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Do You Need to Be a Tech Nerd?

In our "In the Trenches" interview with Bob Livingston he talked about some of the complexities of a modern HRMS. "Someone might want to change the number of levels in the organization. It seems simple, but you have to understand the far reaching effects, the tentacles that snake through the system."

If you've dealt with systems you'll understand what this means. It may mean restructuring tables in the database, going into any number of different comp calculation engines, reformatting display screens, possibly modifying security modules.

None of this unduly difficult for a tech nerd, however there are a couple of critical points for the HR manager:

  • Understanding the scope
  • Understanding the implications

    I once had a charming old HR VP who would infuriate his staff by saying, "We need to redo our compensation plans. Go to the computer and push the button." Well, if you've ever had to do this kind of thing, and I certainly hope you have, then you know that it's not pushing a button. It's days or weeks of intense work. If an HR manager doesn't understand this, then they are going to spend thousands of person hours left and right on the assumption that people are just pushing a button.

    However, as annoying and expensive as flippant changes to the system are, the risk here is small compared to the risk of not understanding the system. In my case, the systems were well protected from the non-nerd VP by a host of capable HR techies.

    However, if there is not a team of HR techies, if people don't understand the cascading ramifications of what may seem like a simple change then they can undermine the integrity of the system. In truth, we all need to be techies now. This means having the patience to sit down with the nerds and listen as they explain, in detail, how a change will affect the system. HR may be mainly about people but you can't do your job if you don't understand the software as well.

    - David Creelman