Why It’s Important to Create People-First HRIT Teams

By Dave Zielinski January 17, 2022
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IT workers

​Human resource information technology (HRIT) specialists are worth their weight in gold when it comes to configuring, managing and troubleshooting the growing number of HR technology platforms used in organizations. Yet given recent changes in the workplace, some experts believe HRIT functions need to use more of those technical skills to improve the employee experience rather than just focusing on enhancing the efficiency or regulatory compliance of technology systems. 

In a presentation at Gartner's recent virtual ReimagineHR Conference, Dion Love, vice president of research and advisory services for Gartner, said technology plays an outsized role in the employee experience and HRIT functions should dedicate more of their time to ensuring end-users have frictionless experiences with HR platforms.

"Half of the CHROs that Gartner surveyed in 2021 said technology actually hinders rather than improves the employee experience," Love told conference attendees. Gartner research also found employees who are dissatisfied with their workplace technology are twice as likely as others to look for new positions externally.

HR technology analysts and other experts agree that no stone should be unturned in the effort to stem growing worker resignations and dissatisfaction with jobs. Technology should be a logical focus of that initiative given how much time employees spend using digital tools during their workdays.

James McQuivey, vice president and research director for Forrester, wrote in a blog post that executives need to give greater consideration to all of the factors that impact worker satisfaction in 2022—including their experience with corporate technologies—as employees gain more leverage in the workplace.

"Executives have been comfortable talking about the employee experience for a few years now," McQuivey wrote. "But none of this rising focus has prepared them for the commensurate rise of employee power. The very turbulence that your employees just survived has now placed them in a different state of mind. They want different things, and they expect improved resources to enable their success at work. And looking around, employees see evidence suggesting that they can ask for and receive the reasonable things that they want."

3 Ways to Make HRIT More People-Centric

In his presentation, Love detailed three strategies for creating what he calls more "human-centric" HRIT functions with the goal of improving the employee experience.

Create journey maps to prioritize HRIT investments in "moments that matter." Managing the portfolio of HRITs' work in ways that positively influence key moments for employees—be it onboarding, a performance review, returning from parental leave or a promotion—is key to creating people-first HRIT functions, Love said.

"There are clear opportunities for impacting the employee experience in HRIT, but they're often buried in a pile of work and not always identified as initiatives the function needs to prioritize," he said.

HRIT teams are tasked with configuring and managing multiple technology platforms, overseeing and testing updates, processing reports, ensuring that systems comply with data security and privacy requirements, and other technical duties.

"While those tasks are essential, HRIT functions are often doing more work in these areas but driving less value for employees," Love said. He cited recent Gartner research that found only 1 in 5 HR leaders say their team is effective at gaining full value from HR technology systems.

Love said technology company Nokia is one example of an organization that adjusted the work priorities of its HRIT group to better emphasize the employee experience. It created cross-functional teams to help identify employees' key technology needs and how they might be changing, Love said.

One such change was the move to a hybrid work environment, a shift that resulted in modifications to an onboarding process. After gathering feedback, Nokia made two changes to its onboarding process to make it more user-friendly and effective. The HRIT function made more-frequent updates to an onboarding portal to ensure that information on "buddies"—employees available to shepherd new hires through orientation—was current and easily accessible, and also created automated reminders to help ensure full attendance at key onboarding meetings.

Focus partnerships between HR and IT on the employee experience. Communication between HRIT and IT functions or line managers too often is only one-way and needs to change to a two-way dialogue, Love said.

"Much of the conversation is now one-way with HRIT communicating primarily about system updates, such as new requirements for a payroll system," he said. "Those conversations should be opened up based on objectives around improving the employee experience." 

Why is that change necessary? Gartner research found only 41 percent of HR executives think their HRIT function is a strategic partner to the business, Love said, indicating a need for improved communication and closer partnerships that focus more on digital transformation rather than only on system updates or compliance matters.

At material sciences company Dow, for example, Love said the HRIT team is partnering with HR subject matter experts in new ways with the objective of improving the employee experience.

In one case, changes to a compensation structure at Dow were expected to lead to increased employee traffic on the company's benefits system portal. Following proactive collaboration with Dow's global compensation leader, the HRIT group configured the portal to ensure the system would be ready for the increased traffic.

"In such partnerships, experts like those in compensation provide in-depth insight into employee workflow and emerging priorities and then HRIT translates those insights into technology action steps to enhance the employee experience," Love said.

Create cross-platform experiences for HRIT staff to build more agility in meeting diverse employee experience priorities. Love said many HRIT functions need to be able to pivot in rapidly changing work environments such as those brought on by the pandemic. Giving HRIT professionals more diverse and cross-platform skills also can help improve job satisfaction by allowing them to pursue career goals, he said.

Some HRIT functions ask staff to assess their own skills in a range of technical competency areas and ask what skills they'd like to develop to pursue new opportunities. For example, a HRIT specialist with self-assessed competency in time and absence management technologies might be identified to lead a project to globalize time management functionality or to help assist in a project to automate resume screening.

"Giving HRIT professionals these diverse experiences is how you start to build that capability of agility in your staff," Love said.

Dave Zielinski is principal of Skiwood Communications, a business writing and editing company in Minneapolis.

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