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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.

If Something is Worth Doing…

22 May

8912598-italian-girl-with-pizza-and-wineI’ll bet you think you know what words are coming next; but you’d be wrong.

About twenty-five years ago I was working for a company where the CEO was a wild man. I don’t mean a Robinson Crusoe, beard down to his belt, living on a tropical island-kind of wild man; I mean a guy who expressed some great ideas in the most unexpected ways. And among my favorite of his expressions was the following:

“If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing poorly.”

Now on the surface of it, that might not seem like a terribly wise business mantra. But let me give you some background as to when and where I initially heard it said.

It was in a technology company; it was the late 80s or early 90s and I had just joined their marketing department. The timing of my arrival just happened to coincide with the early planning stages for a major trade show we were to attend. And the topic of conversation was how we were going to present ourselves at this conference.

Now keep in mind – this was “back in the day” when if someone said “computer”, the name that popped first into everyone’s head was IBM. And tradeshows were serious affairs; “doing something bold” at your booth usually meant that you opted for a yellow tie instead of a red one to go with your blue suit. In fact, at my preceding job I had once had the gall to ask the marketing manager there “what color suit” should I wear at an upcoming conference and received the helpful answer “Any color you like – as long it’s blue”.

That answer didn’t sit well with me, and I bided my time until I was in a position – at a different company, of course – to try to do something about it.

So when I realized that my arrival at this new company – in a position of some influence – coincided with their planning for an upcoming event, I couldn’t resist the temptation to suggest that we try something a little daring at the upcoming show. I suggested that we arrange our booth – and staff – to look like an old-fashioned, neighborhood Italian restaurant. Bistro tables. Red-and-white checkered tablecloths. Menus instead of the usual product data sheets. And booth staff dressed up like waiters and waitresses.

The reaction was phenomenal. Everyone hated it.

Well – almost everyone. The CEO, normally a very active participant in corporate discussions, was surprisingly quiet. He was listening to everyone else in the conference room telling me why my idea wouldn’t work. Heck – “wouldn’t work” was how the nicest of my new colleagues were phrasing it; others were openly questioning my sanity, my employment, and the very distinct possibility that I was overly self-medicating.

And yet when I started listening – really listening – to peoples’ comments, I realized that it wasn’t the “restaurant theme” that everyone objected to. It was that fact that everyone felt that we couldn’t do justice to that theme. The objections ranged from “we can’t actually serve food or wine”, to “we don’t have time to change our existing booth graphics” to look like restaurant menus.

That’s when our CEO uttered those unforgettable words:

“Well you know . . . I kind of like the whole restaurant approach, and I think that if something is worth doing, it’s worth doing poorly.”

Needless to say that broke the tension in the room pretty well and it was a good two or three minutes before all of us regained our composure . . . not to mention our chairs. And then some poor soul asked our CEO:

“You mean you want us to do a bad job?”

And that’s when our CEO explained what he meant. Many organizations shy away from bold new initiatives because they are afraid of failure. That’s nothing new. But our CEO explained that in his experience, many organizations chose not to try something new because they were afraid that they weren’t going to be able to do as good a job on it as they’d like to.

That’s right – there’s “fear of failure” and then there’s “fear of incomplete success” – and it’s the latter of these that our CEO was talking about. You see, nobody wants to undertake a project thinking that he or she will be able to get it to only 65% (or so) complete. As humans, we are trained to envision the end-result of a project and that end result vision is rarely, if ever, imperfect or incomplete.

But that’s exactly how we should envision many of our business initiatives.

Because — when it comes down to choosing between a project imperfectly done and a project not attempted at all, it’s better to try and partially succeed rather than to not try at all. A project attempted can be evaluated, improved upon, or even abandoned. As long as you set your expectations so that “imperfection is acceptable”, your finished project will be good enough to fairly evaluate its current success and its potential for even greater success in the future.

So – the next time you have the opportunity to try something new but are concerned that you might not have all the resources to “do it right”, go ahead and do it anyway. After all, if something is worth doing, it’s worth doing poorly.

(Oh yes – and we DID end up doing the Italian restaurant theme at the show that year and it was a huge success.)

Today’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 co-founder 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.

Words to Live By

15 Apr

“I don’t know what I need to know.”

It’s a funny little sentence, but it’s amazing how often I hear it. Especially with the proliferation of business intelligence (BI) software solutions, today’s workers have greater and greater abilities to analyze their data – if only they knew what they were looking for.

Being in the BI business myself, I am often asked questions such as “what are some of the key things that people want to monitor in their HRMS systems?”. Having some standard answers such as “employee absenteeism”, “certifications that are about to expire”, and “changes to an employee’s benefits” are helpful – but only to a certain degree. What an HRMS staffer really wants to ask me is “what are the key things within our particular HR organization that we should be monitoring for?”.

But of course since I don’t know the detailed workings of their HR organization and its underlying processes, that’s a question that never gets asked of me.

But it should.

Because I can answer it.

Despite the fact that I may never have stepped foot (or even a “virtual foot”) into any one specific HR organization, I can help any HR organization’s staff identify what kinds of critical activities they need to monitor for and respond to. And that’s because I’m able to identify the key words and phrases that get used by an organization’s HR staffers when they’re looking for “what they need to know.”

There are, in fact, eight “types” of critically important HR-related business conditions that reveal themselves in the everyday conversations that you hear around your office. These eight “types” of HR-related business conditions have very specific words that accompany them, and if you train yourself to listen for these words, you’ll have an immediate jump on identifying what it is “you need to know.”

The eight conditions – and the corresponding words you need to listen for – are:

Date-Sensitive Conditions.  You’ll hear words such as “upcoming”, “today”, “tomorrow”, “next week”, “ends”, “expiring”, and “missed”. (E.g., benefit enrollment period ends this Friday)

Approaching Thresholds.  Typically expressed using “nearing”, “more than”, “less than”, “above”, “below”, “close to”, and “over”. (E.g., an employee who is nearing 24 hours of absenteeism this month)

Inactivity.  Almost always is heard using the phrase “has not” or “is not” and indicates something that should have happened but hasn’t. (E.g., a staffer who has not taken any training in the last 12 months)

Exceptions to Normal Business.  You’ll hear the words “over” or “under” as well as the word “too” as in “too many”, “too few”, “too much”, or “too little”. (E.g., an employee who has failed too many drug tests)

“Bad Data” Conditions.  Most commonly identified by the words “missing”, “erroneous”, “invalid”, “duplicate”, or “incomplete”. (E.g., an employee record which is missing their home phone number)

Trend Analysis.  Usually this occurs in phrases such as “compared with”, “is increasing”, “is decreasing”, or “has stopped”. (E.g., monthly overtime hours is increasing)

Inconsistent Data.  Often heard in phrases such as “doesn’t make sense” or “doesn’t go together”, and in the statement “that’s not right”. (E.g., an employee signed-up for two training classes at the same time)

Changes to Sensitive Data.  This condition is often identified by the initial words “We need to know when  someone changes . . . “. (E.g., a change made to an employee’s 401k contributions)

So . . . before you decide to evaluate any reporting, business intelligence, or data monitoring & response solutions, take a few minutes to think back on your daily HR business activities and to the conversations that you’ve had with your HR colleagues and management. Or – just start listening to those conversations a little more carefully and take note of when the above words and phrases appear.

After all, once you identify what HR conditions and activities you need to know about, you can better identify the prospective software solutions that will keep you “in the know”.

If you’re interested in learning about how you can more effectively monitor your HR data, visit the Sage HRMS Alerts and Workflow by Vineyardsoft webpage. While you’re there don’t forget to register for the webcast The Data Driven HR Organization: How to Achieve It and How to Benefit From It.

The Race to Dashboards

19 Dec

Dashboards are to software applications what Starbucks™ is to coffee – omnipresent. In the same way it’s hard to drive into any North American town and not see one or two Starbucks (and usually across the street from one another!), it’s hard to purchase any business software application – including HR applications – and not be told about, showed about, and confused about the plethora of “dashboards” that come with it.

But – to continue the Starbucks analogy – sometimes you’re just not in the mood for coffee. Maybe what you need is a nice cold beer. Or maybe just plain water. The fact is that application dashboards have been (and continue to be) so popular that we get sold on the concept of dashboards without taking the time to identify how we want to use them – not to mention when we want to use them, and who should be using them. There’s no denying that dashboards are useful; but like a cup of hot coffee on a hot day in the summer, there are times when a traditional dashboard isn’t the best solution.

And that’s what we’re here to discuss.

Your typical dashboard is a graphic display of business information. Perhaps the most common image of a dashboard is one that shows sales trends; a line chart that goes up and down over a period of time showing the overall growth or decrease in an organization’s business. Valuable? Absolutely.

Bar and pie chart dashboards are also eagerly advertised in software applications. Sales by product, region, or salesperson are good examples of where these kinds of dashboards shine.

The preceding examples have one obvious thing in common: sales. The sales department is by far the part of an organization that most benefits from dashboards that show trends and KPIs (key performance indicators). Human resources, on the other hand, doesn’t deal with the same kind of business information as sales, and thus the need for graphically-illustrated data is substantially less.

But just because there’s not the need for graphically-illustrated data in HR, that doesn’t mean there’s not the same need for dashboards. There is. It’s just that HR typically needs a different kind of dashboard – a non-graphic one.

Think about it – a dashboard is a dynamically-updated display of critical business data; how that data is displayed is up to you. So – whereas a graphic display showing how many hours of vacation time each employee has accrued might not be all that useful, a textual display of which employees are scheduled to be out of the office this week definitely has value. Similarly, whereas a line chart that shows how many employee certifications are due to expire over the next three months has dubious benefits, a dynamic listing of those certifications – along with their expire date, cost, and employee name – would be more than a little useful.

Generally speaking, graphic dashboards are more heavily used by executives who need to be kept aware of trends and who need to look at the “big-picture” of business activities. It’s the folks beneath the executives – departmental managers and their individual employees – who are tasked with keeping on top of the day-to-day business activities. And there’s no better way to empower these people than to provide them with “in-your-face”, dynamically-updated lists of critical business activities and tasks.

So – don’t let yourself get swept away by the “eye-candy” that is all-too-often presented to you as graphic application dashboards. They do look cool, and they do have their use. But in the HR world, it’s more often the details that spell the difference between success and failure. Make sure that you can get those details to the staff who need them – and do so in a dynamic dashboard format.

After all, the right information presented in the wrong format is about as useful as a cup of iced coffee in the middle of the winter . . .

Looking At The Whole Picture

26 Oct

Have you ever had the experience of speaking with someone over the phone so many times that you build up an image of what that person looks like in your mind? If so – and most of us have – you probably recall the feeling of surprise when you actually first met that same person. Taller or shorter than you anticipated; younger or older; eyeglasses, hair color . . . the list goes on.

The lesson to be learned from this is that “limited information often leads to wrong conclusions” – and that lesson is nowhere more important than within your HR organization.

Your HR organization is the ultimate responsible party for assessing the value and performance of your employees. Of course there are “reviews” to help in this assessment, but employee reviews typically don’t paint a complete picture. And that’s because employee reviews evaluate a staffer’s actions only within the confines of the department they are assigned to – and not the departments that are affected by that employee’s actions.

Especially in the current economy, where organizations are being tasked to “do more with less”, many employees have gained responsibilities that span across multiple departments. And if you thought that it was challenging to get one manager to complete a review for an employee, just imagine how difficult it’s going to be to get two or three managers to work together to create a cohesive review for an employee who impacts each of their departments.

Difficult? Yes. Consider the following:

You have a salesperson who works for your organization. Their primary responsibility is to sell, so a look at their “numbers” is a good place to start when assembling a picture of their performance. These numbers are typically found in a sales or CRM software application.

But does this salesperson target a disproportionately high number of financially risky clients? It might be only be by looking at receivables data in a financial application that an organization is able to determine if this is the case.

And how about the “after sale” cost of this salesrep’s clients? Is this rep selling a sophisticated product to unsophisticated clients, resulting in a huge burden on an organization’s customer support staff? Is the after-sale support cost wiping out all of the profits from the initial sale? A peek into an organization’s customer support system would let us know.

All too often an employee’s performance is based on insufficient data because an organization just doesn’t have the time or resources to collect, compile, and reconcile all of this information.

Therefore — this process must be automated.

Now – before you get concerned that we’re advocating automating the entire employee review process – we’re not. What we are advocating, however, is automating the collection, compilation, and reconciliation of the employee data you and your managers need to perform the best reviews possible.

And although almost all sales, finance, and customer service applications contain some kind of querying, reporting, and/or business intelligence modules for retrieving data, those modules are inadequate for this task for one reason: they are unable to look at cross-departmental indicators.

Judging a salesrep by sales numbers alone is insufficient. So too, for example, would be judging their performance based on their attendance or absenteeism from the office. But – if a salesrep has experienced a decline in sales numbers (as shown in a CRM application) at the same time their absenteeism has increased (in an HRMS application) – now we have a definitive sign of decreasing performance.

This kind of cross-departmental collection, compilation, and reconciliation is available from a singular type of software application categorized as “Business Activity Monitoring” or BAM.

BAM enables an HR organization to fairly judge an employee’s performance because it compiles enterprise-wide knowledge regarding that employee’s activities within – and between – the various departments of an organization. Evaluating employee performance on anything less than that is a dis-service to both your employees and to your organization as a whole.

Spend Time Fixing Problems, Not Finding Them

17 Oct

The other day I was speaking with a 93-year old neighbor of mine when I noticed that he was wearing one of those “medic alert” buzzers; I commented to him about that and got the following reply:

“It’s fantastic, Don – now I can go down to the lower part of my yard and use my chainsaw and you don’t have to worry about me . . . “

Tempted as I was to mention that at the ripe old age of 93 he probably shouldn’t be using a chainsaw at all, I had to admit that he was right. After all, prior to his informing us about his medic alert device, my wife and I would try to “check-in” with him every couple of days – just to make sure he wasn’t lying in a heap somewhere with a redwood tree across his chest.

And our neighbor summed it up best when he said “ . . . the great thing about this is that wherever I am and no matter what time it is, it’ll notify the hospital to send help . . . “

“Notify” . . . “send help” . . . Hmmmmmm . . . now this was a topic I was familiar with . . .

In the HR world, staff and managers typically rely upon reports to monitor employee performance. Much in the same way that I went next-door every couple of days check on our neighbor’s health, an HR staffer turns to analytical reports to keep an eye on employee absenteeism, drug test results, expiring certifications, negative vacation time, and the like.

But, like my health-checks next-door, how often must those reports be run in order to ensure the well-being of your HR organization?

Have you ever received an HR report only to look at it, discover that “something bad” has happened, and then say to yourself “if only I had known about this sooner . . . “?

Using reports to monitor the health of your HR organization is effective only if those reports reach the appropriate people soon enough after a problem (or potential problem) has arisen. And who’s to say how soon is “soon enough”?

Most HR organizations rely on “scheduled” (e.g., daily, weekly, monthly) reports for identifying and responding to critical HR-related business conditions. Unfortunately, those time-intervals are often
not good enough to enable the best possible response. There are simply too many HR situations where your ability to “correct” a problem relies upon the speediness of your response. And if you’ve got a scheduled HR report that runs every Monday at 9 AM and a problem occurs on a Tuesday at 10 AM, you’re looking at a long time before you even begin to learn about the situation, let alone do something about it.

What you need to implement are . . . “triggered” reports.

A “triggered” report is one that is generated when specific HR business conditions warrant it. Thus you could have a report that tells you about changes to an employee’s benefits – but only if there are any changes that need to be made effective today. Likewise you could have an “excessive overtime” report that generates only if an employee has accumulated more than 20 hours of OT in a given month.

The best thing about “triggered” reports is that an HR staffer no longer has to wonder IF a report contains information that they need to be concerned about. A “triggered” report contains actionable information; most importantly, the information in that report is timely and relevant. Because in HR, your greatest resource is time; spend it fixing problems – not finding them.

It’s As Easy As A-C-B

22 Aug

Okay . . . time for a quick acronym quiz:  what’s the difference between BAM software and BPM software?

BAM stands for Business Activity Monitoring and BPM stands for Business Process Management. Why is that important? It’s important because sometimes you need a little bit of both technologies in order to satisfy some very common HR business scenarios.

Consider the hiring process; when you on-board a new employee there are a lot of things that need to get done. You need to get that employee set up in payroll; enrolled in your 401k program, and signed-up for health care benefits. Someone in operations (or building maintenance) needs to assign an office (or cubicle), request furniture, and make sure that a phone line and network cable are dropped into that space.

And we haven’t even begun to discuss how the folks in IT need to grant this employee access to specific software applications and still other staff will need to train the new hire on the applications they’ll be using.

Lots of responsibilities . . . assigned to lots of people . . . who each need to do their part . . .

…at the right time.

Not too early; not too late. If there are five steps in on-boarding a new employee, step #3 should come after step #2 but before step #4. And the alerts and workflow that facilitate this process need to follow that  same order.

After all, what good is a reminder to a trainer that they need to help a new employee get up to speed on a certain application if no one in IT has yet authorized that new employee for access to that application?

In situations like this, the order in which alerts and workflow are executed is as important as the task  itself. As so we have need for a technology that blends the capabilities of BAM – monitoring, alerts, and workflow – with the capabilities of BPM – multi-step job process support.

Visually, a multi-step HR process would look something like the following in an alerts & workflow system:

Now the above illustration is of a fairly simplistic employee on-boarding process; it consists of just 6 steps. But the value is already apparent. By having a graphic illustration of the steps that make up a critical HR activity, you drastically reduce the chance of steps being missed while expediting the process of moving from one step to the next. You gain the flexibility of adding to or re-arranging the execution of those steps.

And you gain the security of knowing that each step in the process will not start until the preceding steps have been completed.

Perhaps most importantly, each step has its own set of rules that specify when that step is triggered and what “actions” the step will take – even if that action is nothing more than reminding the responsible parties of the tasks they need to complete.

Almost all HR organizations have multi-step business processes, whether it’s for on-boarding a new employee, terminating an employee, performing employee reviews. But few HR organizations have the technology in place to “see” what individual steps each process consists of. And that’s where a technology that blends the best of Business Activity Monitoring and Business Process Management comes in handy. 

Because no one likes to see a new employee sitting at their desk playing solitaire just because they haven’t been set up with an email account or with access to certain applications. And in today’s economy, no business can afford it.

Nobody Likes a Tattletale

20 Jul

A Positive Alerts SystemI had an interesting conversation last week with a customer who is using an alerts system. They were really pleased at all the notifications they had configured – many of which took the form of daily reminders about tasks that needed to be completed, contracts that needed to be renewed, and the like. And then this customer said the following: 

“You know, Alerts & Workflow is kind of like a vitamin for our employees. If left on their own, they’d probably forget to take it; now they get it automatically and they understand that it’s good for them.”

Hmmmmmm . . .

 There was something about that phrase that I didn’t like; a little later it came to me:

 Nobody likes taking their vitamins.

 Oh sure, we all understand that vitamins are good for us in the long-term, but on a day-to-day basis they’re more of an annoyance than a pleasure. And then I realized that it was all-too-easy for an Alerts system to take on these same qualities. Deep down we know that being reminded about tasks and other items that require our attention is a good thing, but that “daily ding” (or two, or three . . . ) that points out what we should be doing is about as enjoyable as getting poked with a stick.

Now no one is going to argue that we don’t all need the occasional reminder, nor would we argue that it’s better to let something be forgotten than to address it. But those facts don’t make the receipt of the reminder any more palatable. And — viewed in this light — an Alerts system can very easily be seen as a “tattletale” system; one in which its main purpose is to point out those things that we are doing wrong or – in many cases – not doing at all.

 And nobody likes a tattletale, no matter how well-intentioned they may be.

 That’s why, when implementing an alerts system within your organization, you need to look long and hard for positive, reinforcing uses of that technology. In the HR world, those uses can include:

  •  Celebrating employee birthdays and term-of-work anniversaries
  • Acknowledging training certifications completed
  • Congratulations on job position advancements
  • Communicating salary increases
  • Confirming an employee’s passing of mandatory drug tests
  • Thanking employees for completing certain tasks
  • Recognizing benchmark achievements (e.g., projects completed on-time and/or under budget)
  • Acknowledging that “Nothing Bad = Something Good” (e.g., commending employees with no overdue tasks)

The importance of positive, reinforcing alerts cannot be overstated. Without them, every automated notification that an employee receives will be viewed with a combination of dread and depression – a reminder of “what’s wrong” with their work habits. And interestingly enough, it doesn’t take an equal number of positive alerts to offset the “tattletale” ones. Even just one positive, reinforcing alert per day can offset the weight of countless reminders.

Ultimately, these positive alerts do far more than just make your employees feel good about themselves. An alerts solution that is solely designed as a tattletale system stands a strong chance of failing over the long term because users will eventually ignore the alerts they receive from it. But if you show your employees that an alerts system can also be used to recognize achievements, milestones, and above average performance, your alerts system will almost assuredly be a success.

After all — although almost no one likes a tattletale, pretty much everyone likes to be recognized for a job well-done.

 

Who is Watching the Watcher?

28 Jun

The last house I moved into was fully equipped with smoke detectors – the new kind – that are wired directly into the house’s electricity. So I was more than a little surprised after a year or so of living in this home that one of the detectors starting beeping – and for no clear reason.

And when I finally took the cover off of the detector I noticed an interesting thing – there was a battery inside. I couldn’t understand why an electric smoke detector would come with a battery – until, that is, my wife happened to stroll by, noticed the confused look on my face (easily recognized after 20 years of marriage), and said:

“It must be a backup for when the power goes out.”

Of course. If the smoke detector is watching out for a fire, the battery within it is watching out for a non-functional smoke detector. In other words, the battery is “watching the watcher”.

Which brings to mind my favorite story of a client using an alerts system:

The client is a hospital that sends out an ambulance with EMTs when an emergency arises. The EMTs load the patient on the ambulance and immediately proceed with triage and treatment to the best of their ability. The patient’s symptoms are logged into an on-board computer where they are electronically relayed to the hospital.

(Now here’s the really cool part.)

At the hospital, the alerts system monitors the incoming patient’s symptoms and – based on those symptoms – the appropriate doctor is notified (typically via their pager or mobile phone).

But there was a problem with this process; sometimes doctors changed their pager number, PIN, or even their cell phone number – and didn’t remember to inform the hospital of that change. So, when the alerts system tried to notify the appropriate doctor, sometimes the alert failed – and continued to fail as the alerts system repeatedly tried to use that invalid delivery address.

Enter “plan B”, which was: “if an alert to a doctor is not successfully delivered within 5 minutes, failover the alert to either an alternate doctor or to a nurse’s station.” Brilliant!

This functionality – referred to under such names as “redundancy checking”, “self-monitoring”, and “alert watchdog” – is essential for organizations that rely on an alerts system for the health and productivity of their HR staff and for the efficiency of their business as a whole. After all, an alert is only as good as its ability to reach its intended recipient; thus the need to identify and act on those alerts that do not reach their recipients is every bit as important as the rest of an alerts system.

Ideally, the self-monitoring aspect of an alerts system should provide the following:

  • Determination if an alert has been successfully delivered
  • Identification of “over-triggering” – i.e., an event whose conditions are met too frequently
  • Identification of “alert overload” – i.e., a single alert recipient who is getting sent too many alert messages (which will eventually cause them to ignore all alerts)
  • Capture of alerts with invalid delivery addresses, such as invalid email addresses, bad fax numbers, or incorrect mobile device numbers or PINs
  • The ability to identify alert events that have been added or customized (and by whom)
  • Trend analysis of triggered events (e.g., “are things getting better or worse?”)
  • Alert events that are configured incorrectly or are missing components

So – when you configure an alerts system for your organization, think positively and hope for the best – no missing data, no invalid contact information, and the like. And then plan for reality. If watching your HRMS data is as important to your organization as you think it is, don’t leave it to chance.

Watch the watcher.

 

When Nothing is Really Something

1 Jun

When Nothing Really is SomethingIt’s one thing to look at your HR data and see information that requires your attention. A purchase order request; a contract that’s about to expire, or an employee with a negative vacation balance.

But have you ever tried to identify an HR activity that should have happened – but didn’t? That’s not nearly so easy. Consider a monthly HR task which the vast majority of your employees complete. You don’t need to know about all the employees who completed that task; rather, you need to know about that small number of employees who failed to complete that task.

This is a case where the absence of activity is exactly what you need to know.

It’s unfortunate but true that often the most important information for an HR organization doesn’t concern what has happened, but rather what hasn’t happened. Employees who have not received their reviews, staff who have not taken their mandatory drug tests, or managers who have not taken required certification courses are all good examples of HR business activities where “inactivity” is key.

Some inactivity scenarios in HR are easier to address than others because they have specific dates associated to them. Activities such as an employee’s “next review date” or their “last drug test date” typically utilize individual, date-specific fields within your HR solution. In those cases, it’s not too difficult to run a report or query where your date-sensitive selection criteria retrieves only those records where the “next review date” is within ‘x’ days, or the “last drug test date” is more than ‘y’ months old.

The difficulty occurs when there is no such date field associated with an action that should have occurred. For example, an organization might offer training classes on employee safety. These courses might be on such subjects as CPR, hazardous waste handling, and fire prevention methods. Employees might be required to take one or more of these courses on a periodic basis, such as monthly, quarterly, or yearly.

And as important as it is to see who has taken these courses (and when), it is even more important to see who hasn’t taken them.

The problem is the absence of data to report on. And the best way to understand this is to imagine this information stored in a file cabinet. Imagine that you open a drawer and reach for all the papers filed under “Last Year’s Safety Course Attendees”. These papers might show that 60 (out of 100) employees took such courses. Unfortunately these papers don’t help us to see which employees didn’t take those courses.

So how do you go about reporting on data that just isn’t there?

The answer is “by cross-referencing”.

Cross-referencing is a two-step process, and is typically the only way that “absence of activity” can be reported on. In the above example, before you’d reach for the stack of “last year’s attendees”, you’d reach for a separate list of all employees.

Then – and only then – could you cross-reference that list of “all employees” with the list of “last year’s course attendees”. You would identify any employee that had zero course registrations for last year, as that would be a staffer who has not taken any safety courses – exactly what you’re looking for.

Most importantly, cross-referencing should be an automatic process within your HR solution. Just as you can configure your HR solution to automatically tell you when certain critical activities have happened, you can similarly automate the process whereby you are told about things that have not happened.

Because in the HR world, nothing can really turn into something.

 

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