Lessons from the farm: Is your workflow mostly work or mostly flow?

Thought Leadership on Employee Benefits-Risk & Reward presented by Paul Younkins at TriBridge Partners.

This is part 3 in our series, 3 ways to apply farming principles to a health plan.

As a child growing up in a farming community, I was given the opportunity to experience the early mornings and daily routines associated with raising livestock, baling hay and overall land and resource maintenance. I was also able to witness the ecosystem that allowed a well-run farm to make necessary improvements while preserving the working elements.

An employee workforce can be viewed in a very similar way, with HR as the caretaker or the “farmer,” charged with the responsibility of being a good steward. They have an eye on what needs to be improved, all while keeping the ecosystem in balance.

In our last two articles we discussed “bales and bundles” and “per unit costs.”  Today we will discuss the dangers of investing time or capital in new processes or technology when there is no one driving the tractor or no workflow to follow.

Farmers seek ways to become more efficient, to augment the ecosystem and to create more return on an investment of time or capital. Before investing in a new tractor, combine, storage solution or labor solution, a good farmer may ask several questions including:

  • Is my current process working well?
  • How do I determine the most suitable way to enhance my process?
  • Who will operate the new solution?

Let’s take each of these questions and apply them to the kinds of decisions, options and challenges that HR teams face today.

  1. Is my current process scalable? 

Before tractors, farmers plowed with horses, and before horses, they plowed by hand. The process of plowing and the strategy behind it haven’t changed immensely, but the technology used to handle the work has. The same is true for HR business process and workflow. Onboarding, off boarding, performance reviews, benefits management and payroll are all HR processes, which must have optimal workflow and process development before you can apply advanced technology.

Technology is simply an amplifier. It amplifies good or bad data, good or bad workflows, good or bad processes. Bad process + technology = really bad results. As the steward of your organization, you have no business investing capital in better technology unless you have sound data, process and workflow to apply it to.

  1. How do I determine the most suitable way to enhance my process? 

Congratulations! You have optimized your processes. You have a written sequence of workflows that you and others share and understand and follow. Now, it is time to research how to apply technology to your process. Should you invest in a more comprehensive Human Capital Management System (HCMS), Human Resources Information System (HRIS) or any other acronym that performs similar function?

Suddenly you find yourself in the midst of demonstration after demonstration, and salesperson after salesperson — all enthusiastically ready to share with you why their technology is the best. With hundreds of options available on the market, how on earth are you supposed to select the right solution? What is most suitable for your company? Which system will integrate best with your other systems and outside vendors with whom you would ideally like to transmit data? Which system aligns best with your awesome workflows? Suitability is key, but it is hard to find suitable programs from anyone who is subjectively commissioned to push their particular product or solution into your company.

Smart HR professionals are now using HR Tech Suitability Assessments in advance of going to market. An HR Tech Suitability Assessment allows you to quickly narrow down your search to a very short list of service providers that meet your unique needs.  From there you can request demos and make the most appropriate selection.

  1. Who will operate the new solution? 

Good farmers don’t purchase new machinery or technology without also assessing who will be operating it. Likewise, smart HR professionals make sure that in selecting technology, they have also assessed who will be supporting the implementation and the ongoing maintenance of the system. No system will be without major implementation and ongoing maintenance. These things will also be considered in your HR Tech Suitability Assessment to eliminate options that provide support you do not need, and to pay for services that will not be used.

We hope you have enjoyed our three-part series comparing the stewardship of your organization through the HR team to the stewardship of a well-run farm. Best of luck in all you do and we wish you a very plentiful harvest!


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