Why CIOs need to buddy up with HR

Why CIOs need to buddy up with HR

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By Rebecca Merrett (CIO) – cio.com.au

There’s an obvious reason why CIOs and HR managers should get together

It may not be the department traditionally tied with IT, but it does manage the organisation’s most valuable asset, people.

Equally, with technology underpinning almost every business and industry in some way these days, organisations will struggle to keep up without their IT capability. So there’s an obvious reason as to why CIOs and HR managers should partner up.

IBM’s global CEO survey for 2012 found 71 per cent of respondents see the people within their organisations as a key source of sustained economic value, which makes a partnership between human resources (HR) and IT a worthwhile pursuit. So why aren’t CIOs and HR staff automatically strong allies?

“Fundamentally IT and HR people think differently,” claims Ross Forgione, CIO of Johnson Winter & Slattery Lawyers. “I’m a very logical, processing thinking person and you need that characteristic in IT and as a CIO.” Facing HR people who tend to be more emotionally-driven and focused on soft skills can therefore be a challenge.

“CIOs need to have their minds open enough, perhaps have that moment where they realise ‘I can’t just be a logical animal’,” he says. “They need to have connections, soft skills and not just work within the very rigid and refined space which is IT.”

Kelly Fischl, principal consultant at HR consulting company Coaching Ink, lays the blame for disconnect between the two departments to their lack of understanding about different priorities. IT, for example, might push to deliver a new technology, whereas HR might be cautious around how it will affect company culture and staff.

Forgione agrees, saying CIOs and HR managers need to better understand what each other’s role is in delivering on business outcomes. “Logically we are seeking two different outcomes. You really need to understand what the benefits are that each department brings to the organisation, and you actually need to work side by side to get better outcomes for the organisation.”

IT people also tend to look at people and processes in a ‘black and white’ way, he says.

“Perhaps IT still takes that approach of ‘you have come to me for something and I’m going to give you this, you will fit into this mould’ which creates tension,” Forgione says. “It is also very difficult to do a great job if you are just looking at your department in an isolated way.”

Tackling staffing issues

It is worth pointing out why CIOs and their IT teams should be mindful of the important role HR plays in their organisation. According to PricewaterhouseCooper’s 2013 Global CEO Survey, filling talent gaps are the top investment priority for 27 per cent of all CEOs over the next year, followed by implementing new technology (26 per cent).

One major staffing issue many organisations are experiencing is to source the right IT talent, Guazzarotto says, making a partnership with the HR manager crucial for the CIO. He says the issue is this “old school thinking” about IT, where softer skills such as customer service and business strategy are often overlooked or underrated in candidates.

“HR folk find it much easier to recruit to a skills matching model where they can say ‘you need skills in Java, HTML, Prince2, project management’ and they can tick those boxes off quite nicely,” he claims.

CIOs need to be more directly involved in the recruitment process and act as an advisor to the HR manager on the sorts of skills they need, rather than just submitting a job description and expecting HR to figure out the rest, says director of management consultancy Future Knowledge, David Guazzarotto.

Fischl agrees, adding HR managers can also help CIOs understand how a candidate would fit culturally into the broader organisation and not just the IT department.

When it comes to skilling up his IT staff, Department of Defence CIO, Dr Peter Lawrence, taps into HR’s knowledge of available courses and workshops. “They understand courses that are available in the market, they develop some common courses we use across all of Defence, and they can facilitate and access the programs through training providers,” he says. This helps identify training that can deliver the best results.


Another issue that relates to staff retention is actually one IT and HR share. Both are still often viewed as the ‘rules and regulations’ departments with strict governance policies and procedures when it comes to letting employees bring their own devices to work, says Michael Specht, senior advisor at Navigo Research.

The CIO has a detailed policy document for what employees can’t do with their devices and, similarly, the HR manager also has policies. Together they are seen to create ‘barriers’, he says.

While rules and regulations are important, Guazarotto says the CIO and the HR manager need to work together to identify areas where they can be more flexible in their policies, particularly when looking to retaining Gen Y workers.

“There’s nothing more demotivating for a millennial after a Sunday night where they have done their banking online, engaged with friends on Facebook, read a newspaper while watching television and downloaded a Game of Thrones episode in the background, than to come into work on Monday morning and have to log in and start working in archaic platforms,” Guazzarotto says.

“There’s a big push for things like bring your own device. To really enable the workforce to leverage those technologies, we need co-operation between CIOs and HR officers.

“We don’t just need the technology in IT enabling devices to operate within the corporate system, we also need to take away some of the constraints employees have in terms of where they can work and how they work. HR can help ensure new and better ways of working are able to be achieved.”

Value drivers

One of the biggest ways CIOs can partner with the HR manager in delivering value to the business is through automation of HR processes. At the Department of Defence, Lawrence is using automation to free staff from manual tasks so they can focus on more strategic initiatives.

Atlassian IT director, Peter Georgiou, is also working with his HR team on automation. With provisioning of IT services being a headache for both IT and HR, he is streamlining this process through a human resource administration system (HRAS).

However, it’s important not to get too carried away in automating everything, says Fischl, which is why working with the HR manager is so important in recognising what needs to be automated and what needs to be left alone.

She says some processes in HR, as labour-intensive as they are, need to be managed by staff. One such example is onboarding, which requires a lot of human contact and making news hires feel connected with the people in their teams and the organisation.

Another way both departments can work together to deliver business value is through HR analytics. Fischl identifies significant opportunity for HR to work with IT in using analytics tools and software in a more sophisticated way to predict staff shortages or turnover for instance, as well as productivity and staff satisfaction per headcount.

However, even though many HR professionals may have a desire to deliver more insightful metrics to the business, they simply do not have the in-depth knowledge and expertise like IT to be able to utilise it best to their advantage, Fischl says.

That’s where IT needs to partner with HR, adds Specht. The HR department may have huge amounts of data that is under-utilised just because they do not know how to interpret it and turn it into useful information.

“Too often, ‘people’ data is left until after you have done the financial, customer and product data,” Specht says. “But if you overlay the people information on top of what product lines are selling, which customers are better, and where your finances are, you are able to start to see and understand how the people initiatives can actually influence top and bottom line benefits.”

IT and HR also have the potential to work together on creating innovation within an organisation, says Guazzarotto, as it’s “really a combination of technology and culture”.

The final piece for success

Technology can be brilliantly implemented, but it doesn’t stop there. In order for any technology to be successful it needs to have a strong level of take-up with staff and to do that, they need to feel comfortable using it, says Andrew Hill, Deloitte Consulting Human Capital partner. Too often, CIOs put all their efforts into implementation only to find employees are not using it and it simply costs them money.

Working closely with HR to help staff adjust to any changes in how they go about their day-to-day work and to help foster take-up is a vital part in the final piece for IT/HR success, he says.

“Technology is the domain of IT, but the skills, programs and knowledge on how to adopt them sits in HR. An organisation can spend an enormous amount of money on large, technology-driven transformation, but they will never realise the full value and they won’t realise it rapidly without the HR skills to effectively drive adoption of the technology and the solutions,” Hill claims.

“IT comes at it with the ‘ones and zeros’ view and it is HR that can help them deal to the shades of grey that are the people programs.”

Forgione says CIOs need to work more with HR in getting the message ‘out there’ in the organisation about a technology change the IT team is working on so that when it is implemented, it is embraced quickly and easily.

“You can make a change within an organisation and constantly communicate a message of where you want it to be, only to have the organisation fall back to a standard norm and revert back to the culture learned over time,” he says.

“As IT people, we are not always aware how we need to communicate the requirements for change in an organisation. HR is very good at doing that and maintaining that message.”

“Not only can they help with that message for change, they are also likely to be the ones that get the feedback when you have made that change.

“When staff go through performance reviews, or they are being spoken to about their performance, if they ask ‘why aren’t you working at a particular level?’ nine times out of 10 they will probably say ‘we have a brand new IT system and it sucks’.” Depending on the staff member, they may not give that feedback to IT but they will generally give it back to HR, Forgione adds.

“Every opportunity I get to sit down with HR and have a meeting, I absolutely do that.”

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