Assemble a Project Team to Launch Your ESS System

So your interest has been peaked. You’ve decided an employee self-service (ESS) system is just what your company needs, but the implementation process has you a little anxious.

Good news. You don’t have to go it alone. In fact, you have a strong base of expertise right under your nose. Designing an ESS system is a collaborative process—a true exercise in teamwork. So your first task as you launch this project is to tap your internal resources.

To learn the most successful com-bination of participants, Workforce talked with several service pro-viders—each with experience working with clients that have under-taken the job. Unanimously, they offered the following advice. The project should be handled by a team of stakeholders, consisting of key players from at least four constituencies: HR, information technology (IT), senior management and the workforce.

HR champions the project.
According to our experts, in most cases HR practitioners initiate ESS projects. Often they’re looking for ways to improve business processes and enhance productivity. Another possibility is human resources has an out-of-date HRMS package and those responsible for replacing it have discovered ESS while shopping around for new systems. And because HR people have a clear idea of the services that need to be provided to the organization, it’s easy for you to recognize ESS as a viable solution.

Susan Obijiski, an analyst with the Stamford, Connecticut-based Gartner Group, says: “What we usually tell companies first is, ‘Most of you don’t understand the potential impact of this. It looks like a slamdunk that’s going to easily give you some rapid return on investment and some productivity and isn’t going to bother anybody all too much.’” But in fact, as the lead feature in this “Trends & Resources” section explains, implementing ESS for the first time may require a companywide shift in mindset. And HR is tasked with accomplishing this. She continues, “So obviously, we’re looking for HR to be involved.”

IT contributes at different stages.
Sometimes at high-tech companies and large organizations, IT issues the call to action. “One of the things I’ve found over the last six months to a year is that you see more and more companies charging their IT departments [with productivity initiatives]. More often it’s the CIO—someone with that title—[who’s responsible for] finding ways to use the new technologies out there to change and improve efficiency,” explains David Lindheimer, product line manager for Best Software Inc. in St. Petersburg, Florida.

But whether it comes out of HR or IT, you’re going to need your IT people to be involved. Clearly, these folks are going to be delivering the infrastructure for your new system. So you’ll want them to take part in the early planning discussions, keeping the team in touch with what the new technology is capable of and making sure new applications will be compatible with existing systems.

Depending on the size and scope of your project and your company’s level of prior experience with ESS, planning and implementation can take from one month to three years. So according to Steve Fitzgerald, vice president of technology development with Bluebell, Pennsylvania-based PDS, the IT department may come in and out of the process at different stages. The department is likely to be very involved in the be-ginning, then go away from the process for a while, not being involved in the day-to-day discussions. Then IT would resume participation in time to help with the rollout.

Senior managers need to buy in.
Alexia Martin, management consultant with San Francisco-based The Hunter Group, explains that you need your key managers for publicity more than anything.

As with any corporatewide change initiative, you’re going to want to put together a communication strategy that will announce the ESS system and encourage your employees to embrace the new technology. This campaign will be easier with the endorsements of a few influential senior managers who helped to de-sign the new system.

Involving some of your executives in early planning meetings will also give you a clear idea of what their most pressing concerns are. Clearly, if you design the ESS solution to address these concerns, your team will have an easier time selling other senior managers on the business case for implementing the system.

Consider this example: One feature of your new ESS system simplifies the process of collecting approval signatures for an employee transfer. And this process has long been the bane of senior managers. Martin explains, “If you get a manager talking about how easy it is to just pull [the approval form] up on the brow-ser and initiate it and shoot it off—showing where this capability is resident on the system, word of mouth spreads [the news].”

And lastly, it never hurts to have senior-level support to help you clear away obstacles when you run into them—and you probably will run into a few along the way.

Again, this group doesn’t need to be part of every meeting. Its members should contribute their perspectives in the beginning, be on-call for the duration and come forward again to help with the rollout.

Employees and line managers share the front-line perspective.
Perhaps the most important group that should be represented on the ESS task force is the workforce, your end-users. This is especially true in manufacturing or other environments that are different from the corporate office. In these cases, many of the employees don’t have PCs at their work stations and may have concerns about accessing or adapting to new technology. They’re also going to bring a unique perspective in terms of what functions they most would appreciate and what challenges they might run into.

You’ll also want to incorporate the viewpoints of office workers and middle managers. And think about including some of the people in your HR department who will be most effected by the changes, including those who handle compensation, benefits and payroll. Also, co-workers in finance or accounting.

You may want to do a companywide survey to solicit feedback during the planning stages. Or you could include employees as permanent members of the team from the beginning. Either way, input from these employee groups is going to be especially important just prior to roll out, when you’re ready to beta test the system. Your employees can serve as focus groups to help you test your communication strategy. Then later they’ll share the news with their colleagues that they were consulted during the system design.

Prior to rollout you should think of having someone look the plan over with an eye for legal issues. Whether it’s an attorney in your corporate legal department, a senior manager knowledgeable in this area or yourself, someone should review the plan to look for potential problems relating to sensitive data.

So spend some time thinking of who you’d like to bring to the table. And call your first meeting. You may be surprised how much less daunting the project will be with a group of enthusiastic team members to help you.

Workforce, July 1998, Vol. 77, No. 7, pp. 71-72.