Big-dog Mercer twitches


I remember a friend that had a few big lazy dogs that spent most of their days sleeping on the front porch.  If you just glanced at them, they didn’t seem to move much. But, if you watched them for a while, you would see that they would slowly moving around, getting into position for the next thing that would happen in their routine like the kids getting off the bus or someone filling their food bowl when they would spring into a flurry of movement.  That slow movement may only be the moving of a leg or shifting this way or that, but as you watched, it became apparent, that they were not only getting ready, but they were jockeying for position, just in slow motion.

Some businesses are ever-changing their products and strategy, and others are those big dogs that sleep on the porch.  They aren’t just lying around as they often appear to be.  If you watch, they may pick up there heads, look around and then lay it back down moving them an inch or two ahead of the competition.  Mercer has been doing just that lately, they’ve been scooting around on the porch getting ready for when health care and economic reform the bus unloads in their front yard.

You may have recently heard that Mercer launched its Human Capitol Connect by partnering with PeopleClick Authroia.  They have a nice flash animation on their website that shows how this partnership will merge their intellectual capital as a long-standing HR consulting firm with PeopleClick Authoria’s technology.  It will be interesting to watch how they grow and compete in the Talent Management space. What’s interesting though, is that while everyone was watching this big dog move its head, it was quietly moving its legs along too. I have no doubt that Mercer will be well positioned to help companies adapt to the ever-increasing number of contingent workers as we see the results of health-care and economic reforms.

Today, Mercer announced that they have acquired Innovative Process Administration, LLC (IPA).  IPA has been powering Mercer’s EasyEnroll product for a while now and it just makes business sense for them to buy the technology instead of renting it now that it’s proven.  However, this is more than just buying your vendor so you don’t have to pay them anymore, this is a great move on Mercer’s part to become more dominant in the middle market space for benefits administration.  Along with the technology, they picked up over a 1000 new clients.  You don’t have to look to far to see that the cost and complexity of benefits administration for everyone, including small and mid-sized companies is about to go through the roof as the reforms take effect.  Mercer knows that there is great growth opportunity in the middle market in the coming years and they are inching their way towards it.  When the time comes, they’ll be ready to bound off the porch and over that annoying little yip-yip dog.

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Posted in Benefits Administration, EPM | 2 Comments

Finding the BAM! in your LMS


I admit it, my tip for reducing capital expenses in my posting ‘Kicking the Monkey‘ wasn’t very glamorous.   But that’s OK, life in the trench isn’t glamorous.  It’s muddy down here, and if you have to be looking for ways to grind it out to get the job done. With that in mind, as Emeril says, it’s time to add a little BAM! with some more ways to leverage that LMS.

On Boarding

With luck, your organization too is hiring new people.  When you do, you have to run them through what ever version of new hire orientation takes.  As part of that, you inevitability have to have your new employees complete their W-4’s, sing their code of conduct and what ever other paperwork you need to have them complete.

If you set up each of these tasks as a class in your LMS, even routing them to the online forms or PDF’s to fill out and sing if need be, you can get them checked off and tracked.  You can capture your code of conduct signature right in your LMS as well.  Since most organizations want a to have employees sign their code of conduct each year, you can set that up for renewal in your LMS as well (we’ll call that tip number 3).

How much will this save you?  That depends on how complex your current process is and how you manage it.  If you’re dealing with it all by having someone sit down with each new hire and go through a pile of papers, and you have a high volume of new hires, it could be significant.

Open Enrollment

What are the challenges of OE?  In a compressed time frame, you need to distribute the information on benefit plans and options to your employees and then walk them through the registration process allowing them to select plans and options for health, dental, vision, life, etc.

Did you ever think about doing your open enrollment through your LMS?  Think of the savings you would realize by distributing You can capture all the data you need from your work force through your LMS and you can teach your employees about their benefits at the same time, which will reduce costly time spent answering employee questions about their benefits.  According to the DOL website, ERISA (Employee Retirement Income Security Act), which regulates a laundry list of health and savings benefit plans, requires that notification be delivered to the employees timely.  By providing the information electronically through your LMS, you’ll not only be able to avoid the printing and mailing cost, but you’ll be able to log when employees have received and reviewed their information.

What will this save you? It could easily be tens of thousands if not more, depending on the size of your organization.

Posted in Budget Reductions Ideas, Creative Solutions, LMS | Leave a comment

Alphabet Soup


Two members of my team recently earned their CPP (Certified Payroll Professional) certification.  They studied hard, went to classes and sat for the exam.  They were both thrilled to learn that they passed and can now order their new business cards.

The HRIP (Human Resource Information Professional) is a fairly new certification that has been created by the leading professional association for HRIS professionals, the International Association for Human Resource Management (IHRIM).

IHRIM’s says the benefits for certification are:

  • It differentiates you from others through demonstrated competency
  • It shows you have knowledge of HR information management beyond that of your everyday tasks
  • It gives you a competitive edge when seeking promotions or a new position

Each certification body that I’ve worked with has similar benefits listed for their own certifications, but to they really add value or mean that someone who has the certification is more qualified for the job?  Are these benefits real and should we be looking to hire only certified people?

I asked one of our corporate recruiters this question.  Her take was that how much they look at it tends to depend on the hiring manager.  For example, we had a manager that wanted the Project Managers to have their PMP, but the current manager doesn’t really put much value on it.  That may be because of the organizations adherence to PMI’s methodology though.

I’m not the first one to ask about this though.  NetworkWorld published an article about the value of IT certifications last November where they discussed the findings of a 3 year IDC study reported on by Cushing Anderson.  The IDC study found that successful organizations rely on members that have up to date and applicable skills and knowledge.

Anderson said, “Training and certification are effective measures of how well team members can work with specific technologies, hardware, and software.” He continues, saying, “Used properly, certifications play key roles at the convergence of business and IT trends. IDC research shows a direct relationship between higher levels of certification and improved performance — when team skills improve, organizational performance increases proportionally. The percentage of relevant certifications a team holds is a reliable measure of an IT team’s functional capability. Each new certification increases team performance.”

Is Anderson concluding certified people are better by the nature of certification?  While it is a component, I don’t think that’s all there is to it. Sure, to get the certification, you have to prove a basic level of competency and experience, so we start with a common baseline which means that I can expect a certain level of knowledge.  That’s just where it starts though.

If we take a look at most any of the valued certifications, we’ll find that they have a re-certification process that requires a certain number of Continuing Education Hours in the certification period.  I’d argue that this is one of the real value adds to ensuring that the certified has that ‘competitive edge’.

The HRIP requires that every 3 years, you have 60 hours of continuing education.  60 hours may not seem like much, but we have to remember that it’s above and beyond doing things like reading this blog.  It’s getting additional training to stay current, and on top of trends in the industry.  This is a great value to me as a manager and I know that if my staff is continually seeking training, they are going to have those up to date and applicable skills and knowledge that will make them a high performing team.

I’ll be getting my HRIP, will you?

Posted in Management, Perspective, Training | Leave a comment

Kicking the Monkey


10%.  That’s my goal – to reduce my annual HRIS by 10%.  Sure, I could just opt to let 10% of my staff go, but what’s that going to earn me – a short-term savings that will result in more problems than it solved.  I can’t just tell my ATS vendor that we’re not going to pay them, and I’m kinda stuck with SAP.  I don’t have any major projects that have enough pad to let me come in 10% under for the year either, so where on earth do I find my CIO’s money?

Remember those aisles?  It’s time to get creative and go shopping.  In the spirit with which I set forth in creating this blog, over several posts, I’m going to offer up some practical ways to save some money – some creative solutions to business problems that you may not have thought of.

Tip 1 – Get rid of your survey tool.  Zoomerang, SurveyMonkey, etc. Most of us have used one at some point or maybe we still are.  We use them for things like Employee Satisfaction Surveys, Class Surveys, Exit Interviews, etc.  The list goes on and on.  But I ask you, do you really need one?  “Sure,” you say, “I could go back to paper and pencil, but I don’t want to manually enter all that data for thousands of employees.  I want to be able to email them the survey, let the employees take it online and then be able to report against the data.  I want to be able to track who has and who hasn’t taken them.”  I can understand and even sympathize, but I’m still going to suggest that it’s time to get the Monkey off your back without sacrificing your end results.

To explore this, consider what a survey it is.  It’s really nothing more than a test where the taker’s opinions are the answers.  A good LMS is a powerful tool, and even most bad ones will let you create tests that you can let users take.  Those tests could just as easily contain survey questions.  Once the survey is done, you’ll be able to slice and dice your data in any way you want.

But you want your respondents to be anonymous you say?  Does your LMS allow for non-registered users to take courses?  Most do, or at least will allow it though a guest account, so let them.  This will protect the anonymity of your respondents and still give you all the data you need.  If you want, you can even have a nice presentation on the value of completing the survey before you get to it.

Is this going to save you big bucks?  No, SurveyMonkey will give you an unlimited package for $200 a year, but this is just a teaser and as Ben Franklin said, “A penny saved is a penny earned.”

This idea was just a teaser for greater and larger ideas to come, so stay tuned!  Before it’s done, I’ll present ideas for saving hundreds of thousands!

What creative money-saving solutions have you envisioned?

Posted in Budget Reductions Ideas, Creative Solutions, LMS | 1 Comment

When Self-Service isn’t


It happens every year, somewhere around the time employees get there W-2’s.  The call comes in, “I moved back in May and forgot to update my tax information. Can you change it and reissue the W-2?”

Around here, our payroll teams routinely have the request to retroactively correct time entered (or not) into the system.

Self-Service is rolled out to empowered our workforce so they can quickly make changes to their data, report their time or make requests.  We do this as a value add for our employees, but cost is also a real driver behind this.  It costs more to have payroll enter the time or to make those address changes than it does for the employee to do it through a web portal.  But what happens when the employee doesn’t hold up their end of the deal?  When they don’t enter their time correctly or fail to update their W-4 data after a move?

The success of any Self Service tool is dependent on many things, but employee accountability is often over-looked.  When employees aren’t held accountable to policies and procedures, we can quickly see the envisioned efficiencies slip through our fingers like so much sand. When preparing our Self-Service tools, we need to remember to work with our HR teams to revise our policies to reflect the employee accountability factor, and that will help.

We all know though, that there will be those employees that just don’t follow the rules or will be repeat offenders.  Again, this is where HR comes in.  It should be decided up front how those situations will be addressed.  For some transactions, there may be such low volume that it won’t matter, we’ll just deal with it as they come up.  For others, the amount of time that can be wasted by making corrections for those repeat offenders is truly a costly proposition and steps need to be taken to encourage employee accountability.

When employees routinely cause others in the organization to do extra work to correct their mistake or fail to follow company process, it can be considered a performance issue and there shouldn’t be a double standard for payroll & HR transactions compared to other company policies.

At a former job, I was a salaried employee but as a consultant, I needed to report my time for billing purposes.  The first time the new process was put into place, I failed to follow it and didn’t get my time in by the cut-off.  The following Friday was pay-day and lo and behold, I didn’t have a check.  It was explained to me very clearly that if I don’t report my time, they can’t bill.  If they can’t bill, I don’t get paid.  You better believe my time was submitted early from their on out.

That may be a bit harsh for some organizations, but the point is that we need to consider how we are going to enforce our policies around self-service to ensure its success.

Posted in ESS/MSS, Management, Perspective | Leave a comment

My point exactly . . .


Steve Boese summed up my position nicely with another military metaphor in his post Tactics and Technology, pointing out how we need to adapt to technology least we get mowed down like Pickett.  Technology is rapidly changing and we need to find ways to work with it.  As he points out, we can’t just own the technology, we have to understand it as I pointed out in my post, Wandering the aisles of our systems, we need to take the time to understand what we have before we assume it can’t do the job.

Nicely done Steve.

Posted in Management, Perspective | 1 Comment

Attack of the data gremlins . . .


The other day, while at dinner, I wasn’t paying much attention to my Diet Coke, reached for it and took a big drink and almost ended up spitting lemonade across the table.  It turns out that I grabbed my son’s glass and took a healthy swig.  It’s not that I don’t like lemonade, it was just unexpected.  My mouth was looking to process Diet Coke and it got lemonade and wanted to reject it.

When dealing with unexpected system results, IT staff will often quip “Garbage in, garbage out.”  We’ve all heard that expression and no one wants to learn that you’ve had a “pay impacting incident” or any other incident that has a significant impact on employees.  Data errors happen, but where do they come from and how do we avoid them?  It all starts with making sure the files we load are what we want.

The fact is that most data errors are driven by change or are a result of incorrect data being contained in the files that are loaded into our HRIS or payroll systems.  Well constructed systems controls that look to catch data driven errors before they are able to have significant impact to your end users is the key.  Finding the balance between risk and reward can be a challenge though and is unique to most every organization and for each data feed.

There are some basic things that need to be verified for each inbound data feed.  First, we need to ask, “Did the sender send me the correct file?”  It’s common for an error to result in resending a previous file or sending just plain bad data. Ideally, we would have both a control email and a header or footer in the file with the totals.  If the file originator sends us an email with control totals, we can use that as a basis for our down stream checks.  The first would be to validate that the control totals in the email and the file footer match.

We home-school our kids.  Occasionally, my oldest daughter will try to teach her younger brother something.  As a result, he’ll produce work for me that is based completely on misinformation (there are times I’m not sure she doesn’t teach him incorrectly on purpose).  With that in mind, I’d like to take a minute to point out that it is important that the control totals, if pulled from the file sent, aren’t truly valid.  To ensure validity, we need an independent audit of sorts.  There should be a report that is generated at the source separately from the file to validate the control totals in the file.

Getting back to our tests, the next question to be asked is, “Does the file contain what the sender expected.”  When the file is generated, the program that is used to export should be keeping a running total of key data elements as each row of data is processed.  If we use a the example of a bonus file, you would expect to have a control total for the dollars associated with each earnings code as well as a grand total for the file and the total number of rows.  The inbound data processor would then do a preliminary pass to ensure that the data in the file matched what was in the control totals.  This may seem like overkill, but I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve seen files that didn’t tie out within themselves for one reason or another.

Once you’ve proven that the file is the file that the sender intended and it contains the data that they intended for it to have, your system can continue with the load. Depending on the type data that is being loaded, there are different things that should be done to validate each step of the load.

Once the data has been loaded, there should be a tie back to the original control report.  If they don’t match, there is an issue and the data will need to be backed out or corrected which is never any fun, but it can often be avoided if you take these simple steps to ensure you are loading what you think you are.

Posted in Management, Perspective | Leave a comment