Technology can be a valuable asset for absence and disability management professionals, who align expectations among team members and build plans for reasonable goals. Learn how to make the most of technology in this podcast episode that elaborates on concepts shared in the Technology & Innovation issue of DMEC's @Work magazine. We've unlocked the column "Integration Technology 101: Master the Basics for a Better Leave Experience" so listeners get the full story.
[00:55] Heather Grimshaw: Hello, we're glad you're listening. I'm Heather Grimshaw, communications manager for DMEC, and we're talking about technology lingo with Megan Holstein, vice president and head of Absence Management for The Hartford. Megan and Nikki Cleaves, director of Platform Partnership for The Hartford, wrote the column “Integration Technology 101: Master the Basics for a Better Leave Experience” in the Technology and Innovation issue of @Work magazine. And Megan has agreed to elaborate on a few takeaways from the column, which notes and I quote, “becoming a technologist isn't required to embrace employee benefits and leave technology tools.” We'll unlock this column for listeners and believe that comment will resonate with absence management professionals, who tell us they sometimes feel like they need a translator to understand technology lingo. So Megan, you describe human resources professionals as, and I'm quoting here, masters of multitasking, and note that technology that's designed to ease administration can frequently be overwhelming. Can you talk about how absence management professionals who increasingly need technology to manage, in some cases hundreds of leave laws, can learn enough technology lingo to make informed decisions?[:
[04:29] Heather Grimshaw: That's great advice. I think the suggestion to ask questions is so important and you share a lot of very helpful acronyms in the column, which again, we will unlock. So that's a great guide. As a follow up to that question, I'm hoping that you'll be willing to share effective steps as well as a ballpark time investment that's needed to truly understand technology options. Some professionals believe they need a thorough understanding of the process from cradle to grave, as well as the handoffs, which frankly sounds like a huge undertaking. So I'm hoping that you can shed some light on which areas are most important to learn and what kind of time investment absence management professionals should expect.[:
[07:43] Heather Grimshaw: That's great advice. I love the suggestion to walk through that ideal state and then, as you said, the one that you can afford, because sometimes there's a little bit of a difference there, but maybe it's a tiered plan and then certainly I would assume that would also help inform those expectations, which would be really valuable.[: [:
[08:58] Megan Holstein: Definitely it's the best way to get change management and buy in. And change management is extremely important when you're implementing new technology.[:
[09:29] Megan Holstein: There's a lot of homework one can do and a lot of it has to do with research. So I'd say step one, budget for research. Whether this is budgeting money, your actual dollars spent by hiring a consultant who can do the legwork to do a market scan for you, or budget in terms of your time or your team's time, and searching the market and doing a scan of the possible vendors. Be wary of fancy websites and promises if you do wind up doing the research yourself. A lot of technologies will make big claims. They'll list many important customers, but you need to understand if those important customers are using the full technology or just a portion of the technology? Are they using that tech in the way that you want to use the tech? Are they trying to solve the same pain points? So don't get excited just because you see a big brand name. Also, make sure you insist on demos, or in addition to demos you're insisting on a sandbox or a limited trial license to make sure the software really does what the demo or the PowerPoint presentation says that it's going to do. Make sure that you get references. Call your references for honest assessments. So, part of your homework before you get to the stage of doing demos with technology companies is to create a list of references. What would you want to know from current users of the software? And that would be how long did it take to implement and what happened when things went wrong? How did this vendor partner work with you? Because nothing will be perfect. But it's very important to know how somebody problem solves or how a company works with you to find a problem when you do hit a road bump in the process. Find out how and why they're using the software. Again, is it the same reason you need the software or technology? Is it integrating with your other systems? It's very important just because the software is appealing to you. If it can't talk or integrate with your other systems, if that's a need, it's important to know that. So in addition to your homework and creating reference questions, you can identify with your IT partners, the areas of integration that might be needed, as well as just literally getting to the pain points of what you're trying to solve. And again, rank order the pain points you're trying to solution. Because again, you may not have the timing or the budget to solve everything, but knowing that at least your highest ranked pain points could get solved with this technology. Investing in technology is a true marriage. So doing this research and the homework is an important part of that investment because you will live with the technology you've chosen for quite some time. It is very hard to unravel.[:
[12:35] Megan Holstein: Definitely getting your assumptions as well as your stakeholders assumptions out on the table and into the discussion with potential vendor partners will go a long way to clear the air because everybody has their own idea of what the technology will and won't do. So part of your homework could include gathering those assumptions from the stakeholders who will either use or rely on the software's data and getting that out in the open pre-implementation, or at least as part of the change management. I'd say the final piece is to make sure you've got buy in for change management because things will be different. You're not going to have technology that's just going to perpetuate business as usual. So if you don't have people ready for change management and you don't have resources allocated to change management, it's very hard to have a successful technology implementation.[:
[13:49] Megan Holstein: Confusion definitely comes from making assumptions or not asking questions. I mentioned acronyms. Always ask somebody to break down the acronyms because they sometimes mean different things to different people. Don't hesitate to ask questions. And also, I mentioned earlier with the change management, a lot of times people think that you plug in the technology and what you're used to will always happen that way or the technology will work similar to other technologies. So it's important to know that you've got to be prepared to learn the technology anew. Don't assume that it's going to be just like some other type of technology that you've had in the past. When it comes to integration, which is one of the items we mentioned in the article, confusion can definitely happen when you don't understand the two systems or the multiple systems you're integrating. Which one is the system of record, for what purpose. You can clear up this confusion by identifying each technology and its purpose and how you want that technology to retain its purpose of being the system of record. So let's say when it comes to payroll, that's the system of record for whether somebody will be paid or not during their absence. If it's a time and attendance, that's the system of record of whether somebody clocked in or out, as well as adding up the hours and minutes somebody's either at work or off of work. If it's the system of record to determine somebody's eligibility for state, federal law, or company policy, that's where you're going to rely on [where] employees work, state identification, or their address. Even though most of these systems will all have the same information, they may not be the system of record. … During an integration of technology where you want to retain those system of records is very important and will help you through that integration process when it comes to resources and budget, which is something we talked about in the article as well. Again, making sure everybody's assumptions around who's doing the work and whose money is allocated to the work clears up a lot of confusion. A lot of times you hire a vendor, you buy some license, some software, and you think that vendor is doing all of the integration or all of the implementation work, but they're expecting your IT team [to do it]. So can quickly clear up confusion by identifying which resources are doing which steps of the implementation or integration work. Also, it's important to understand, will the software need to be configured to adapt to your purposes or does it need to be customized? You often hear the term out-of-the-box, but that means different things to different people. So again, really doing that homework in advance, writing down the reasons you need the software and what you need out of it, and ensuring that the vendor can quickly identify whether the software can easily do that, or you need to allocate budget dollars or It resources to customize or configure the software, will clear up a lot of confusion.[:
[17:23] Megan Holstein: Yeah, it never hurts to break it down to Technology 101. Tell me what that means. Tell me what you mean when you say that.[:
[17:46] Megan Holstein: And like I said at the beginning of our discussion, you come to the table as an HR professional with all kinds of expertise that your technology vendor or your It colleagues don't have. So identifying who's the SME really helps and therefore they should expect to answer your questions. And you don't need to be the expert in everything because you're coming to the project with your own area of expertise.[:
[18:44] Megan Holstein: A great part of technology is the data it can impart once it's being used and collecting information. So definitely when it comes to absence management, the data from your technology, whether it's the integrated data from multiple sources or a single technology tool, should be able to give you the overall impact people's time away from work has on your organization. And obviously not just who's in, who's out, but it gives you a sense of why are people taking time off and how are they taking time off? So, starting with the how are people utilizing large chunks of time where they need big blocks of continuous leave? Or are people coming and going on an intermittent basis? Or even a reduced schedule basis? This could inform your policies. Perhaps if you see people coming and going intermittently, you can consider different workplace accommodations or flexible scheduling. If the intermittent coming and going is disruptive to your business, or… if the data reveals people are taking a continuous leave, you might look at certain policies around [that]. If the reasons are parental leave, or caring for family members or caring for children, perhaps you should look at programs that support the need for this time off. Also, the data can tell you what you might be missing. So often, actually, in the absence management space, we see workers compensation managed outside of the absence. In the HR sphere, it tends to be managed by risk, the risk team, or even under like a finance CFO. So you could be missing whole groups of workers who are not at work and you're not capturing them in your leave process. And the data could reveal this when you share it with managers and they identify, hey, you're missing these four people over the course of the year who were gone, or this group of this type of leave reason. This data could reveal something as bad as a compliance problem, because perhaps you're not running those workers compensation leaves as considering them under FMLA, or even just missed opportunities for efficient workplace accommodation programs under the Americans with Disabilities Act, or even a way to get people to return to work or stay at work better. Also, the data may reveal this is more than we can handle; there's too much going on. We need to bring in a consultant, or we need to consider outsourcing our absence management. But basically, if you're using technology in this day and age, if it's not capturing data for you and you're not utilizing that to tell a story, you're really missing an important reason to use technology in your HR absence management process.[:
[22:06] Megan Holstein: It's so true when we think of leave reasons, and sometimes, depending on the types of absence, you may not get [an] actual diagnosis, but you can get a sense of people taking time off because of physical ailments. Perhaps it's mental reasons, perhaps there's safety problems going on. The data should be able to inform you, and then you can consider additional programs like a wellness program. You may need to increase your safety education. There's a lot of insight that can be gained, and there are a lot of experts you can tap into, whether it's consultants or your other employee benefit vendors or brokers, that can help you tell a story around data or combine it with other data to get the insights you're looking for.[:
[23:20] Megan Holstein: That's a great point. When you are going through the current state workflow, identify where people are using data or reporting. Now clarify, is it useful data or do you wish it were different? Do you need something different to improve upon? And where are we lacking data? So, excellent point that during the process of doing your homework, having a workflow event and getting stakeholder buy in, recognizing where they need the information and would like to have insights, will really help you as you look for a technology partner.[:
[24:10] Megan Holstein: Thank you for having me. Technology is definitely our friend. We should not be afraid, but we don't have to be the expert.