Freeing HR from the Tyranny of Email
I’m very fortunate to be in a role that allows me to work with HR departments around the world. I get the chance to see areas in which we, as a practice, thrive or struggle, where we are growing, where we can improve, and the shared struggle of practitioners everywhere to be effective in taking care of our service groups. And there is one common enemy, one shared scourge, one universal pain point with which my brethren wrestle daily. And that long-tendriled beast is known as email. In many ways, it is the bane of our existence.
That doesn’t mean that we should do without. In fact, for anyone serving a 24/7 operation without a 24/7 HR function, email is a critical communication path. But it has become the anchor that keeps good HR pros in their office, at their desk, clawing frantically to overcome the avalanche of minutia a service group can create. Even worse, once we are trained to serve the email overlord, we are loathe to walk away from that relationship, choosing instead to believe that we are the master in the relations. (Pro tip: we aren’t.) And if you are running a shared services group, you are in even deeper.
There has been a bevy of research done on what multitasking does to quality and quantity of work done otherwise. If you’ve not seen any of it, start here. Yet I’ve seen too many HRSSC teams to count who are built around this idea. They use shared email boxes and a rotating “dispatcher” assignments to try keeping up with the inbound messages. Each message must be read, considered, then moved to the right person (hopefully) to be resolved. Assuming that person can be found. And they are in that day. And they are up to date on their own email.
This is one of the biggest mindset changes needed to move into a case management system. The idea of having a person scanning and passing out emails is totally analog, as the kids would say. While employees are creative when it comes to word choices, we can use system intelligence to auto-scan and route 90% of the inbound message so the first person who sees them also happens to be the right person to handle them. By using employee demographic information and the FROM address on the message, we can identify who the sender is and what routing decisions should be made based on their data. Based in Germany? No need for the US team to touch your message. Working in California? Dave is your guy. In London on an expatriate assignment, but call Tokyo home? We know to pass your message to Chris without delay.
To go further, we can use keywords to be more precise. Emails asking questions about tuition reimbursement, benefits, payroll, recruiting or ay other facet of HR will produce language patterns distinct enough to predict with strong accuracy who can answer a question before anyone has laid eyes on it. Suddenly, the rotating job of dispatcher is done by the technology instead of in spite of it. It’s the equivalent in many cases of adding another person to the team. Except this one not only works 24/7, but almost never asks for vacation.
I can tell you, though, that having the capability it just the first step. There is still a mental hurdle to moving away from having a daily task of looking over all the inbound messages “just to be safe.” If you find yourself in that mindset, here’s my advice. Let the system do the work for a week, then review the results and see how close the outcome is compared to what it would be manually. Then compare the amount of time invested for both outcomes. (Pro tip: The system time will be almost none. This is one instance where the steam hammer will definitely outshine John Henry.) It can be a scary moment to let go of that control, but freeing up your limited resources and telling your team members that they have more to offer than screening emails is a win all the way around.
And if you are still wallowing in the world of email with no tool to help you get free? Our number is over on the right side of the page.