Technology has greatly enhanced the capabilities of the HR profession over the years, better positioning HR teams to become effective strategic business partners within their organizations. Not too long ago, HR relied on more rudimentary software (such as spreadsheet programs like Excel or word processing like MS Word) to manage employee data. Although many smaller or nascent organizations still use spreadsheets to track employee data because of resource constraints, the process can be cumbersome and prone to user error. Using MS Word for employee performance appraisals instead of performance management platforms has many drawbacks, including the lack of real-time goal-tracking capabilities and inconsistency of performance management and tracking across an organization.

Over the past few years, HR organizations have begun adopting various human resource systems and tools that replace manual data entry and data tracking processes with platforms that keep employee data secure, accurate, and useful. These newer HR information systems (HRIS) simplify the data entry process with the use of customizable forms to collect information, reducing the chance of gathering “bad” or incomplete data. HRIS systems can allow job titles and grade levels to be linked, so just entering the title for an employee can automatically assign the grade level to ensure consistency throughout the organization.

There are several ways in which organizations can think about maximizing the systems and technological tools at their disposal beyond the capabilities mentioned above. Although effective HR involves many tactical aspects, the ultimate goal of any HR team is to become a strategic business partner. HRIS platforms allow HR professionals and others to easily create metrics and build reports using the data, which can then be used to create important business analytics to the organization. Informed leaders can then make decisions from consolidated data that show trends and can help an organization to thrive. For example, if the data is showing high turnover in a certain employee population, such as employees who have been with the company fewer than two years, a focused effort can be launched to understand the reasons. Using business analytics can contribute to providing corrective actions and adjustments.

“It is important for HR professionals to embrace up-and-coming technology and for leadership at organizations to recognize the importance of HRIS systems.”

Reporting features are also important in the context of compliance. For example, HR professionals can use these systems to ensure diversity in talent recruitment. With a click of a button on an applicant tracking system (ATS) (such as Taleo or Greenhouse), a recruitment team can generate a report on the demographics of candidates being considered and hired for open positions to ensure equal opportunities. Applicant tracking systems are an example of a type of system that has helped to streamline recruitment processes and a great investment in aligning with EEOC requirements as well as being able to streamline communications and provide a positive candidate experience.

Another major strategic focus area for any HR team is talent development. Attracting candidates has its challenges; however, retaining candidates in a tight job market (especially in geographic locations such as the San Francisco Bay Area) is even more challenging. As I write this, our job market has drastically changed due to the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, organizations cannot sit idle and stay complacent when it comes to retaining talent. An important differentiator between an organization with excellent talent retention and another with poor talent retention rates could be tied to its use of technology to help identify and assess internal talent. For example, Workday has modules and workflows that enable an organization to assess talent graphically in a nine-box grid based on categories, such as contribution and leadership. At any time, a manager, team leader, or HR professional can generate a report to review talent and understand which individuals need to continue to be nurtured or those who need correction. HR systems empower organizational leaders with the information they need to nurture a top-notch workforce.

In addition, there are HRIS systems that allow employees to create their talent profiles as well as creating and managing succession plans within the system. These capabilities are extremely helpful for organizations so they can track the skills, education, and talent of their workforce, identify gaps, and plan for departures of people from key positions. For example, if a US company is acquiring a company in Germany, they can review the talent profiles of their employees in the HRIS and determine if anyone in the organization is fluent in the German language to support the acquisition process. Additionally, such a system could also help the organization determine who might be a viable successor during the changes of an acquisition. Lastly, if there is a skill gap, the organization now knows to engage HR with recruiting the right individuals to fill it.

As a last word of advice, I leave you with this - it is important for HR professionals to embrace up-and-coming technology and for leadership at organizations to recognize the importance of these tools. Even startups can benefit from putting in place these HR systems early on. The adage “working smarter, not harder” is as true today as it ever was. Choosing the right technological tools is crucial to attracting and retaining talent and allowing HR professionals to spend more time focusing on higher-leverage strategic activities rather than manual data entry and data management. On top of that, HR teams should invest time in training staff on the many features of these systems to maximize their return on investment.