the Peasants had none whatsoever).
  5. Somewhere half way through the process, give the class the opportunity to rewrite the rules of the game (in my version I told them they could rewrite the "Constitution."  That's where it gets REALLY interesting - in my class, the Peasants wanted total equality, the Knights wanted a complicated change of rules that would involve more "mentoring" of the Peasants and more social mobility, and the Dukes wanted... nothing (duh).  A fair amount of "charity"  happened, with Knights pressuring the Dukes to contribute more resources.  Really - fascinating.  In approximately 2 hours I created a scenario that gave us a weekend of deep discussions on opportunity, merit, the role of "luck,"  and... what leaders can and should do about it.


Good luck! If you come up with a different version, how about sharing what you did? Also, let me know what happened!

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How do you spot a nightmare?

An interesting discussion started this week in our Big Five Group has to do with the "Dark Side" of the personality (click here to access the discussion or join the group to contribute to it!). Specifically, one of our group's members, Dr. Gordon Curphy, wondered if the Big Five personality traits allow us to find "team killers" - people who "destroy team morale and cohesiveness" (thank you Dr. Curphy for your contribution!)

Dr. Curphy's question got me thinking: Are there traits on the Big Five that would allow us to predict organizational gremlins? I'm talking about people whose general behaviors would make most people uncomfortable - perhaps people who are abrasive, rude, arrogant and yes, unethical.  Yikes.  Have you ever worked with someone like that?

As I write the question, however, I can see all sorts of problems in trying to "identify" a nightmare.  Here are just a few:

Nightmares are Relative
Nightmarish tendencies could lie in the eye of the beholder! I could call "arrogant" someone whom others see as "charismatic."  A "rude" person could simply be more direct than I am or disagree with me on a variety of key areas. How about unethical? That's tougher but still possibly relative - I could judge as "unethical" behaviors that others would find perfectly reasonable. More importantly, I might be more likely to judge as "unethical" something that is likely to damage my interests.  In other words: Possibly, differences between my personality and the personality of the nightmare in question govern my own perceptions.

Nightmares have Mirrors
Maybe I'm the nightmare... or at least part of it! For instance, if two people are equally low in accommodation / agreeableness and equally high in need for stability / neuroticism they could disagree vehemently... who is the nightmare then? Both of them?

Nightmares bring Gifts
A "nightmare" could actually bring something good to the table.  For instance, a tad of arrogance could work well if it translates to the outside world as rightful pride in the organization.  The same person who is perceived as "abrasive" to the team could sell this same team beautifully to outside clients. Unless the situation is extreme (or perhaps even pathological) a combination of personality traits is unlikely to be all bad under all circumstances.

Nightmares are Complex
Finally, a "nightmare recipe"  may require more than traits.  Instead, nightmares may require an explosive combination of traits, values, and motivations. Case in point: Consider someone who is ultra high in need for stability / neuroticism (i.e., reactive, nervous, and prone to anger), ultra low in accommodation / agreeableness (a challenging "limelight seeker"), ultra low in trust and tact, somewhat dry and unfriendly, and ultra high in need to "take charge" and in perfectionism. Before you say "ouch," however, consider the possibility that this same person is exquisitely self-aware, having participated in countless coaching sessions and in 360 exercises. As a result, this person may have learned to compensate for his/her tougher tendencies.  Further, this person's goals and values could serve as powerful motivators to control his/her behaviors. After all, the relationship between traits and behavior is not that perfect - two people with similar trait tendencies may still behave differently (for a better review of "additional layers" impacting behaviors, the reader is directed to the fabulous work of Dr. Dan McAdams).

In summary - diagnosing nightmares is far from simple.  Even if everyone in the team agreed that person X is a nightmare he/she could still have important redeeming values - or, alternatively, something in the system could be exacerbating someone's natural tendencies. Perhaps, therefore, our thinking on this topic might go beyond "how to diagnose a nightmare."  We could also figure out how to diagnose nightmarish conditions (does the system bring the "worst" in everyone?) and relationships (how incompatible is this particular team?).  Further, we might learn how to best communicate about nightmares.  How can a team member approach a colleague and say "Houston, we have a problem, now let's talk"? 

Your thoughts?

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The Health Disconnect

The statistics included in the article “The Economic impacts of Obesity in the Workplace” (sponsored by Alere) are sobering: “Obesity is associated with 39 million lost work days, 239 million restricted-activity days, 90 million bed days and 63 million physician visits per year” ( ). Next, I read in “Wellness as a Business Strategy (sponsored by Keas): The threat isn’t coming from foreign competition, rising energy costs or regulatory uncertainty. It’s coming from within—in the form of obese, sedentary, stressed, unproductive, disengaged and chronically ill employees” ( ).


Here is a summary of what I’ve been reading: The health situation is dire and does impact the bottom line. Organizations should seriously address the problem and consider initiatives to reduce obesity, eliminate tobacco and drug use, and promote a healthy lifestyle.


It’s part of my job, however, to be both skeptical and curious. My skeptical side wonders if organizations are “really” serious about this problem. My curiosity then leads me to the following question: Has this whole discussion on the impact of health reached organizational leaders?


Here’s why I ask: A “no pain” solution to the employee wellness crisis does not seem to exist. Instead, wellness-serious organizations may need to address issues such as long hours , toxic leaders, unsafe work conditions, poor training, and so on. Lack of wellness is not ONLY caused by employees who eat too many French fries. For instance:


  • A 2006 Australian study by Ostry and colleagues found that working long hours was positively associated with higher BMI.
  • In the same year, a Japanese study by Nishitani and Sakakibara identified relationships between stress and obesity. Indeed, anxious workers’ eating patterns were similar to those of obese individuals.


This week, I challenge my Linked:HR colleagues to share experiences / examples of a possible DISCONNECT between organizational wellness initiatives and organizational stressors. Specifically:


  • When have you witnessed organizational “health initiatives” run counter to managerial demands and organizational resources?
  • What do you think could/should be done to better “connect the dots” between organizational culture and employee wellness?


Tip: Ask these questions in an informal survey within your own organization. You might be surprised by your findings.


Happy learning!


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