How CHROs Can Partner with CIOs

When HR and IT executives work together, HR technology wins.

By Drew Robb Mar 1, 2014
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March 2014 CoverHR and IT speak different languages: One is concerned about process and career advancement; the other focuses on processors and software development.

"It is always a challenge to map the technology-centric world of IT with the process-centric and people-centric world of HR," says Rob Eidson, principal at Daylight Human Capital Solutions, an HR analytics consultancy in Charlotte, N.C.

However, when it comes to driving innovation and business improvement, no relationship is more important than that between the CIO and CHRO. And with many organizations expecting to make investments in HR technology this year, now is the time to cultivate a connection.

"The CHRO and his or her team members must take the time to understand, learn and be present in the IT strategies and overall CIO goals," says Lisa M. Buckingham, executive vice president and chief HR, brand and communications officer at Lincoln Financial Group in Radnor, Pa. "These relationships are very integral to the success of any type of technology implementation—whether large or small."

We asked several experts with decades of experience what it takes for CHROs and CIOs to forge a good working relationship. Here’s what they had to say.

Focus on Business

The fact that IT and HR don’t share a vocabulary is more of a problem at the departmental level than in the C-suite, where discussions focus on strategy and vision. Fortunately, both the CHRO and the CIO speak the language of business. They communicate about business goals and processes and then translate that data for their own teams.

"The key is to understand how your company makes money, what your company needs to do to drive revenue and then how do you build value from that," explains Martha J. Delehanty senior vice president of HR at Verizon in Bedminster, N.J.

Invite IT

"One of the most important things is to have a seat at the table," says Michael Capone, CIO at ADP. "The person on my team who runs our HR technology actually sits on the leadership team of our CHRO and goes to all their leadership meetings."

This works to the benefit of both departments. By being embedded in HR, that person can fully understand the function’s strategy and educate the HR team members on what technology can do for them. Capone himself also attends HR leadership meetings to help the department develop its strategic plans and work out ways to address demographic challenges, workforce shifts and globalization, among other things.

"This way, we are not just reacting to what they need but helping them see what is possible," he says.

Invade IT

It also works the other way around. Buckingham is a big believer in having the CHRO and/or an assigned colleague join the IT leadership team at weekly meetings or quarterly reviews. Having HR present can help IT define its future skill set requirements, talent gaps and overall personnel strategies.

"If there is constant dialogue between the two organizations, you will have a much better understanding of the technology, overall goals and objectives," she says.

Involve IT

Imagine you learn about exciting new software at the Society for Human Resource Management Annual Conference & Exposition that seems ideal for your needs. Do you go directly to the vendor or talk to IT first?

To build the best partnership, involve IT right off the bat. "Every time we go to them and bring in an outside vendor, they view that as a threat," Delehanty says.

It isn’t simply a matter of pride. There may be hidden costs and additional work required to implement the software, or the existing data may require extensive cleanup and conversion before they can be integrated with something new. There are security considerations, as well. The new technology also may run counter to a companywide IT initiative. While CHROs should familiarize themselves with what is on the market and propose purchases to IT, they should refrain from going it alone.

Set the Record

In discussions with the CIO, make sure HR data are used as a system of record, rather than creating separate data pools that all need to be maintained and coordinated. Use HR data to build continuity across billing, learning and payroll systems.

"There is a lot of power in the HR data; if you harness that as a single source of truth, you can partner very aggressively with the CIO," Delehanty observes. "This makes it easier to scale and reduces the inherent cost structure of the business."

Consolidate Project Management

HR technology is constantly changing. To prevent conflicts and make sure everything works together seamlessly, designate someone to oversee all HR tech projects. Capone says that, until recently, ADP’s projects were divided among the head of staffing, the head of compensation and benefits, and general operations people; there was no vision of a holistic architecture going forward.

"Over the last couple years, we’ve pulled that all in so that there is one integrated project manager for all HR-related activities," he says. "I now have an architect dedicated to HR technology globally making sure that that whole ecosystem works together well."

Establish a Framework

Take a strategic rather than piecemeal approach to setting up HR information systems. Trying to solve a single problem may produce a short-term result in one area but inhibit reaching the overall goal. Adopting and working toward a complete services architecture sets you up for the long term.

"Sit down with the CIO and walk through where you desire to be when it comes to your people, your practices and your processes," Delehanty says. "When you establish a vision of where your end state is, you have a road map you can build with your CIO."

Part of the process includes taking an inventory of your systems and infrastructure and establishing your common initiatives. "That is the best way to forge a relationship," she says. "CIOs don’t want different systems; they want system commonality—and if you show your support, it definitely helps."

Take Stock

Before looking for new technology, make sure the HR team is fully taking advantage of what is already there.

"We spend hours and hours poring over our tech metrics: What tools are our associates using, not using? What could be more effective?" Capone says. "We go very deep into our tools and technology to make sure we are getting the most out of them."

Understand the Full Cost

Before proposing a new piece of technology, meet with the CIO to go over the full cost of the project or how a stand-alone system can produce undesired effects.

"HR always wants newer technology, but we don’t always understand the complexity of the transitions," Delehanty says. "Not understanding the downstream and upstream costs can undermine a decision."

Perfect Partners

When Michael D’Ambrose, senior vice president of HR at Archer Daniels Midland Co., recruited Martin Schoenthaler to be chief information officer, it was the start of a beautiful friendship—and an effective partnership.

“We have a lot of confidence in each other,” D’Ambrose says. “We rely on each other to not only ensure that we are successful in the things that we do in managing information and systems, but even more broadly that we are successful in how we influence the organization to access and utilize some of the tools we have.” Archer Daniels is a $90 billion food processing company with global operations. Here’s what makes the partnership between D’Ambrose and Schoenthaler so effective:

  • Communicating often. “When it comes to communication, we don’t wait until we have the next meeting scheduled,” Schoenthaler says. “We engage very much on an ad hoc basis.” The two often chat in the hallways.
  • Finding the right resources. A few years ago, Archer Daniels determined that its continued growth required a large-scale, multiyear, enterprisewide transformation of both its processes and IT systems. D’Ambrose says it is probably the largest project in the history of the 112-year-old company. It was approved by the board in 2012, and work began in earnest in mid-2013. “We have very finite resources,” D’Ambrose says, “so the biggest challenge, and the magic of our relationship, is making sure we put the right resources on the right project at the right time so we get the right results.”
  • Spotting rogue implementations. “It is easy for our HR teams to hire an IT consultant in Singapore or Brazil, and before you know it, they are off doing things that are not in the best interests of the enterprisewide project,” D’Ambrose says. He and Schoenthaler have worked together to stop such “shadow projects” in their tracks.
  • Sharing a common goal. “At the end of the day, it is all about the business outcome,” Schoenthaler says. “It is not about having the fanciest technology or the fastest processor; it is about people making more money, happy customers and delighted employees.”

Adds D’Ambrose: “It is important to work hard to understand the challenges and the objectives of your partner. To the extent that you really understand those challenges and face them together, you will forge a strong relationship that will yield positive results.”

Keep Up on Tech Trends

Finally, the CHRO needs to take time to learn about technology and how it relates not only to HR but also to overall business processes. While HR employees won’t be expected to be as tech-savvy as IT staff, they should have a good understanding of basic IT principles and a broad knowledge of how technology can assist them in their business function. This includes having a good grasp of current technology trends, such as mobile applications and cloud computing, as well as being familiar with the company’s technology road map.

This doesn’t mean that every member of the HR staff should have "a deep domain understanding of technology," Buckingham says. But "making a sincere effort to learn more about the complexities of technologies will help" HR leaders forge a dynamic partnership.


Drew Robb is a freelance writer in the Los Angeles area.

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