HR technology: Talking about Training and Communications

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In this 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.

This part of the Smooth Steps series is all about getting it out there! Training, communications and engagement are happy activities, where a project team can share the successes you began to enjoy within the team with the testing phase, explored last time.

Marketing your HR system and your technology change project is a tricky topic to write on as an independent professional.

Why? Admittedly I generalise, but HR practitioners and internal PMs with an HR background tend to be adept at the ‘soft’ side of marketing, the cultural requirements and organisational politics, which those with an IT (and sometimes Finance) background can neglect.

However, they may underestimate the requirement for ‘hard’ education and information that is technical and practical, which trained systems managers or those with an audit or balance sheet mindset cover without question.

This I attribute quite simply to what our day-to-day functions usually have us doing. I cover here advice appealing to different mindsets.

Key question: Is it the ‘soft’ side of communication or the ‘hard’ technical education that’s more important?

Of course I wish to answer that both are absolutely vital to project success! However – and it is a controversial view perhaps – if I have to choose, then I suggest that it’s the practical stuff you want to worry about. A personal bug-bear is the over­-emphasis I sometimes experience on change management. I can justify my point:

Training and communications matter because of what happens after not during the activity: questions about enjoyment, uptake and experience improve life and can be improved upon; questions of how to use technology correctly (particularly by super-users) can break a project. These are close to hard and soft issues.

And there is a very important Key Question posed below.

Engaging End Users

I mention that change management can at times be over-emphasised. This is a negative only if it convinces you that you have done your bit on communications at a cost to the practical stuff.

Engagement is of course a key factor in the success of uptake and response, both initial and ongoing, amongst employees and potential employees (who are the many here as opposed to the few!).

Introducing new people technology is a change experience itself. It is very commonly one element of wider change programmes too, perhaps focused  on achieving a cultural shift, a digitalisation of the workplace, greater empowerment of team members and their managers.

Perhaps your context is more challenging to the feel-good factor – for example, if you need to overcome a restructure, merger or acquisition scenario then somewhere systems will be in need of change.

Change management per se is particularly important to address where wider culture is significantly implicated. I assume you have some help in these scenarios. [There is more about culture coming soon in part 10 too]

Here are a few simple considerations if you need to address change management about a piece of HR technology in isolation:

Brand

Tost complex systems allow the organisation to incorporate ‘style sheet’ designs, as well as chosen images, logos and colours across the system. This is worth doing. Some organisations choose also to brand and name the system something they’ve chosen themselves.

I think this can lead to confusion. Unless you have a strong people brand, then I’d avoid it. If you do like the idea, then it can be a fun way to engage if you offer a competition to pick a name!

Consistency

In every section of this part I address timing. Timing helps you manage expectations. Avoid a one-off marketing campaign that comes to an end too early.

Aim to start getting messages out there at a time when you are confident you are able to support a continuing flow of updated information. Go for information by drip-feed.

Activities

As well as pushing stuff out (presentations, messaging, postcards, YouTube video, publications) try to pull stuff in.

Use the onboarding time as a way to get an early interaction. Drop-in sessions are useful to offer for hands-on experiences, even if attendance is apparently very low. Structure workshops and roadshows inviting activity. Make the option to question and contact visible.

The classic “you asked, we said/did” is tried and tested. Start as early as you can to get new data you gather from the business entered into the system itself (note: there are ways of making parts of the system feel live and real when they are not if this seems dangerous!)

[Later in this series I will include a list of suggested practical and tactical methods to share knowledge and update.]

Involvement

The obvious opportunities to involve end-user employees and managers, for example in product demonstrations and in piloting are not necessarily the right ones to take. Check back to the advice I’ve offered so far about the aims and objectives of these crucial activities.

And my tip: these days most workplace contexts need to worry less about whether there will be resistance to technology (this was the conversation of a decade ago) but whether the employee experience of technology will meet demand! I encourage you to question whether you are matching that demand as you plan your communications. 

Making Super-stars of your Super-users

I use the term super-user to mean a key person with functional responsibility for working with the HR system as a core part of their job role, for example within the HR, payroll and recruitment teams. You might have one or more systems administrators too.

Training those people appropriately is a must.

The what of training suggests itself according to scope of technology and role; the difficult questions are when and how:

When to Train

Typically technical training is done too early. Product suppliers quite often place training days right up-front in a project plan – before there is a usable product or even before that configuration work starts. If this happens, sometimes an organisation will need to re-book the same team onto repeats, at significant extra cost.

I support strongly those suppliers who offer (included in your deal) refresher opportunities.

You can overcome this by training in early days only those who need to give input and only to the extent of that need. Help by explaining this approach to those people. For example, you may need the project team to complete data files or to make decisions about drop-down lists or processes, which require a preliminary understanding about what the system is going to do. 

Tip: I think the optimum time for in-depth training is at the earliest point where there is a usable system (whether test or live) that those users can immediately return home or to desks to try out. Learning is best retained with plenty chance to practise.

How to Train

Understand that there is choice. Your supplier will offer some kind of standard training and usually that is in the form of at-the-desk or classroom training by a trainer.

It is usually done in a small group of between six and 12 delegates. Training delivered in your own building tends to be charged on a per-day-per-trainer rate (with a cap on delegate numbers) and on the supplier’s premises on a per-delegate course rate. At the moment costs of training seem to be slightly reducing, which is good news as they have been inflated.

Training of this nature is fine where you do not need something tailored and works to that standard agenda. It is not bad at all for an introduction to a system nor for legislative or release update, for example.

Your training needs something different when:

  • The agenda needs to equip for a specific role including business process
  • A super-user is beyond a basic level of competence
  • Training a super-user who then will train onwards (‘Train the Trainer’)
  • You have limited the scope of the product on offer that your own people will get or
  • The system is highly styled, customised or configured to the maximum!
  • You need the delegates immediately after to perform their job role using the system

You can see that this covers most training requirements. Achieve a bespoke training offering by:

  1. Checking that your trainer is a fully-skilled Consultant (and see the part of this series all about who is who in HR technology)
  2. Being prepared to put some effort in to agreeing in advance on an agenda, but leaving some open exploratory time too.
  3. Limiting delegate numbers and finding a forum where you can be using your own system rather than watching a sample display or using a system set up to look like a trial/example organisation.

Structuring your Stakeholders: an HR technology communications plan

Do make a plan to communicate with and involve all of your project stakeholders.

Now you can go to town on this – and certain environments, where scale is large and methodologies more formal (have a read of an earlier part exploring project management styles for HR) this is warranted.

Quite simply you don’t need to. You do need to have a straight-forward plan that notes who you need to involve, how, when and why. Regard relevant stakeholders as those with an interest in the project and with a significant degree of impact and influence on success.

The risk if you do not make a clear plan is less likely to be that interests are missed, but that the questions of timing and consistency are not addressed effectively.

The second reason to make a plan is that the planning process for stakeholder management serves as a framework for logical thinking about what the different interests are.

Do not forget to attribute an ownership of each communications or training element included. 

Key Question: when do you stop communicating about the HR system?

Never! Some of the most neglected aspects of training and communicating about people technologies are once the project is over. There are continuing changes to the technology itself with new releases, changes to your processes of working with the tech, changes amongst the population who need to use it.

It is not sensible to muddy in your project stakeholder communications planning some of the enduring requirements of, for example, working with your supplier or onboarding new super-users, but you do need to be appreciative of this consideration to get set up for that to be effective later on.

[In a final part of this series I will look at the difference between project and ‘business as usual’ (“BAU”)]

Here are the headline groups, with plenty of blank space that I urge you to populate with your contextualised detail. This table encourages a focus on the aspects of stakeholder management which I believe are most important in the context of HR systems work. I keep this template deliberately extremely minimal to help you focus your mind in that way.

A basic framework for training and communications planning:

Who What When How
Consider these key groups. Pragmatic is to add most detail for those whose interest and influence is highest. This could be positive (e.g. champions!) or negative (e.g. hard-to-reach staff) Consider what they are most interested in. There are some tips below: Notice the importance of getting timing right so that you can manage expectations and keep up consistency In your plan I would keep this brief. Aim for just a list. Find ideas in a later series part, including those essential and those you might find desirable.
Project Board The business case is your clue here. Keep this in focus.    
Project Team This is likely not be the same group as your super-users. If it is, then note different kinds of interest here     
Supplier(s) Don’t forget them. Lack of information about your part of what’s going on will help no-one.     
Super-users Here both ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ interests are extremely important. This is the area of the plan where you likely need the greatest detail.    
End-users Prepare to be surprised at the interest and make few assumptions….    

Key Question: what do employees most want to know about HR systems they will be using?

To answer in one phrase, I say surprisingly little. Short is often sweetest. In my experience the demand for information about new technology offered to a workplace needs to tell people:

  • What they have to do now (now only!)

  • Tips on how to make that easy for themselves or avoid ready pitfalls
  • The effect on their pay, benefits and life at work today. What they will notice.
  • Does it apply to everyone? Are both efforts and benefits fairly applied?

In each communication answer these points first if they could be relevant. Get that out the way and minds will be open to find out more, such as what’s going to happen next or what things look like.

Remember that a plan is only a plan. There is a much-cited quote from Prussian Field Marshal Helmuth von Moltke that “no plan survives contact with the enemy”. That means that external influences may well give you reason to change your plans.

For example, I strongly suggest that you do not follow through with a demonstration of a new system for the first time that’s not in a shape that will make a good impression. To postpone a training or demonstration exercise can be a tough call but a sound one. Last time I looked at, for example, the effective way to manage testing and piloting, which is an example of a project milestone moment where big decisions may have to be taken.

[Other tough project calls I mean also to examine for you towards the end of the Smooth Steps series too.]

The Documentation that delivers, the Materials that matter

I have said above that practical advice and succinct styles of information matter. I have suggested that frequency and brevity are good things and so is an ongoing availability of information. Create as much as you can that is digestible for the audience, doable by those who own it and mostly digital. Your messaging won’t be as effective if you only use old-school, offline methods.

There are two lists to follow for you in later parts of this series with specific ideas about methods and materials you can use: The essentials of information source and knowledge-share as part of a checklist for support and safety

  1. The desirables you might consider as part of a strategy to optimise uptake, create positive messaging and marketing and deal with cultural concerns

One way to check off the essentials of technical and practical system materials is to think in terms of business continuity. By treating the systemising of HR technology documentation and materials as an exercise in risk management you will ensure you arrive at a sound and seamless set.

Step 9 in short!

The technical knowledge-share of HR systems implementation and the marketing and communications tend to attract over- or under-emphasis within a project team, at cost to the other. Give deliberate attention to the appropriate complement of both ways in which people must be involved.

Stakeholder interests clearly vary too.

For these reasons, as well as the challenge of managing timing optimally and communicating with consistency, I recommend you make a plan, albeit a simple one. The planning process compels a structure of thinking about how you share project knowledge and information.

You might well be surprised on two counts:

  • Employees and managers are more likely to be driving your demand these days, rather than lagging in their appetite for technology: manage expectations carefully
  • Perhaps attributable in part to that appetite for technology (it is taken for granted!), the amount of information to share may be less than seems to the project team comprehensive: keep things short, succinct and addressing key points

Communications and training tee us up for next time’s guide to the go-live moment and your first marker of the real, live project success.

Take 1 Step on Step 9!

Be aware of your natural tendency when it comes to training and communications – or perhaps the tendencies of the team members you’ve delegated that responsibility to. Which comes more naturally?

Communicating in words about the people elements of a change and appealing to how change affects them? Making communications attractive and presenting well? If this is more true then focus your read of part 9 on the sections about structuring your plans and materials above. Look out for the list of essential documents and knowledge-share in part 11 on support.

Technical documentation and systematic, practical material safeguarding business continuity, project control and making sure team members follow policy and operating protocols? If you think this is more right then focus attention on sections here about engaging end users and consider the stakeholder list above too. Look out for the list of desirable ideas for communications in part 10 on go-live and culture.

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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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