To Be or Not to Be—An Alert

1 Jul

1189820-bigthumbnailToday’s guest post comes from Don Farber. Don writes frequently for the Employer Solutions blog and is a leading spokesperson on the value of business activity monitoring. Don has over 25 years’ experience in the front-office and back-office software industry and is cofounder and vice president of Vineyardsoft Corporation. Don is a frequent speaker at industry events and author of numerous white papers on such subjects as identifying support rep burnout, enabling organizations to become more “data-driven,” and cost-effective compliance.

There are a few phrases in the English language that will live forever; one of my favorites is “Red Alert!” from the original “Star Trek” television series. When Captain Kirk shouted that out, you just knew something exciting was about to happen.

But did you ever notice that every now and then a young yeoman would walk up to Kirk’s chair and hand him some kind of electronic notebook, which he’d glance at, scribble on, and then hand back? What the heck was on that . . . his lunch order?

Personally, I think it was something important, like the state of the ship’s dilithium crystals. (Non-Trekkies may wish to Google that.)

The point—and I do have one—is that “alerts” come in many shapes and sizes; and before you start debating whether an alerts system may be beneficial to your HR organization, it’s worth taking a few minutes to understand what an alert is . . . as well as what it’s not.

Some people would argue that by definition, an alert has to contain minimal information—like a stop light, whose only information is “stop,” “slow down,” and “go.” I disagree. As an example, many HR organizations choose to alert managers whenever they have an employee coming up for annual review; those “alerts” contain a raft of employee information and performance statistics so that the manager can be well informed and ask the most relevant questions.

Other people would claim that an alert is defined by virtue of the manner in which the information is delivered. Thus a text message sent to your cell phone is an “alert,” whereas an absenteeism report sent to your email account is not. Again, I respectfully disagree. Many HR organizations dynamically track employee absenteeism throughout a month so they can alert managers if and when any of their staff are out of the office more than usual.

So—what are the unique characteristics of an “alert”?

Two things: timeliness and criticality of information.

Timeliness is an interesting concept because it can mean “within minutes” if we’re talking about identifying and alerting about an erroneous pay rate. But timeliness could also mean “before the end of this month” if we’re looking at employees’ accrued sick time. So in reality, “timeliness” can’t be pinned down to any particular interval, but rather must be defined in terms of “soon enough.” (And what’s “soon enough” for one business condition is “way too late” for another.)

Even more interesting, though, is an alert’s “criticality of information.” But as to what kind of HR-specific activities should be considered “critical” and which should not . . . well, that could spring a debate that won’t be over anytime soon. One easy answer is to say that something is “critical” if—by not responding to it—something bad would happen.

Unfortunately that’s not always the case. Sometimes an alert is critical for the simple reason that it is expected by the recipient—and if that receipt doesn’t occur . . . well, that’s bad too. And so, although the receipt of an “expected alert” doesn’t prevent anything bad from occurring, the absence of that alert can fail to reassure the recipient that “all is well.”

“Expected alerts” also bring up the subject of “reports and forms as alerts.”

Let’s say your HR department wishes to monitor employee absenteeism. If an employee logs excessive sick days, you want to alert his manager—and, you’d like that alert to include a report of that employee’s recent absences. So is the delivery of this information an “alert” or is it a “report”?

In truth, it’s both. It’s an alert that includes the contents of a report as part of the alert’s notification message. The same is true for the timely delivery of relevant forms and documents. If an employee is approaching that narrow window of opportunity when he can change his elected health benefits, an alert would be the ideal way to notify him about that opportunity—as well as to deliver the appropriate forms he would need to change his enrollment.

Even today you’re probably making more use of “alerts” than you might think. Automating the processes whereby you get the right information to the right people—and when it’s needed the most—is all that it takes to be an alert. Well . . . that plus setting phasers on “stun” . . .

To learn more about business activity monitoring and how your organization can benefit from increased notifications, view the Sage HRMS Alerts and Workflow by Vineyardsoft information page. There you’ll find white papers, webcasts, and data sheets that will help you identify trends or problems across your entire business as they occur, rather than hours, days, or weeks later.

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