Supporting Success: How to Safeguard the Early Days

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In our 12-part series, Kate Wadia – Managing Director at Phase 3 Consulting - guides the HR professional through how to navigate, succeed and lead with HR tech project-work. From the inception of the business case to the handover into BAU, we’ll follow an indicative project timeframe to explain the way and the why of a project step-by- step, to give you a full toolkit of practical points, a deciphering of definitions and the top tips to get results important to HR and the wider business.

Going live we looked at in part 10 as both a set of practical steps to take and as a moment of risk. We considered tactics to secure maximum uptake and reduce the risks associated with not only system performance but organisational and cultural coping skills.

Just as there is considerable leverage that you have as project managers and within the HR team to increase the chances that going live is smooth, so you have the opportunity to safeguard the early days of running a new HR system.

The early days of running your live people technology – where it’s let loose amongst those people - is our focus for this chapter.

This part is all about help and setting up support for you, your users and your team. A natural consideration is your resourcing during project-mode (and see part 6); less commonly do people look at the help that you can line up ahead of time for early days and running life afterwards.

Here I point to practical things you can do to be optimally supported by:

  • Managed services and/or hosting providers – or IT teams
  • Your ‘super-users’
  • Others in the user community

I include a list of essential communications tactics, which are a part of establishing these robust frameworks, and a summary reminder of the sources of ongoing advice out there for your access.

Tip: Please do not wait to read this until you’re live! Many of these strategies need to be set up in advance. It is a common project mistake to make early judgements about ongoing support styles, such as the decision to go hosted, to opt for managed payroll services or to create new in-team HR system admin roles, without a full appreciation of later impacts. Of course, you need to make these decisions early. But in those early decisions, avoid too much focus on the short-term project delivery and too little on the (more impactful!) fuller product lifespan. It is a game of unintended consequences!

Hosting and managed Services: how best to be helped and managed

During the system selection process, there are three associated considerations that compose a typical SaaS (often mistaken as synonymous with ‘cloud’) software purchasing: the licence model, the IT hosting and your managed service or bureau arrangement. These deal with the financing, the physical infrastructure of the technology and the support for your HR and payroll transactional processes respectively.

It is a fallacy that these three aspects of a cloud contract plan cannot be divorced and I encourage you to work with providers, using more than one if you wish to, to arrive at the right combination to suit you. Separate product from service.

When it comes to supporting your processes, the key benefits of allowing your HR transactional work to be outsourced are about focusing on your core HR strengths and allowing higher volume work to be managed with economy of scale. The more complex services – such as those involved in a fully-managed payroll service or people analytics – allow you to do without the need to resource in-house and with less risk.

There are surprising cost efficiencies with managed services too.

Key Question: how should I decide whether to go for managed service plans? In my experience, culture within the HR leadership team is a good indicator of success with outsourced HR services – as well as reputation of service providers. It is highly dangerous to ignore any clues that either will not be receptive to working well together! Equally, as an HR or Finance Head, you may be well-aware as to whether you carry internal over-reliance or undue cost on individuals less expert than you suspect is really necessary. This should tend you towards looking externally. 

The reason many organisations become disillusioned with managed service plans is often about a prescription from the provider as to their precise scope (the exact tasks taken on may not be the right fit) or about poor service experiences. With the right service-provider and closer early understandings, these can be overcome.

In your business case, you will have addressed the Total Cost of Ownership (‘TCO’). Now that most system licensing choices are tending to SaaS models, the balance of the equation shifts significantly from the initial cost consideration to the costs involved in ongoing maintenance and support. TCO, and consequently the project ROI, is often modelled over a three-year plan. I think that five years is the more likely lifespan for a core HCM solution in any but the most modest of contexts.

Make your decisions about the type of service based on the full expected lifespan of your product included in your business case and examining all types of cost involved in HR system ownership. 

Tip:  It is a good idea to break services down into a ‘you do, we do’ list. Do not worry if you wish to insist that this is a degree more practical and granular than the SLA offered to you or that others seem to expect. There are many intricate examples in payroll – spell them out. Where does one team end and the next team start?

The questions of service support above impact the full contract term. Here are some hints to beef up initial system support, for which there needs to be extra consideration in early days:

  • If you have set up an internal helpdesk as a point of contact for all of your users, then double the planned capacity until you are safely past first key milestones - particularly payday. This means not only extra people but more phone-lines or call queue options. Do make sure those phone numbers are very clearly displayed!
  • At this stage shift the personnel you involved in the project learning and testing stages into new operational roles so that the right teams are immediately seen to be in the front-line.
  • Expert back-up is a wise move, with availability of consultants. Consultants should not take early-days employee or manager queries directly, but offer-behind-the scenes support – show that your own team can handle user difficulties or problems with the live system

Key Question: what does a helpdesk do? Most software providers have a helpdesk for support. Yet just what support means varies hugely. You must find this out. The lowest cost plans may be limited to a system to report faults. Sometimes support teams will give you user guidance. Understand what happens at two ends of a spectrum of enquiry: firstly the high-volume easy-peasy, such as password resetting and secondly the low-volume but expert request that results in consultancy need. How are you going to deal with each? Beware of Service Level Agreements (‘SLA’’s) and response time. Does the SLA give response time to answer a phone? Or to fully resolve the problem? I think this is a sensible line of enquiry when you take references for a system in the selection stages.

Super-user support

Super-users are key to your success both in early days and the ongoing user experience within your organisation. By the term ‘super-user’ we tend to mean those individuals in functional rather than managerial roles who have an extra degree of system or process knowledge in order to guide others internally, make changes and support processes.

Because super-users are so key to supporting the new system, support for those experts themselves is also vital. In early days be aware that all will wish to convey a confidence in those people as they handle early processes, results and responses. You must lead by example in doing so.

In part 10 a list of ideas for communication helped you aim for optimum uptake and engagement. These were discretionary and desirable ideas. By contrast, regard the list below as must-dos to have in place for your super-users. Notice that some are for them and others for them to offer:

Get right the essentials of communication that helps!

  • Project highlight reports (as part of a simple project method HR can adopt) I note this here as an essential, but it remains essential when in in project mode only.
  • Technical configuration document set, which may include all of the following on my essentials list, although you may wish to create one or more sets of documentation if you have different super-user groups to think about
  • How you have defined and allocated user security profiles – with detailed description of system security roles
  • Bespoke user guides or ‘how to’ sheets – linked within system or e-format. Bespoke guides are essential because every organisation’s process is different
  • Record of project and licensing documentation – sensible to consolidate in one place and not just on paper
  • The project record needs to include decisions made – whether in the format of RAID items, consultancy activity notes or a project log book
  • Documented description of how data fields are used – sometimes called a data dictionary or ‘taxonomy’. (The smallest organisation and simplest system can do without – if you read this and find it hard to fathom why then that may be true for you!)
  • Likewise documented detail on interfaces and system dependencies. Cover the technical specification and purpose of incoming and outgoing information flow
  • Change control library and template for further changes
  • Maintenance roles and responsibilities defined – data owners and notes about how each of the above items are to stay up to date
  • Information you know about from the product vendor, such as known defects (often called the ‘known issues list’ or ‘fix list’), planned maintenance time or upcoming new release functions
  • FAQs for the support team I rate as an ‘essential’. Encourage the super-user team to own the updating and sharing of a list of helpful responses to the questions users come up with the most

Tip: whilst you’re not going to please everyone with the support you make available, whether days are early ones or later, an advisable tactic is to include lots of different means of contact. In most environments now, an instant messaging (IM) contact, such as Yammer, Slack, Whatsapp, Skype for Business or Workplace by Facebook, is a good move. 

Aim to build a ready-referenceable library of knowledge-sharing.

Link these support materials to a common repository, rather than relying on in-system access. Keep formats simple – in most environments it matters not if help is terribly polished, only that it is helpful! For example, employees like to watch casual videos of their colleagues explaining stuff and screen-sharing. And many find a simple PowerPoint Viewer visual easier than a text-book manual or PDF list.

Taking part in the user community

Bring out your networking skills!

Technology is no different from other walks of professional life in the value of being connected with other people. In the years in which I’ve worked around the UK observing how organisations interact with the world of HR technology, I notice a danger of awareness only of how the system of choice is used within that one organisation, or best-case the sector. Take part in the wider user community around you.

This community includes others in like roles in other organisations (other customers of the product or service provider), published information and the professional community of experts. Keep in touch on the topic of user experiences with other systems too. Here is a reminder of the sources of help available to you:

Where can you get help?

  • Managed and hosted service providers and your named contact as account manager
  • Independent and consultancy expertise (covered in detail in part 6). Effective types of consultancy engagement include system review work, training and development and problem-solving
  • Your colleagues: knowledge and approach of those in IT, risk and compliance, procurement, finance, web development and marketing teams each finds a relevance in the context of HR systems work
  • Published material online from your product vendor or service provider. Beware of a general bad-mouthing out there on software and service experience unless you have the opportunity to examine in its detailed context……

Tip: Courses can be great. If you wish to attend a course or network event about HR and people technology, do so with a conscious awareness and choice that your objective is either to (a) look as widely as possible ‘out there’ or (b) secure an agenda that is bespoke. Between those options there is an unhappy waste of time and money.

Which is where networking comes in. Online social networking we know to be invaluable in many ways. Because of the need to contextualise, I recommend you keep this to personal contacts in the context of advice-seeking on your HR systems.

User groups

User groups are a great way to stay in touch with relevant changes and advice. Different group styles suit those in differing roles within your team, with many suitable for super-user level but some for more senior, leader roles. User groups combine the best of specificity, personal networking, expertise and interaction. They will help you stay up to date.

Remember you can go to more than one network group if you rate this as time well-spent. Once you have found your forum(s) of choice, then attend regularly for the best value.

Tip: it’s quite straight-forward to set up your own user group. I did it! You can too. Essentially an HR system user group or network group is just a get-together you organise with that common interest. If you know how to hold a small party or chair a meeting, then you know how to do this. The trick is to keep things constructive.

Step 11 in short!

Play it safe rather than sorry in early days, not least for the confidence factors all round. Remember to pay more attention in these times to your teams and your new system and that first impressions count.

You cannot set up too much support and safeguard for yourself, your team and your organisation’s employees and managers. Line up your service providers and external experts but keep your super-users for the front line to ensure they are recognised. Establish substance to the help on offer with a comprehensive set of materials. Engage as widely as you can with the HR system user community out there, without overlooking other relevant skills in-house.

The risk factors associated with going live do not end abruptly after day one. Keep up the vigilance until safely past early milestones, gathering learning all the time. On support, we know that safe is better that sorry. In the systems world just as any other, people trump the technology.

I would like to define an end-point to your efforts. I cannot. Next time’s concluding series part addresses a time interval too often ignored – that of the mid-contract period and the BAU.

I will include also a run-down of the end-to-end project and some favourite tips.

Take 1 Step on Step 11!

Take no chances and make a deliberate, personal two-part plan:

  1. Set mindful check-in points with those in direct contact with end-user employees until sufficient feedback and learning period has passed such that they are happy to express a confidence that you’re all now on firm ground. Style this as you will, but do not rely on issues being brought to your attention.
  2. Be ready to take action if there are issues. Plan parameters within which you will provide extra resources (at cost) for example or take tough decisions. Support is about not faltering when it comes to the crunch.

About Kate Wadia

Kate Wadia - Phase 3 Consulting

Kate’s passion at work is for bridging the gap between technology and people at work, translating for HR professionals the language of HR systems and making meaningful their potential.

She believes that success with people technology is through people and that people are the differentiator. Using simple techniques drawn from HR experience, project management, business psychology and analogy with everyday life, Kate presents and explains how to work well with technology and technology projects in an HR leadership role.

With a background in contrasting private and public sector HR management, Kate developed her thinking in seeking for herself to understand her first HR systems project-work.

Currently she leads the Service Delivery for Phase 3 Consulting, offering an independent take on the HR systems market in the UK, through a network of experts. Kate’s guiding principle is that openness offers knowledge-sharing, credibility and trust.

Incorrigibly enthusiastic and up absurdly early for a working morning, she swears that she only drinks three good coffees a day, but nobody believes her!


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