When National Hearing Care realised it needed to update its back-office technology, this HR professional knew good communication would be key.
Human resources software has been rapidly changing since the introduction of automated payroll systems in the 1970s, but HR hasn’t always had the opportunity to keep up.
Bogged down by policies, hemmed in by legacy processes or simply restricted by budget, some HR professionals have struggled to get new technology over the line.
When National Hearing Care, an audiology clinic franchise, received a nudge from third-party auditors Mercer to update its software, national HR operations manager Sara Crees CPHR was excited to transform the company’s processes. Its old approach wasn’t working.
“We had papers flying everywhere, so to speak, and employees were left waiting a long time to get answers about their leave requests. Both HR and payroll were scrambling to get the data right,” says Crees.
National Hearing Care was acquired by global hearing aid brand Amplifon in 2010. With the Amplifon headquarters in Milan, National Hearing Care employees needed to be able to provide reports to international stakeholders.
In 2018, Mercer’s audit found the Asia-Pacific region lacked the technology to keep up with the growing business. This was not just from a best practice point of view but also due to new compliance regulations, specifically the requirement for Single Touch Payroll (STP).
The review suggested the new system should have functions to improve reporting and free up time for administration staff. These functions included the ability to track staff attendance, allow employees to update their personal data, process payroll and link with the HR systems to enable better workflow.
“Because we were part of a global organisation, we had to provide reports about full-time equivalent (FTE) headcount and recruitment pipelines. It was very hard to do that when we didn’t have one source of data.
“We had an HR system that we were running separate to the payroll, and the programs didn’t speak to one another.”
Crees documented the process of going from paper to STP as part of her AHRI Practising Certification Program (APC) project – a project she had to turn around in just 12 months to meet the ATO’s strict STP deadline.
The first step was deciding which system to go with. The software was going to impact staff across the Asia-Pacific region, so this wasn’t something they could decide off-the-cuff.
The program needed HR, payroll and finance capabilities. A focus group of employees, who compiled a list of “wants and needs” for the new system, was organised to help Crees and her team to arrive at a decision.
After conducting extensive research, including speaking to software vendors at AHRI events, Crees and the APAC team settled on MYOB.
“After we chose the software, we met often with MYOB because we wanted to make sure the process was very streamlined,” she says.
“As we have stakeholders across the globe, it was much easier for us to present them with all the information they needed upfront to reduce too much back and forth. I liaised with HQ in Milan and MYOB to make this happen.”
“We had papers flying everywhere, so to speak, and employees were left waiting a long time to get answers about their leave requests”
Crees says constant communication was key to keeping the project rolling. It was so important, in fact, that she included it in the contract with MYOB. Though they were having fortnightly meetings with the vendor, the contract stipulated the team could call at any time if they had an issue.
Part of Crees’ effectiveness in leading the team through this digital transformation was knowing how to best communicate with the various stakeholders.
When reporting to the corporate team she focused on using their input to alleviate any roadblocks. But when speaking to staff who would be directly impacted by the new system, Crees zeroed in on their needs.
“We had calls with our audiologists, call centre staff, team leaders, managers, and directors. So we had to keep them informed about where the project was going and make sure they were comfortable. It was a big change for them.”
Crees had to make staff comfortable because the new system required employees to register their thumbprints to log their time, and collecting biometric data obviously comes with privacy concerns.
“I enlisted the help of an internal IT analyst. She showed a picture of the numbers that come out of your thumbprint and go straight to payroll. This helped staff understand that it wasn’t about the fingerprint itself, it was just a list of numbers. That reduces the skepticism.”
While Crees was proud of how her team communicated with stakeholders, she says providing adequate training was an area they could have improved on.
“The issue was the ongoing training piece that we probably needed to put more effort into because you tell them about it, you tell them the benefits, they get shown how to use it and then sometimes they forget,” says Crees.
“There might be some people who might not be as understanding of technology. They might consider it to be a barrier. Those people need more help adjusting.”
If she was to do it all over again, Crees says she would factor in more time for in-depth training sessions to ensure managers and audiologists were properly educated about the new process so they could pass on their knowledge to their colleagues.
The digital revolution
Despite these small hiccups, employees really appreciated the new technology; Crees received a lot of positive feedback.
On top of that, she realised she made her role, and roles of others in the HR and payroll department, so much easier.
“Previously trying to pull data for reports required a lot of double-checking with payroll and HR. Once we had a single source of data, it was just mind-blowing of how quickly we were able to pull the information out. It saved us so much time.”
Crees delivered the project on time. However, she acknowledges areas where they could improve. She believes, with more research, they could have tailored the system to address the company’s future needs.
She also says although they worked hard to link the new system with HR, they didn’t focus on linking it with the call centre system, which could have improved workflow even more.
Ultimately, Crees is proud of the project and what she learnt from it, and how staff embraced the change.
Humans don’t always cope well with change and 2020 has seen us managing an abundance of it. So when a project like this is deemed a success, it’s worth celebrating because each win is a step closer to the workplace of the future, one that’s freeing up the workforce to focus on the things that really matter.