The Art of Employee Self Service

I’ve been lucky enough to work with organizations that have employee self-service to varying degrees.  Some push every piece of work back to the crowd, some only make it look like the employee can do anything on their own.  Not all self-service systems are created equal, and if they were the implementation plan and functional design would make sure there are winners and losers in each instance.  Because this tool is so easy to put into place and, if done right, so valuable to the organization, we thought it a worthwhile endeavor to share some thoughts on the fine art of building a great self service tool.


There are ways of ensuring employee self service is well define and well executed, and they start, as most projects do, with an understanding of who the customers really are.


So, for whom is employee self-service built?  It would be a natural response to say, “Employees, of course.  Their name is right on the label!”  But that’s not the whole answer.  In fact, I would argue that while employees use the tool the most, it is really built for HR, helping to move them out of the transaction business.  Managers have a stake as well, as we try to keep them from becoming the single source of knowledge for employees.  All three groups have a reason to want the system to work well, even though there is a significantly asymmetrical use pattern.


If you want to build a self-service tool that best serves the organization, it must be built with performance, functionality and utility in mind.  Because these three groups of stakeholders have different needs and goals, they each must be considered in the planning stages.


Employees need a system that will provide information to them on demand and allow them to complete simple transactions quickly.  It must also be so simple and intuitive, no training is required.  Think of using Ebay or ordering from Amazon.  While you may not love their designs, they clearly have a simple system that almost anyone can use.  The biggest challenge you are likely to face in this area is the need to authenticate the user, which means dealing with passwords.  Before you turn the system on, you must have a way to reset passwords automatically. Otherwise your HR team will quickly become, effectively, a password helpdesk.


Speaking of that HR team, keep them in mind during design as well.  Help them by making sure you have removed the burden from them whenever possible, but not making their lives difficult by going too far.  For example, there are times when a personal touch is required (legal document review, sensitive performance discussions, or dealing with personal issues).  Your HR team needs to be well informed and prepared for those events.  Trying to automate them can be the wrong move.


Additionally, always remember that HR is a service organization, and there will be times when they need to talk to an employee that needs help.  Too much emphasis on pushing people to the portal and taking away their contact points will damage the HR team’s reputation and effectiveness.  If you are using employee self-service in combination with HR shared services, it is important that you enhance the experience on both sides.  Pushing the right information to the HR team, making them easy to contact, and helping them help the employee is important to everyone’s success.


Finally, don’t forget the managers in the self-service equation.  Aside from the idea of giving manager’s their own tools (which you should be doing as well), make sure they have the access to see what their employees need to provide for taking leave or submitting forms.  Nothing is more difficult as a leader than being shut out of the communication loop and not being able to help your team.  If you don’t have a manager’s tool ready to deploy, simply having a well-defined process that helps the HR team reach out to the manager at the right time will enhance the relationship on all sides and smooth out any issues that may arise.


HR isn’t easy, and adding self-service tools can make life more difficult if not done correctly.  Make sure that you are including a way for everyone involved to communicate, collaborate and access information with ease if you want to reduce the administrative overhead of your organization.


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