Personalize The HR Transaction

If you were asked to mix mojitos at a backyard barbecue — without any prior experience — could you do it? It’s not only bartenders or people who love mojitos who answer that question “yes” today. All it takes is a two-minute visit to, where anyone can watch a video walking them through the process.

Such sites that help people complete transactions in everyday life are omnipresent for consumers, and it’s fair to say that people’s use of the Internet for information has reached an expectation of instant expertise.

Do people have the same level of access to information at work? Can they find a person, document or video when they need it? Is the information available in a timely fashion, and do people have what they need to interact, engage and make good decisions?

Unfortunately, today the user experience that dominates employees’ and managers’ impressions of HR and talent management is the HR transaction. No matter how well-designed and executed, people may still consider many transactions as HR administrative burdens imposed upon them, as opposed to required responsibilities. Talent management transactions — including recruiting, onboarding, performance, compensation and career development — are automated at many large organizations. But do people really know what they’re doing when they’re completing transactions, and why?

The challenge isn’t just about the existence of information — for example, a lot of information is stored today in portal document repositories, point-in-time documents that effectively disappear almost as soon as they’re published. It’s about whether your HR message reaches its intended audience, and when it does if it’s engaging enough that they’ll pay attention. That’s because even if people attend an HR webcast or review a document, there’s no guarantee that they’ll remember what they need to when it’s time to complete a transaction, or that they’ll take the time to find content hidden in a document library.

Closing the Communication Gap
Communicating the purpose of what your organization wants to convey to employees and managers matters a great deal in the context of talent management. In fact, gaps in strategic HR communications create gaps in an organization’s talent management strategy.

Whether it’s data needed to make a decision, clarity about a deadline, the steps required to complete a transaction or the details of the HR program, it’s critical to communicate the information people need to think about before they transact. For a transaction to be successful, timely, personalized, accessible communication comes first.

• Timely communication means more than having an effective workflow process in place; it means that at all stages of that workflow, employees and managers have access to content that is applicable to the step or stage of the transaction. In other words, the specific content excerpt that matters most at that moment and for the given circumstances.

• Personalization recognizes that in a complex organization there will be many rules that will vary based on job, division, eligibility and a number of other factors. General communications don’t deliver the guidance and coaching people need. Personalizing content for the audience helps them take action and make decisions while simultaneously eliminating interpretation.

• Making content, communications and the message accessible is, perhaps, most important. A document emailed or posted to a portal at the start of an enrollment or transaction period isn’t enough. Employees and managers won’t work to find the information. It’s essential to push information in front of people at the time of a transactional decision and have a system to react and respond online when people do have questions, with the answers available to everyone, not just the person who asked a question.

Take compensation planning as an example, specifically a manager who makes two or three compensation planning decisions annually — once during the annual merit process, and two or three off-cycle decisions during the year. The choices have significant financial implications.

Do managers know the guidelines about how to invest compensation dollars wisely and in alignment with a pay-for-performance philosophy? Are they familiar with budget guidelines and regulatory requirements? Do they know how to communicate a merit increase — or for that matter a complex earned incentive — in a way that motivates the employee who receives the reward? In many cases, managers won’t think about the answers to these questions until the moment they need to make a decision.

It’s the ability to deliver information to managers at these moments that inspires better decisions while increasing the organization’s awareness of HR’s strategy and objectives.

Personalized Communications at ATK
Steve Schmidt is the director of HR shared services for the 14,000 employees of Alliant Techsystems Inc., also known as ATK, a rapidly growing aerospace, defense and commercial products company with operations in 22 states. At ATK, HR takes the lead in making sure that all employees understand what’s offered to them, including personalization by region, division, business and role. All transactions, from benefit enrollments to pay-for-performance planning activities, are supported through the strategic personalized communications delivered by the company’s employee solutions website.

“ATK personalizes communications about the plans and programs that should matter, and do matter to employees when they understand them,” Schmidt said. Even though ATK runs its HR service center 13 hours a day during the heaviest transaction periods like annual enrollment, people still routinely visit the site first for answers, which means they’re more educated when they do need to call HR for assistance.

“It’s about providing service, answering questions and engaging employees. By providing personalized content for people when they need it, HR is sponsoring a dialogue with employees,” Schmidt said.

The employee solutions sites had 1 million unique hits in 2012, and 90 percent of employees visited the site each month. Managers have personalized access to the manager section of the site, and an average of 55 percent of managers visit each month to get answers, including subjects such as setting up a requisition to replace an internal transfer or the process to give an off-cycle raise to retain an employee.

ATK updates the content on these sites almost daily with content representing personalized information on the events taking place throughout the HR calendar (e.g., goal setting, annual enrollment, merit planning cycle) and content based on employee and manager interest.

Technology to Reach the Culture
The right technology mix provides HR leaders unprecedented power to deliver HR’s message to influence their organization’s culture. Some elements to consider as your organization develops its technology engagement strategy include the following:

• Social intranet: The Internet has changed since the days when posting links and documents on a portal represented the best way to communicate. Social intranet technology lets HR reach its audience securely and personalized by role, whether that audience is the entire organization or an audience of one. Using profiles, tags, blogs and other interactive features makes the dialogue between HR and the team collaborative.

• Integrated experiences: Integrated experiences make information accessible to employees and managers. Delivering descriptive content at the time of the transaction (when employees and managers need it most) presents a tremendous opportunity to market HR. Content should be embedded in the HR transactional event, not buried in an email.

Analytics: Analytics provide the opportunity to communicate with the greatest impact when people need data to make decisions. For transactions where the choice is data-driven, analytics can be embedded in the user experience.

Video: Seeing is believing — integrated video makes it easier than ever for HR’s voice to reach its audience when they need the information most.

Video in particular is expected to grow significantly, with Jim Lundy, CEO and founder of Aragon Research, predicting an era of pervasive video within the corporate enterprise. This assertion is backed by analytics company comScore, whose research found that in October 189 million Americans watched 49.1 billion videos online.

Integrated in the context of talent management, video gives organizations the power to communicate the message HR would deliver if an HR leader could be with managers and employees at the time they make their decisions across the full spectrum of HR processes. For additional benefit, interactive video can include social features allowing viewers to comment, ask questions and search for particular topics of interest.

Personalized Communications Drive Accountability
With a personalized strategic communication channel in place, HR leaders can demand more from managers. This has been described as a form of respectful accountability in which HR can hold managers accountable for fully engaging in transaction processes because personalized communications take away any excuses that might lead to apathy or mistakes.

This is the most important result. The notion that HR decisions are optional or disconnected from the core responsibilities of being a manager or employee is a tired notion.

So is the notion of HR having a seat at the table. Today’s metaphor should be a different one: HR should be on the screens of the computers, smartphones and tablets that people carry with them every day as members of your workforce culture. HR’s voice, the guiding directional force of the culture, can be omnipresent, reactive, collaborative and communicative.

Collaboration between HR and the workforce isn’t fostered by transactions serving as the primary way people experience HR. People are not engaged by participating in a workflow process, they are not inspired by transactions, nor motivated by an online form. HR’s strategy risks being obscured by the traditional transaction.

HR’s message, delivered by personalized communications and expressing the intentions, motivations and requirements of its strategy, should come first.

James Bowley is a vice president at Peoplefluent, a provider of social human capital management products based in Waltham, Mass. He can be reached at