How HR Can Create Value: Fixing the Broken Button

The other day I was at a client’s office listening to a presentation.  The topic was how to effectively complete the company’s online timecard system. As the group was discussing the details of how to complete the online timecard, the talk turned to how to notify ones supervisor of impending PTO (Personal Time Off). One of the audience members piped up and said, “Well that’s easy— the XYZ system (not its real name) has a section in the upper right hand that says “Notifiy your supervisor via email.  All you have to do is click on the box.”  At which point someone else said, “Oh, that box?  It doesn’t do anything.”

“For real?”

“Yeah, for real. I learned the hard way.”

“Oh, man, I’ve been checking that box every time I file for PTO. You mean that my supervisor never gets an email?”

“Yep, pretty much.”

 The training participants looked to their instructor to verify that this was so.  Sheepishly, the instructor (who was a senior manager with the company) said Yes, it’s true. Actually, he did a marvelous job massaging the information so that the company didn’t look like it was hosting a total goat rodeo.

All the while, I’m quietly sitting in the back of the room thinking: Seriously?!  A section in an online employee timekeeping system that says “Check this box to notify your supervisor” and it’s not functional?  I felt like we were in a Dilbert comic strip. Back in the day, when I was in Human Resources, this kind of organizational idiocy made me crazy. (Although it is great fodder for comic strips and blog posts.)  I’m not in HR any more, but if I were counseling someone who is, this is what I’d recommend. . . 

Assess the Impact of the Situation

First of all, maybe nobody else thinks this is a big deal.  It seemed like a big deal during the training session, but it needs to be verified.  So, check in with your sources on the frontline throughout the organization (because, being the savvy HR person you are, of course you’re well networked). Send a few emails/phone calls to find out: how often does this happen? What’s the impact? Then, check in with a couple of folks in IT- what does it take to get this fixed? 

Let’s say that your frontline supervisors say, No Big Deal. Or, when you check with IT, it’s a battle that they’re not willing to help you with. It’s probably best to move on. You’ve got plenty of other fires to put out, right?

On the other hand, let’s say that your investigative work uncovers that it’s a problem and several miscommunications have occurred. Further, IT says it would not be a huge deal to fix (even if “fixing” means removing the check box altogether).

Build the Case

One of the great things about being in HR is you have great data at your fingertips.  So, you can quickly build a financial case about this issue:  estimate how many miscommunications occur as a result of employees mistakenly thinking they’ve communicated their absence to the supervisor.  Estimate the financial cost in monthly terms (hours productivity lost X average hourly wage= monthly productivity drain.) Then, contrast that with the estimated cost to fix it (average hourly IT wage X # of project hours to fix = investment). Numbers are the language of business. If the numbers are persuasive, move ahead. 

Gain Supporters

This is where it gets strategic. Think about who in the company might support this “fix it” project and (this is the important part) who also has the organizational influence to help you get it done. Pick one or two people who fit this bill. Sit down with them and explain the situation.  Show them how the company will benefit and share your financials. Enlist their support for when the project stalls.  Let them know you’ll give the periodic updates.

Execute the Plan

Once you get the go-ahead, circle back to the people you polled before. Ask: “I’ve been authorized to help get this fixed.  What else do I need to know before moving ahead?”  If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years, even seemingly simple projects like removing a check box from an online form have hidden pitfalls.  Another benefit of checking in with the people you tapped: it lets them know that you actually listened to their input and are taking action

Then, go make it happen.  Let’s say it takes 2 weeks months to get it done. (It always takes longer than planned, and let’s face it, this won’t be a high-priority project.) After the project is finished, you’re still not truly finished, because there’s one more thing and that’s . . .

Talk about the Success

I would advise my HR colleague in this situation to “talk it up” a bit when mentioning this project. Yes, toot your own horn, or a least toot the success of the project.  If you are going to be seen as a player who adds value to the company, then you have to be seen. Toiling away in some hidden back room is not the way to go. So be sure that you (again) circle back to those who helped you out: your colleagues in IT, supervisors on the frontline and your supporters in upper management.  A quick email will suffice.

Now, maybe these suggestions seem like a lot of work, all for the sake of fixing a broken button. Perhaps. But I ask you this: as a professional in HR, isn’t your role to make the workplace function more effectively and with less cost?  If that’s how you view your role, then this would be an ideal project to take on.

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