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Define the requirements for HR software really clearly

It may seem obvious, but it's a step that is often overlooked in any software purchasing project. It's often the case of assuming all software is equal, and that "if we just buy some software, everything will be better".


If you've been following these blog posts, you may remember that my task, in 2016, was working with a tourist attraction, to improve a number of elements of their HR systems to improve the management of the staff, and all the data and processes around them.


It turned out that the more I drilled into how the business worked, and what worked well, and where there was room for improvement, there were several key areas for improvement:

  • recruitment - they normally employed between 150 and 200 staff at peak summer season. However they didn't have a target each year of how many to recruit. Somehow each year they'd done some recruitment each year, and always had enough staff. Until one year they didn't. They didn't know why, and they didn't know until it was too late.

  • rostering - was time consuming, cumbersome and inefficient. And was open to manipulation by experienced staff who knew how to play the system to get the best shifts

  • there was no central place for all the records. CVs and application forms may be in the e-mail of 2 or 3 different people, depending who handled the application. Some records were only on paper.

  • there was no way managers on the day could access emergency contacts or health records if there was an accident

  • there was no centralised absence tracking, for if people didn't turn up for their shifts, or were late

  • all the systems that did exist were focused on the zero-hours staff, who were heavily incentivised based upon commission payments and team bonuses. There weren't systems for the full time employed staff, such as managing their holiday, storing their employment contracts or disciplinary records

However there were some things that worked quite well, even though they felt old and legacy:

  • there was a database of all staff with their contact details (although the contact details might be out of date)

  • the staff database did have an accurate record of what each person's pay rate was

  • the staff database did have a timesheet record system which was populated reasonably accurately, with appropriate double-checks

  • there was an automated payroll system that pulled timesheet records, sales data from another business system, combined those data with the pay rate records to create payslips with pay based upon time worked, as well as individual commission and team bonus schemes

  • the automated payroll system then accounted for UK minimum wage based upon the number of hours worked, and calculated adjustments if necessary to ensure everyone was paid minimum wage for their age

Because of the payroll system, although there were some issues with management processes, the company was highly evolved in incentive systems and calculations which meant that the company had evolved to be highly effective at managing 150 - 200 staff. And the payroll system was critical to that effectiveness.


So whilst the staff database, and payroll system were quite aging and "legacy" they were very effective. And there was lots of complexity in those systems, which an off the shelf SME HR system could not provide. And in fact, the more we looked at the HR systems for larger companies, they were unlikely to be able to cope with the complexity either.


So we identified that the key priorities for improving the HR system was actually 4 steps:

  • Step 1: identify and implement/buy a roster system, to improve the efficiency and fairness of the rostering process.

  • Step 2: identify and deploy an Applicant Tracking System (ATS) which could be deployed as a project in itself without any changes to the existing staff database. The ATS should ideally be able to integrate to the existing staff database, but more critically was that it could integrate to other HR systems in future.

  • Step 3: select and implement an HR system for the relatively small number of around 30 full time staff. The requirements of this would be very similar to any other small 20 - 30 person business

  • Step 4: once those are in place, the major benefits will have been achieved, we can then consider replacing the core staff database and payroll system if necessary.

The rest of the blog will, I hope, take you through the journey.

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About the Author:

Dave Abraham is an independent consultant, working with a number of small businesses. Working at a strategic level, he looks at the strategic direction of the business with the directors, and helps the business improve processes, people management, and technology to help the business grow for the benefit of the staff, customers and owners of the business.  A core theme in recent years has been helping small companies improve how they nurture, grow, recruit and develop their staff, as it has such a massive impact on how a small company can go from surviving to thriving. 

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