The Employee Self-Service Challenge

Back in the day, HR did a lot of manual data entry on behalf of employees:

  • Print up and mail out paper paychecks
  • Entered benefit changes in the system
  • Entered tax withholding changes
  • Entered address changes
  • Updated direct deposit information

Then self-service came along and we decided our employees could be trusted to update their own home address.

Self-service helped HR move down the path away from the mindless data entry/payroll slave to actually working with the business line and maybe someday getting that glorious “seat at the table.” Or at least working on funner stuff in the HR space.

In its current state I’ve seen self-service done really well and I’ve seen it done really bad. The best self-service have simple interfaces and use simple language. The worst make setting up direct deposit difficult as difficult as trying to do taxes when you’ve lived in two states and have three sources of income.

I had an experience last week that gave me a new perspective on employee self-service:

I set up a Sonos 5.1 surround sound system in less than an hour.

Home stereo systems have long been the bane of audiophiles who want great sound that includes music and vocals. Setting up surround sound usually consists of running wires, drilling holes in your walls and then trying to cover it all up. That was the old way.

Now speaker companies like Sonos are developing wireless stereo systems that can be streamed between rooms in your home and controlled from an app on your phone (read this article for all the technical details and the company history).  As we diligently studied all the wireless options available (Samsung & Bose make good products as well), we kept coming back to the Sonos because of the high quality sound and easy setup.

The Sonos team started working on their products years ago (back in 2002) by starting with a blank sheet of paper:

“‘Literally we took a clean sheet of paper and said, ‘Well, what if we made a stereo system for the modern age?’ MacFarlane [Sonos CEO] says… They listed the three features they wanted for the hi-fi of the future: You shouldn’t have to get up from the sofa to control the music; you should be able to pick any song you want to play; and you shouldn’t have to mess with wires. That was it. That was the whole plan. It still is.”

The Employee Self-Service Challenge is to make employee self-service as simple as possible. Like Sonos, I think we start with a blank piece of paper. With today’s technology why are we using systems that were developed 20 years ago? Those systems were developed for a different time and place and user. We need to stop endlessly trying to modify our existing archaic systems. If our current vendors won’t change we need to change vendors.

What does employee self-service look like in 2014 and beyond? Easy to read and understand interfaces? Does it include video? Options to chat with an HR representative? Is it available as an app on your smartphone or tablet? Pre-populated suggestions based on the employee demographic you belong to?

What do you think? Start the conversation in the comments.

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Melissa Fairman

Melissa Fairman is the author of the blog HR Remix and has five years experience working in HR. She's super awesome and has an MBA with an HR concentration from Baldwin Wallace College and a PHR certification from the HRCI institute. Connect with her on LinkedIn and Twitter at @HRRemix.

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