The Fallacy of “Reduce your Attrition” and Other Marketing Promises

CauseEffectI get dozens of emails each day telling me how a great product can have a miraculous effect in my company. Twenty years ago, I would get excited about new products, new technologies and best practice ideas. Now, not so much. I have become cynical, I suppose.

This most recent one promised to reduce attrition. Sponsored by PRISM HCM, their new Beehive software automates the grievance process, so that all employee communications to HR are done through this online tool, thereby allowing the capturing and analysis of issues. My apologies to the folks at PRISM because I suspect they are very capable, and their products are indeed helpful to organizations, but I struggling with how this would be helpful to an HR department that has not yet built their own credibility.

I know – we all know – that good marketing aims at grabbing customers emotionally by promising to solve a big problem that they most certainly have. Take Bounty – the quicker picker upper. Your problem is wasting money on paper towels that are not absorbent, and by using Bounty, you save money. Excellent! Or take ads for a pest control service. You have a problem and they can eliminate it. In order to shine among competitors, they draw you in by showing you gross pictures of vermin caught up in your attic. Ugh, but you buy because you have a problem and they are top of mind when it comes to a solution.

But marketing for HR products and services just seems a lot more complex to me, and while any buyer should always beware, buyers of HR products and services should approach a buying decision very carefully. The people aspect of organizations today is so overwhelmingly complex that it is very easy to spend lots of money without solving the problem.

I have a couple issues with this technology

First, it’s just data. Yes, it is quantitative data that is difficult to rationalize or ignore and that is better than HR sharing their subjective observations with managers. But the end results needs to be action on the data. If leaders are effective, they will already have figured out the problem and began addressing it. If they are new leaders or poor leaders, they will work twice as hard to deflect the empirical data away from any responsibility on their part.

So I come back to the root cause. If the root cause of high attrition is poor leadership, the solution has to be to develop the skills of those leaders or find leaders who have the skills and use them. Any other spend to fix the problem will be wasted until the root cause is addressed.

Additionally, the expense of the software is only the beginning. Once the software has been installed, it must be maintained, mined and analyzed along with all of the other data from HRIS, compensation, learning and development and recruiting. Then it must be presented to operational leaders. Can you say “overload?” Can you say “budget buster?” Can you say another reason why HR is simply looked at as a cost center than a business partner?

Please don’t misunderstand me…

I am an advocate of technology and have been for my entire HR career. I brought the first mini-computer into my organization in 1981 for the purpose of tracking sales incentive compensation. I have led or been involved in eleven HR-related technology installs over the course of 30+ years, including sitting on a team to design a custom HRIS product.

Where we are in technology today is too far ahead of our ability to use the data effectively. In my experience, HR teams send reams of paper with every metric imaginable (or they have a data warehouse that is too complicated to use) to operational leaders with talking points and tools for interpretation.

Instead of HR linking themselves to business results (revenue, expenses, margin) they float statistics like engagement, turnover, retention to their operational leaders, and spend a great deal of time explaining the research that links those numbers to business outcomes.

Focus on the right things

This is not to say attrition is not important, or may be very important based on who is leaving. But it is a symptom, not the root cause. If the data in a software like Beehive grievance module can be helpful to HR researching the root cause, that’s great. But is there already other data that will give you that information? Engagement surveys? Performance management?

Someone wisely told me a long time ago to pick my battles. I would add today, pick your data carefully to fight those battles that are truly worth solving.

A costly business decision such as software purchase needs to solve the right problem….not be just another emotionally driven purchase that solves nothing.

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