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The maturity levels of HR automation

The maturity levels of HR automation

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A dream world for People Operations teams is one where repetitive, tedious tasks are avoided; processes are optimized; and employees get the help they need effortlessly. In the current reality, many HR managers are still stuck manually completing tasks that could be automated, leading to an adverse experience for both them and the employees they work with.

According to a Harris Poll & CareerBuilder study, HR managers who do not fully automate say they lose an average of 14 hours a week on manual tasks. 28% spend 20 hours or more, and 1 in 10 (11%) spend 30 hours or more. This is far from the dream world of automation and seamless processes mentioned above, but there are also many places in between where companies may fall.

How advanced is your organization’s HR in terms of automation? The HR Automation Maturity Model describes the different levels of automation both for the employee experience and from an HR point of view.


Levels of automation for the employee experience

Employees rarely see the backend automation of the HR processes at a company but still experience whether it’s seamless or not. Here are the five levels of automation from the employee experience point of view:


1. “It’s often unclear how to get help”

At the lowest level, processes are unclear and employees don’t know how to get help. Time may be wasted digging for information, trying to find the right people to talk to, or tackling the problem alone to avoid spending more time and energy. Even for straightforward questions like “How can I request time off?”, asking HR directly is often the only option for employees.


2. “I know how to get help but it’s a pain”

This level of automation improves the experience slightly, where employees know how to get help, but it’s still a pain. Documentation of information and policies exists, but it may live in a separate system and be difficult to access. In these cases, employees may look for workarounds – like asking colleagues or using unofficial communication channels  – just to avoid the hassle. HR constantly reminds people about existing policies or systems employees should already have access to.


3. “I can get help easily”

Here, we start to get into more positive territory. Employees feel they can get help easily, with well-designed processes and easier access to information; however, that help isn’t personalized and employees still have to put in extra work required to find the right solution. For example, a simple chatbot might point the employee to the relevant document, but it fails to reduce the workload of completing the process by suggesting the right next step.


4. “The help I receive is more than I’d ever expect”

At this level, processes are easy to follow and understand. The experience likely meets – or even exceeds – employee expectations. Perhaps this comes in the form of a smart Slack bot that automatically answers common questions and immediately sends the right form based on employee information. Or, you might have an app that automates the onboarding process, giving new hires access to relevant systems and creating to-dos for HR.


5. “I get proactive support in a way that just feels magical”

At the highest level, employees are in that “dream world” of seamless, user-friendly automation. It’s hassle-free to get help from HR, and the support they receive is flawless from onboarding to exit interview. All of that is embedded into the systems employees use every day, so they never have to log into a separate HR service portal. Since many touchpoints are automatically initiated based on employee journey events, employees frequently get support before they even ask for it.

It’s clear that most People Operations teams want to aim for a Level 5 employee experience – but those high levels of automation are also beneficial to the HR managers themselves.


Levels of Automation: HR Experience

The automation experience on the HR side creates opportunities to increase productivity: departments can avoid tedious manual tasks and focus their efforts on higher value-added undertakings like strategy. Similar to the range of employee experiences, though, there are five levels of automation from the perspective of HR departments.


1. Manual work

At the lowest level, there’s no automation at all. HR teams work mostly manually and there’s a lack of digital systems – in essence, the opposite of “paperless.” An example would be an onboarding process where the HR manager has to walk each new employee through every step, from paperwork to systems training to setting up accounts. This is still how things are done today in some HR departments.


2. Task-based automation

Most HR teams fall at this level or the next one. Here, there’s at least some task-based automation – but it’s very simple. For example, you may want to inform employees when their vacation days are about to expire and automate the notification email so it’s not forgotten. Or maybe you set up some task automation for the payroll process. What’s missing is transparency about what actually happens after the initial task or message – the automation is entirely one-directional.


3. Self-service automation

Often powered by an intranet or a simple chatbot, self-service automation helps employees find the right information. It even allows them to solve some tasks on their own. This may be a change in the employee’s bank details, a quick look into the vacation balance, or logging hours into a timesheet. A self-service approach is more hands-off for the HR manager, but it still doesn’t allow automation of the entire process.


4. Robotic process automation

Rather than just automating individual tasks or steps like in previous levels, this is where automation starts to take over processes end-to-end, such as “I want to relocate from Berlin to Paris.” This robotic process automation means HR teams can connect different systems and run the entire process without a human having to watch and manually trigger each step. 

Another example: onboarding. Instead of mapping out the process and only automating some of the steps, Level 4 would mean the whole process – from ordering work equipment to setting up accounts to signing paperwork – is automated.


5. Automation-first operations

In what we call the automation-first operations approach, HR teams have an automation mindset by default and cultivate the best employee experience possible. Whereas robotic process automation (Level 4) still involves writing out a process and programming it with software built for single processes, with automation-first operations, everything is connected and enabled. Entire employee journeys can be automated, and automation is a fundamental part of how the HR team operates. This even extends to collaborating with other teams that need to be involved in People Operations processes, such as IT or Finance.


The Evolution of HR Automation

It’s clear that automation in People Operations has come a long way in recent years. Some even go one step further, with Gartner reporting that 17% of organizations use AI-based solutions in their HR function and another 30% will do the same by 2022. 

The “dream world” of optimized processes, fewer manual tasks, lower costs, and effortless help for employees exists when organizations reach the highest levels of HR automation – a welcome evolution for HR departments and employees alike.

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