Make it an opportunity
Keeping momentum behind your Human Resources software projects can be notoriously difficult, even after they’ve been approved by the Executive Team.
Whether it’s a whole new Human Resources Information System (HRIS) or simply adding a Talent Management module, there is often a reassessment of the commitment of funds and IT resources when it comes time for the project launch.
It usually begins in an Executive Team meeting.
“Wow, that’s a lot of money and resources. Is this really necessary?”
“Yes, it is,” you say. You know a recap of your original presentation isn’t necessary; you provided and discussed all the reasons and benefits in detail during the budget process. But several ET members exchange looks, and you suddenly get the feeling that you’re losing ground.
“Look, we’re in a good place to get this work completed,” you say. “We’ve staffed up HR to prepare for the implementation, and we’ve been documenting our business processes with management’s input. We’re working with IT to build the RFP so we find a solution that’s in alignment with their system requirements. And, we did commit to the management team that we will meet their HR process improvement requests.”
Then someone says: “I know. But the Sales Division’s software is a mess. They’ve been working on an outdated proprietary system for 20 years. It’s a patchwork of patches. We’re losing direct revenue because of down time and we’re starting to pile up customer complaints. It’s really not about the cost of your project. It’s about the allocation resources and the revenue we’re losing. Or could lose. I think we really need to direct our IT team and resources there. I’m sorry.”
And just like that, energy begins to line up behind the another division’s project and HR’s is on indefinite hold.
To your credit, you get it. The Sales Division’s software is a mess. It’s absorbing the majority of IT’s resources anyway, and you wouldn’t want that 20-year-old system to be your system. You don’t want the revenue generators to crash into the ocean. After all, you’re in the plane with them.
But knowing all that and being on board with the shift doesn’t make it any easier. You’ve likely been through this before, and it’s frustrating and disheartening. You immediately wonder what you’ll need to do next budget cycle to get it through to completion. You know this shift will be a huge disappointment to the HR team, and to some extent, the broader management team. You’re also afraid that the relevance of the preparatory work your team has done will fade with each passing day.
Best option: stay in the game
It may be tempting to throw up your hands and move onto another project that needs your attention. Don’t do it. Although the project delay is a setback, you can convert it to an incredible opportunity.
The best option is to stay engaged with the new, non-HR project. You’ll gain a broader understanding your HR software needs on an enterprise-wide landscape, and you’ll conduct product research more thoroughly than you could by working solely on the HR product. It’s an opportunity to demonstrate your skills and knowledge on a bigger scale, and as a result, you will develop relationships and recognition throughout the organization. The contributions you make, the knowledge you gain, and the reputation you build will better inform and support your strategy and project in the next budget cycle.
Stay right in the thick of it. You have unique skills to contribute, and there are specific actions you can take to benefit your HR team and your future project. Here are some of them:
Become a project team member
Years of working with internal teams, developing and implementing HR technology and programs, and guiding consultants and contractors on a host of projects has crafted a unique skillset that few in the organization can offer. For example, you understand the difference between a training issue and a process issue, which are two of the most confused elements when defining and mapping business processes and solutions with new technology projects.
You’ve very likely worked with internal IT teams on other HR software projects. At times, IT drives the product selection and implementation based on what they believe is easiest and best for them, and not necessarily what is best for their internal customer. You’ve been through those experiences and learned how to effectively and diplomatically push back.
Precisely because core business divisions (like sales, for example) are focused on their day-to-day production goals, they are typically not equipped to see the broader impact of their new software on other divisions and downstream or upstream processes. They also don’t have experience functioning in a project management environment. You can assist them in both. And, you provide a critical non-IT perspective of the project.
If you’re challenged on your involvement, explain why you are one of the best-prepared and most experienced people in the organization to contribute to the selection and implementation of the new project. Tell the project lead you will not only be able to help them, but that this project will help inform you how HR can better partner with them by developing a deeper understanding of their business processes. Offer to sit on the selection and implementation advisory committees. From there you can provide guidance, input, and oversight outside the day-to-day work of the project teams.
Manage the Message
When the decision is made to delay your project or focus on another division, ask the Executive Committee for a day to get the word out to your HR teams. Send an email or meet with them as quickly as possible. IT teams that were assigned to your project can move unbelievably fast when they are told by their managers they are shifting focus. Don’t let your assigned IT team beat you to the punch by sending an email out or posting an update on social media.
Communicate the decision openly with your HR team, and stress the fact that you support the decision to redirect resources where there is the most need in the organization. At the same time, emphasize that while you are disappointed that there isn’t way to move both projects forward at the same time, there will be a benefit to the HR project by staying involved.
In your email or meeting, emphasize these points:
- You believe it’s the right thing to do based on the greatest need, not just for the division in question, but for the organization.
- You recognize the work that has been done to date on the HR project, and want to discuss ways to keep the process mapping work current and ready for implementation at the next available opportunity.
- You will be a member of the non-HR project team to provide assistance, guidance, and an HR perspective.
- There will opportunity to learn and benefit from your continuing involvement in the non-HR project in terms of understanding business processes, being exposed to enterprise-wide software solutions, and observing a large IT implementation.
- You want download that learning to your teams on a regular basis throughout the project.
By consistently communicating these messages to your HR team, and the Leadership and Executive teams, they will likely remember how you handled the shift with diplomacy and tact and by staying involved, rather than throwing up your hands and moving onto something else.
Build Relationships and Reputation
Throughout your involvement with the new non-HR project, you can focus completely on being an advocate. There are times when HR’s role is to deliver unpopular news and decisions to the company, but this is one time when you can absolutely and exclusively advocate for a division.
Listen and help them define and document their needs and their ideas for improvement. Ask questions about their past problems and biggest desires. Answer their questions about your experiences with software selections and implementations thoroughly and promptly. Point out advantages and pitfalls. Help them select the right product based on their needs and no one else’s. Guide them through disagreements with the vendor, implementation contractors, or even the IT division.
Your advocacy will deepen your existing business relationships and create new ones. While you demonstrate your value and expertise, you will learn about the division and develop a deeper understanding of their business operations and synergies. Your interest and education will build credibility both within and outside the division. Those you work with on the project will remember your commitment and effort, and will be more likely to come to your aid when you approach your project again.
Research and Study HR Software
Perhaps the biggest advantage of participating in the non-HR project is that it provides a great way to keep researching your HR solution. Most enterprise-wide software systems and companies offer HR solutions, or they partner with companies that provide them. Regardless of how your organization is focused on their software project (sales, inventory management, general ledger, etc.), you can find a wealth of information and examples of HR software solutions in the mix.
You don’t have to pepper vendors with HRIS questions in their sales presentations and demos: once they know an HR executive is in the process, you can easily find a channel to the sales representative for that product line.
And, as a matter of diplomacy and perception, most software sales reps are savvy about keeping the primary non-HR project in front and center. They understand the nature of HR’s priority in corporate software hierarchy, and that if they contribute to a perception that you’re trying to redirect the project back toward HR needs, their entire sales opportunity could be over.
Nonetheless, be sensitive the perception that you might be over-interested in the possible HR solutions, or that you’re trying to push the current project in a direction that benefits your future HR solution. In addition to not being true to your commitment on the project, just that perception can kill your reputation and relationships in short order, and you may find yourself moved to the edges of (or even off) the project team. Conduct your research with tact and discretion.
There are occasions when, unexpectedly, a connection develops between the current project and the HR solution. For example, the VP of Sales heading the project suddenly identifies a software product that they believe serves both Sales and HR needs. In a perfect world where you both agree on the solution, that might be a great thing. But those agreements are rare, and because the other division is the lead, you may not have a chance to involve your requirements or teams in the selection. The situation can quickly turn awkward if you being to feel like you’re being force-fed an HR solution, or if the other executive feels there’s an advantage to your support of their product by leveraging the HR option. Tread carefully.
Continue to focus on using your involvement on the current project to research HR solutions for future use while staying committed to the primary project. You will bring new insights back to the HR project team and be better prepared when your opportunity begins again.
Study and Document Implementation
This is your chance to observe and document what works (and what doesn’t) on major software implementations at a time when there is no direct effect on you or your HR team.
That is a significant strategic planning advantage: you can prepare your HR team on the difficulties and efficiencies you’re seeing, identify the necessary skill sets they need to develop or maintain to be ready, and calculate the internal resources and budget your project will need.
From the beginning to end of the implementation, you can objectively assess the process and result. From the contracting ins and outs with Corporate Legal, the internal IT protocols and requirements, the effectiveness of the contracted implementation firm, the complexities of building system modifications, to how well the implementation teams trained employees on the use of the product … it will all be laid out before you to observe and study.
Get prepared for the next launch … of your project
After you’ve helped the division select and implement their software, don’t hesitate to ask for help to get yours back on the schedule. You should have plenty of support from their project lead, and greater support from the Executive Team overall.
You can reach out to other business partners in the organization to sit on your project team to help advocate for your project and its implementation.
The good news is that from the delay and initial disappointment, you will have prepared your team for all aspects of the selection process, strengthened relationships and partnerships across the company, and gained knowledge and experience that will help make the implementation more effective than it would have been at the time you originally wanted it to happen.
And, if you’re fortunate enough, perhaps you’ll even have a head start on identifying a few preferred software solutions!