Shopping for HR Systems: How much do you care?

It may be good news or bad news to you but choosing an HR system is of course shopping.
Shopping is a fun(ny) business in our minds and some clearly different neuroscience going on when we buy a house, buy a car, pick our socks or grab a bottle of juice. On all of which see below. But this article asks you to consider shopping for HR systems and these key points:

  1. Both the rational, which I’ll call the “cost-per-wear”, and the emotional “cost-per-care” influence how much we invest in selection decisions and this is for good reason
  1. The logic of the rational can be trumped by the emotional cost-per-care, not only in time taken to choose, but in the choice made – this too is valid

A conclusion is that awareness of the interplay of rational and emotional is something not to be set aside in something apparently so calculated as an HRIS investment choice. It is one part of a strong case for investing time, thought, money and expertise in the selection process.
A second conclusion is that the hard facts – the “care” factors – all need to stay current in that process in order to arrive at the right decision.

Cost per Wear; cost per care

On a personal scale we tend not to need to employ experts to help us with purchase decisions (unwisely?!). Yet the time investment made in our choices on the bare facts of it looks bonkers.
Apparently we take in the UK 21 minutes to decide on a house buy (note: only 19 minutes if you live in East Anglia) but 284 minutes a new TV. How on earth the banks managed to come up with that I don’t know, but this one I do ‘buy’ – at a time when the market for healthy juices was on the up, a good proportion of shoppers were taking a full 90 seconds in the supermarket to select this product alone for their trolleys[i]. We were starting to care and getting confused and these are both factors in making choice difficult.
I can evidence the discrepancy between the rational value of choices and investing time into making them without too much market research. You will be able to do the same. To the disdain of friends and colleagues I’d buy a car in a heartbeat because “it goes”. But please don’t take away my joy at choosing the right notebook. And in this context I mean paper, pretty, perfect. This is my version of the “cost per care” as opposed to the “cost per wear”. I ought to count the hours and miles spent in my car, but I don’t feel involved in my car and I don’t feel an attachment to it. It matters not to me; it goes.
In fashion the cost-per-wear concept is a fun one for magazines to play with but because of how much we care (an occasion outfit?) it doesn’t make sense without cost-per-care too. If I’m scoffed at for stationery or coffee by a certain other Phase 3 Director, then I evidence a sock drawer (please see image).
Fascinatingly, it has been proven that when those suffering injury lose the part of the brain which processes emotional importance, then decisions cannot be made at all – in shopping, the rational and the emotional have to work together.

Shopping for HR Systems

The rational theory is that you should spend as much time on your choice of system as is proportionate, given your team agenda and organisational strategy, as is proportionate to its use and the impact it will have on organisational life. You should accordingly then spend to cost-per-wear theory, and you may well have to because technology can be pretty expensive.
The business case for investing in an HR system – whether that be a functional stand-alone (learning management, payroll, talent) or a fully integrated HR and payroll solution – helps to clarify internally quite how “big” a system can be in quantifiable terms. This is not the article where I offer the return on investment. Certainly there are other purchase choices in HR that are less impactful and more readily undone. It makes absolute sense to extend that cost-per-wear argument into investing time, money and expertise into the process for making the right choice too.

How much do we care about HRIS?

My experience working with project leaders in HR technology suggests to me that the greatest danger is of realising we care really quite a lot, but realising that somewhat late in the day. Appreciating that it’s easier to find emotional resonance with things that we are more intimately involved in and have professionally “grown up with” that is terribly forgivable. I believe strongly that effective HR leadership does include maintaining a focus on core people business, with effective partners to take care of the rest.
However, finding it hard to care enough as is proportionate to HR tech impact, I find applies predominantly to the wider organisation as opposed to any single stakeholder. Care too little as an organisation in believing that people technology is going to make a difference and we can care too late in finding that the user experience isn’t great and that insufficient investment has been made. Care too little as HR lead or project sponsor and you may miss the involvement you need to realise the best for your organisation and for your teams.
By contrast, another way in which cost-per-care concept impacts HR system selection is that an organisation can care very badly that something is either changed or not changed. We must get rid of this current, awful, terrible system. We must not change this process, this structure, this set of MI.
Whilst I believe that as a consultants our role is to challenge assumptions, remember that both the rational and the emotional importance have to work together both for effective decision-making but also for the choices to be the right ones. That means that the less tangible factors can play a trump card and that’s a card that needs equal regard in our processes. It is not true that for the right choice we ought to set those factors aside:
Shopping is about selecting the right thing for the buyer. I encourage you to bear in mind cost-per-wear (logical importance) and cost-per-care (what all instinctively want) and to keep that current in minds throughout a selection process. In the case of HR systems, both make a strong case for investment and both are suggestive of the difficulty of selection. So invest in the selection itself – get involved, take time, think about the impact. Prepare well, involve objective views and look beyond the gloss. Shop wisely and please take longer than 21 minutes to buy a house.

[For another read on your choices playing the trump card take a look at I’m the client and I know how I like my coffee” ]

[i] ING Direct research (now Barclays Direct) in 2000 on house-buying, as reported in the Daily Mail; juice-buying as reported in the Economist, 2008 on “The Way the Brain Buys”

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