How HR and IT Can Work Together Better

Jul 25, 2016
9 Min Read
How HR and IT Can Work Together Better

When IT has an unfilled opening, the entire organization feels it.

Projects stall, daily processes slow and productivity drops.

That’s why human resources often kicks into overdrive to try and fill IT positions as quickly as possible.  They know that technology is so deeply ingrained into every department that it’s critical for the bottom line to get IT running as smoothly – and quickly – as possible.

Unfortunately, filling a position in IT often becomes a lengthy and messy process, says Chris Brown, vice president of human resources for West Unified Communications in Chicago.

For example, some HR people lack the technical knowledge to recruit the right IT candidate or may not understand how this person needs to function in IT and cast too widely for candidates.

On the other hand, IT “typically more than any other department,” wants more interviews of candidates, and that can slow down the process, he says.

“IT can be very risk averse. They fear making decisions, and may distrust any possible hire who they don’t already have a connection to,” Brown says.  “Or, they may say about a candidate, ‘We love this guy! …. Got anymore?”

Difficulty in filling open IT slots is just one of the issues that can make HR and IT seem at odds with one another. The problems are not new:  a 2006 study of the IT and HR relationship found that IT employees were concerned that if they get on the wrong side of HR, “their careers could be in trouble really quickly,” and HR would “always get even” if IT didn’t “play the game” the way HR wanted.

Still, while some contend that HR and IT relationships are getting better, it’s not happening quickly enough in some cases.

"HR and IT have to manage technological change together. They have to come to the table together with their respective expertise - look at what needs to be achieved from both sides, then work on their own implementations,” notes Kevin Streater, former head of IT industry engagement at the Open University.

Brown believes that IT and HR need to improve communications, so that each understands the priorities and sources of pain. IT must understand, for example, that some of the things they wish for in IT hires “simply don’t exist,” and they must make more of an effort to create a positive working environment to reduce turnover, Brown says.

“I really try to convey the consequences of not filling an (IT) opening,” Brown says. “The only way to do that is to understand what’s happening – that attrition in IT is costly and everyone bears the weight of an open IT position. I have to make sure (IT) understands why it’s so important to get someone in that position quickly and also how it’s going to affect IT if they don’t.”

New adaptations

HR and IT working together better isn’t just important for recruitment and hiring reasons. A recent report by Deloitte finds that 72% of business and HR leaders believe digital HR is an important priority. HR sees “unprecedented opportunities to streamline operations, improve employee engagement and redefine the work experience” through new technologies such as integrated cloud-based systems, Deloitte says.

That’s not a small order, and will require a new way of thinking. It will mean new technology, as well as adapting existing technology platforms. It will demand new apps and integrated technology and processes, Deloitte finds.

Such a complicated undertaking will require that CIOs become strategic partners with HR, and HR will have to make the business case to CIOs that it’s worth it to invest in such digital technologies – not an easy task since IT often is under orders to cut costs. Further, HR doesn’t have a historically strong bond with IT: a survey by Sungard Availability services found that only 12% of HR admits to working closely with the CIO.

It’s clear that while HR and IT know they need to improve the working relationship, it may not always be happening quickly or smoothly. Here are some suggestions for improvements:

  • Help IT understand the marketplace. Many IT departments put in long days, often isolated from other departments and an understanding of what’s happening in a competitive marketplace. HR can help IT better understand how they fit into the big picture against competitors – and give them more realistic expectations when it comes to job candidates.
  • Do your homework. Any HR person working with IT needs to become familiar not only with the skills necessary to do various IT jobs, but understand how to use data to educate them about business processes, such as how IT how talent searches will be conducted.
  • Avoid emails. IT sees emails as very inefficient, and HR is known for sending copious amounts of it. Brown says he’ll often send a quick text to IT leaders after a job candidate is interviewed, for example, asking for them to respond “yes” or “no” to a candidate. “(IT) gets pounded with emails. The text is a way to keep things moving with a quick answer,” he says. “It can be very hard to get feedback from them, and you might have to wait so long that you lose the candidate.”
  • Embrace citizen developers. “HR needs to share their pain points as a first step and get behind the IT department by cultivating ‘citizen developers’ within the business that can shepherd tech projects and determine what will be a success or failure. Ultimately, the more IT can influence HR, the fewer shadow IT projects they’ll be wrangling later in the year as unknown technology projects start to appear,” writes Jen Stroud on HRZone.
  • Be accountable. HR needs to better understand what IT does, and vice versa. Many of the headaches created by IT are of its own doing – refusing to coach or mentor employees, demanding lengthy interviewing processes and communicating little with teams can lead to high turnover. IT needs to partner with HR to create better communications and teach them the soft skills that can improve employee morale.