Oversensitive or Overengineering?

I frown.

Another request comes by to modify the process accommodating yet another special scenario.

Add a branch. Divert the workflow to Manager; or Admin; or Skip Manager. At this point, the process map in front of me looks like traffic on a busy Indian street with movements in all directions, everyone going where they want to go and somehow all of it fitting on the narrow roads and miraculously not crashing into each other. I have added so many branches to this process that I can’t find the original path any more!

This is my story today as a vendor catering to maddening process variations of my customers.

This was my story yesterday as a HR practitioner; this was my story in a past life a system integrator.

Like Indian mythologies, where you would have Siva Purana, Bhagavata and Devi Purana narrating the same story from different view points, I have experienced this in different flavours from all sides of the fence.

The well meaning practitioner wants to satisfy the whim of the employees. “It is too sensitive to terminate an employee on performance grounds”, she says, “I would instead have the employee raise a resignation and record the reason as performance”.

The service minded System Integrator has nothing but customer satisfaction in mind. “Oh yes”, he says “We can customize the product to have 37 emails and 20 different workflows for your process”.

The vendor has two choices. The established vendors say they can support it; at a cost of course. The wannabes say, “Bring it on, we are flexible”.

Finally comes the employee. She tries to navigate through the web of options –  created with her sensitivities in mind, of course! Ironically what the systems have contrived and put in place is effectively lost on the end user. All she wants is to get it done and over with. “Give me a two click process. I shouldn’t have to think about this”.

Don’t get me wrong. I think it is all well intended. HR teams care about their people. A Manager is too busy to approve his team’s requests? Let us get someone else to do it. They care enough to tweak the processes to keep the ball rolling.

The complexity is introduced when computer systems and automation and digitization enter the picture. And when you have Compliance in the far end. HR’s carefully curated process variations don’t exactly fit into a system process that executes smoothly and spits out a perfect report for compliance at the end of the road.

I am reminded of my shopping experiences. When I go to my local grocer, he tells me what is fresh and what is not. Since I am a regular customer, he sells me Toor dal at Rs.20 lesser than the market price. And when I am done, he gives me a handwritten bill with the costs scribbled on it and totaled up in the old traditional way of counting. He doesn’t have a POS system; let alone a calculator.

When I go to a Super Market, in contrast, the staff cannot help me much with the quality of the products nor can they provide variable pricing depending on the customer. But I get my items neatly packed and I can complete my whole shopping experience without interacting with another human being. I can pay by credit card and walk about with a computer printed receipt.

When HR processes move from manual/ excel sheets, the transition is similar to that, at a much more chaotic scale!

That brings me to two questions I have been asking myself –

1. Are HR processes not supposed to digitized? Are they not meant for a system? Do we leave them high touch and let HR be HR, caring about people and making the difficult relationship between organization and employees work better?

2. What do employees really want? Do they want a local grocer or a Super market experience?

I know the answer to the second question. I have heard this from our end users who have been giving feedback about our product. Employees love the automation. They like having all the information they need at the click of a button and being able to perform transactions without taking time off from work or go see another team. It works well for most operational processes; most of the time.

If I attempt to answer quesiton #1 with what I know about question #2,  then it would be: HR should be digitized, as that is what employees want. But the problem lies in how we do it. Here are some high level thoughts, which I am happy to go deeper into if interested:

1) Think digitization; not automation of your existing processes. There is a difference.

2) Follow the 80-20 rule. Build the process for 80%. 20% exceptions will always exist and you can find different ways to handle those. (When you build for exceptions, you create pathways for people to move like traffic on Indian roads)

3) Be ready for transparency. Transparency has its downside but Digital operations come with it and we just have to handle it. Again, employees love transparency.

It is not that complex.

If you have any more thoughts, would love to hear it.

Originally published on LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/over-sensitive-engineering-case-keeping-hr-operations-inbamuthiah

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