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Why IT & HR Should Fix Their Marriage of Inconvenience

Gavin Whatrup

September 29, 2016

5 minute read

whyitandhrshouldfixtheirmarriage-ftr

Of course key functions like HR and IT need to work well together. It’s so obvious—why bother reading on?

Because this photo on LinkedIn (account required to view) solicited over 9,000 likes and 400 comments (at the latest count). That’s LinkedIn, not Facebook or YouTube. That’s the professional network where people thoughtfully post content; there are no knee-jerk rants here.

The photo was of a desk laced with welcoming goodies for a new employee’s first day at a company. And the majority of the 400 comments were praising the exceptional image, saying it was unusual, surprising, unique, “good to see,” “if only at my company,” etc.

The overriding sentiment was, “This rarely happens.”

Joiners, Movers, Leavers

This photo got me thinking about the whole process of managing what is known in some organizations as the Joiners, Movers, Leavers (JML) process. This is where new staff are welcomed into the organization, have new accounts set up, have equipment and working space provisioned, and go through an induction program. Movers are existing staff changing their roles or functions, whether it’s moving departments, working on a new team, or being promoted. And those leaving have their accounts suspended, equipment returned, paperwork processed, and exit interviews completed.

I thought about how we all take it for granted and how theoretically simple it is, but how rarely it’s successfully put into practice. And the consequences of doing this badly—at each of the three stages—are significant.

What Happens on the Joiners Level

When new employees join the company, that’s the best time to demonstrate the culture of the company someone has selected to work for and committed their career to. So on their first day, when their desk doesn’t have a chair, their laptop is not on their desk, their desk neighbor is still using their new desk as extra space, or their name is spelled incorrectly on their login credentials, what does that say about the company? What will new employees tell their network of friends and colleagues, and what impact might that have on future recruitment? You wouldn’t want to see a poor company review on Glassdoor.com.

What Happens on the Movers Level

As for Movers, I recently wrote a blog post about how the nature of teams is becoming much more fluid and responsive to client needs. The operational corollary of this is that departments such as IT and HR (as well as finance and others) need to be able to work at the same speed whilst retaining the integrity of access rights and security.

That is why one photo solicited so many responses.

Seeing the desk of a new staff member prepared correctly is so unusual that over 4,000 professional people felt compelled to demonstrate how irksome the absence of this was in their own workplaces.

What Happens on the Leavers Level

I know what happens on this level. I’ve seen my teams form part of the exit process, and how frustrated they were when part of it failed and yet we were left trying to pick up the pieces. The result? Disaffected staff and lost productivity. In extreme cases, sensitive data is left on laptops given to staff who were “let go” as part of a restructuring. Malware is written by a disaffected employee and emailed to all staff, resulting in the deletion of thousands of files because of a poor exit policy. And malicious “All Staff” emails slandering other individuals are sent from another disaffected exiting employee. And that’s only at the Leavers level.

Fixing the Marriage

To be slightly contentious, JML is an HR process. They are the department that sits at the center of the hiring, moving, and departure of staff. So it is HR’s responsibility to make sure the multiple stages flow. But before I’m turned into a small wax effigy and submitted to crude acupuncture, I’m fully aware there are many dependencies in this process. I’m also fully aware that HR is subject to the effects of poor information flow and imperfect supporting systems.

And this is where HR and IT need to work much more closely together to resolve this current marriage of inconvenience. HR has the data flow; IT has the tools.

I’m not the first to make note of the need for these two embattled functions to fuse more readily. An interesting article by Tim Janisch, an HR professional, outlines his take here.

I’ve been in many, many meetings with HR folks trying to work out processes that can deal with the many vagaries of onboarding new staff at the whim of department heads, or an urgent client project requiring temporary staff hired late on a Friday to start first thing Monday, or calls to the helpdesk at midday on that Monday bemoaning high costs of freelance staff just sitting there waiting for their “kit and credentials.”

And out of those meetings come successful strategies, such as:

  • Scheduled weekly meetings between HR & IT going through the JML list. Doing this adds structure and delivers conversation, and therefore understanding.
  • A well-designed and tailored HR system, including workflow and distributed task management.
  • Integration between HR and helpdesk systems would be useful too, for auditing and compliance purposes.

A Good Start, But More Work is Needed

Two things are elusive:

  1. Firstly, mutual understanding of the pressures each function faces. Both teams need to be aware of the pressure points the other has to manage, and therefore what effect a variation in the workflow will have. Enhanced empathy will lead to a smoother process and a much more seamless outcome for staff.
  2. Secondly, the infrastructure supporting the management of our most valuable asset, our people, needs much greater investment. Staff are complex, unpredictable, dangerous, expensive, and precious. So why are we managing them with spreadsheets and emails, and with processes that don’t account for the many shades of gray people introduce?

Arbitration or Anarchy

HR and IT need a little marriage guidance. A break-up could be a very expensive affair with the company left to pay the alimony. There’s a lot potentially at stake: Loss of productivity as those new Joiners sit there waiting for their workspaces to be completely set up; loss of business due to erroneous access to sensitive data that’s then sent to the wrong client by mistake; or even the reputational loss of stolen data from a disgruntled ex-employee affecting new business. It’s all of these.

And wouldn’t it be great if each new staff member in your company felt compelled to post a photo of their new desk as this one did on LinkedIn?

As a closing bonus, here is a useful guide to what is termed User Lifecycle Management. Whilst it has a Google Apps focus, the general processes described are universal and provide some good advice and pointers.

About the Author

Gavin WhatrupGavin Whatrup (@gwhatrup) started out helping people do innovative things with data. Nearly 30 years later, he’s now helping organisations protect that data, take advantage of cloud-based opportunities, and reimagine the role IT can play in the new age. An early adopter of virtualization and hybrid cloud, Gavin recently managed the migration of his organisation to Office 365, across 12 companies and 1,000 users. From small data analysis company, via marketing start-up, media and advertising agencies to marketing communications group, Gavin has tracked the rise and rise of IT as a core corporate function, which at its heart is a people-based service, doing amazing things on a daily basis.

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