HR Leaders Must Fight the Enemy - Unstructured Work

September 25, 2017

HR Leaders Must Fight the Enemy - Unstructured Work

From conversations with HR leaders over the past three years, I discovered many are so bogged down with unstructured work that it’s hard to drive consistent strategic value in their organizations. The function they manage is overwhelmed with service requests moving back and forth between employees and HR often via email and phone calls.  Despite significant investment in HR technology in recent years, the function continues to be defined by this unstructured work pattern, which creates an environment of inefficiency characterized by unmanaged expectations and employee frustration. 


HR organizations plagued by high levels of unstructured work had similar traits. They spent a large percentage of their time manually updating HR systems and responding to questions from employees; lack business metrics and data regarding the volume and type of requests coming from employees; and are unable to provide visibility into request status.


This work pattern negatively impacts an organization’s ability to shift the profile of HR from one of cost center to value center. The one consistent truth about unstructured work is that it is resource intensive so the more you have, the more people you need to keep up with demand. Unstructured work is the perfect example of working harder, not smarter.


So, how do you fight this enemy called “unstructured work”? How do you ensure that your team is well positioned to execute on an HR strategy designed to move your company forward — specifically, in the areas of succession planning, talent development, change management, and organizational and performance excellence?  The answer lies in developing an HR service delivery strategy that includes the following critical elements:


  • High levels of workflow automation – Minimizing manual work is the most critical component of the battle.  Wherever there is manual work, there is greater opportunity for errors, delays, and missed deliverables.  Enabling technology to move work through your organization from requestor to fulfiller is at the heart of a service delivery strategy.  Without automation, you cannot free up your HR resources to focus on strategic initiatives.
  • Sophisticated cross-departmental case management – The best way to minimize or eliminate email as the primary communication method between employees and HR is to implement case management functionality with workflow capabilities. Cases are auto-routed to the appropriate person or team for follow-up and response and everyone, including the requestor, has visibility to the status of all requests.
  • Comprehensive HR knowledge base – Empowering employees to get answers to their questions without being dependent on HR is at the heart of every good service delivery strategy.  Without a knowledge base, HR will continue to spend a significant part of their day answering basic questions even if they are coming via a case rather than an email or phone call.  Knowledge bases are not easy to develop and implement.  They require time and effort to pull together, but once in place, they can save organizations huge amounts of time and ultimately money.
  • HR service delivery platform – To fully automate your processes, you must consider your current HR technology and the gaps in service delivery you are experiencing.  HCM systems are not designed to address unstructured work.  Missing from many organizations and HR initiatives is a service delivery platform designed to manage how work gets done across an organization. There are excellent service management platforms available designed to integrate with existing HR technology to fill in service delivery gaps.


Imagine what it could mean for HR to create a workplace of the future where unstructured work is a thing of the past.  Employees consistently have great service experiences.  There are fewer emails.  HR teams have more time back in their day to focus on the interesting initiatives that drew them to the profession in the first place.  Access to metrics and data enables HR leaders to make better business decisions and employees are less dependent on HR for their basic service needs. 


This vision of a modern workplace is within reach for those HR leaders willing to embrace change and look beyond familiar HCM technology solutions which, on their own, do not solve the problem of unstructured work.

The Authors: 

Jen Stroud is ServiceNow’s HR evangelist, helping customers simplify and improve their HR services. Previously, she was the executive director of human capital services at TeleTech. In that role, Jen led an enterprise HR transformation initiative for its more than 45,000 employees, transitioning the company from a decentralized HR support model to a shared services operating model.