The Perfect HCM, a fairytale

This article originated as a blog describing effective HR system selection steps. In researching the content, finding anything new to bring to the topic became challenging. That does not mean, however, that we have it well in hand. We only need to look as far as the Net Promoter Score reported in the November 2022 HRR Tech Satisfaction Survey by i4cp. Of the participating 407 organizations with over 1,000 employees, 10% said, “I would recommend my system to a friend or colleague,” while 58% were dissatisfied enough to disparage their system in conversation potentially. The result? A Net Promoter Score of negative 47. 1

The following was born out of that dilemma. Sometimes a story is worth a thousand articles.  

Part 1 – Once upon a time . . .

Listen closely as I tell you a tale of a courageous heroine, two evil wizards, three little pigs, a plucky HR team, and the wise and powerful knights who came to town.  

Once upon a time, a VP of HR Operations named Goldilocks lived in the Kingdom of Vantage Heights. Now, because Vantage Heights lay in the South, everyone called her Miss Goldy, which she accepted gladly as, all of her life, people had teased her about being the little girl in the Three Bears fairytale – which she certainly was not! Miss Goldy had worked in the Kingdom for under a year, but that was enough to know that something was amiss. Her team was regularly working long hours, using manual processes to complete critical tasks (like weekly short-term disability payments), and the payroll team was printing ongoing off-cycle checks to keep up with weekly performance incentive calculations for the hourly sword forging department. The company had honed its processes as fully as possible. But it was not working, and Miss Goldy felt she knew the reason.

Eighteen years earlier, the wicked fairies, Inertia, and Priorides (get it? – priorities) cast a spell on kingdoms across the land. This spell forbade the selection of a new HR/payroll system until the day those kingdoms were kissed by the presence of a strong and worthy HR Operations leader. Until that day, the system and manual processes accepted so many years ago would remain unchanged, unchallenged, and destined to continue despite all new technology. Miss Goldy understood the spell but had to try something to save her team and her new Kingdom from the perils of stagnation.

Miss Goldy had one small head start. Before she began leading HR in her prior Kingdom, she was part of a team that had successfully overcome the spell by choosing and implementing a new HCM. She had learned from her leader and from that process. It had changed her, made her bolder and more analytical. She was now ready to lead this challenge and take on the responsibility of selecting a new HCM for her beloved new Kingdom. She might be a strong and worthy leader.

She developed her business case. She built her budget (which included some 3rd party consulting hours as a safety net – though she doubted she would need that.) She submitted both to the Budgeting Committee just in time for the coming fiscal year, and when her project was approved, she was elated. Her team was ecstatic; they imagined a new work life where they could focus on numerous delayed projects from prior years. They were ready for change.

And so, she set out in search of a new HCM. One that would make work easy, intuitive, and automated. A solution that would do it all at the press of a button.

Part 2 – The one you know.

Miss Goldy had a plan. In her last company, they had a system that worked magically, named Once Upon a Payday. She recalled it had all the required functionality, including much missing in their current platform. With a few tweaks, Once Upon a Payday could resolve her team’s problems, leaving them happily ever after. And so, she contacted the sales rep, inviting them to conduct a demonstration for her team.

She and her team met over the next week to make a list of the functionality they needed in a new system – their wish list. It included all the processes and calculations their current system could not handle. It also had guidelines on Talent modules that were now standard in most new solutions but that her current system lacked. They toiled for days and were proud of the extensive list of requirements they made.

On the demonstration day, everyone was ready and eager in anticipation. The food was good; the coffee was hot, and although the conference room was cold, they donned their coats and sweaters and sat attentively through the demonstration. Oh, the wonders they saw! Everything appeared to be new, colorful, and intuitively organized. The team was enthralled.

“How soon can we get this?” squealed the payroll manager. “Can we implement this before annual enrollment?” asked the benefits manager, almost jumping out of her chair.

But turning the focus back to their list of needs and attempting to hide her enthusiasm, Miss Goldy asked, “How will the system calculate our weekly performance incentives? And will it handle the import and posting of 3rd party payments for tax reporting?”

Like a pin popping a child’s favorite balloon, the sales rep answered flatly, “No, I’m afraid not.” This system performs only the transactions I demonstrated and nothing more.”

Every shoulder on Miss Goldy’s team dropped at least 3 inches. “What do you mean?” they asked in unison.

“I mean to say that this system was designed to address a specific set of HR, benefits, and payroll processing needs, but it cannot be adapted to do anything more, especially in the ways you are asking for. It works for your prior company, Miss Goldy, because this software meets all their needs. I’m afraid Once Upon a Payday does not appear capable of providing the same ‘happily ever after’ for your current organization,” the sales rep responded.

And with that, the heartbroken team dragged themselves out of the room. Would they ever find the perfect HCM for their company? The team understood now that no system works for everyone. They needed to find the right solution just for them. Miss Goldy now knew she needed to take a different approach.

And so, off she went.

Part 3 – A new approach

In her determined way, she went straight to the internet, the keeper of all knowledge, and asked, “What is the best HCM system?” The computer churned with the forces of a million hamsters scurrying to parse the wealth of data held in the massive electronic library called the Internet of Things. She found three that caught her attention at the top of 85 search results. It occurred to her that this number was familiar. How often had the purchasing department reiterated the need for at least three bids – three products and three prices to compare? She, of all people, should know about the power of threes! She felt now that she was on the right track. She sat up straighter and got right to work.

It took a few days, but Miss Goldy put together an email with attachments that sought to describe her Company’s needs for a new HCM solution. In addition to the information already gathered, it included a description of their imagined future state — where all data had a single point of entry, employees updated their addresses, and managers initiated requisitions for job openings. It also included the capability for data across all modules and integrated systems to be updated timely, and where her team required little or no manual intervention to make sure the data was correct. (Remember, this is a fairy tale!)

Miss Goldy sent her wish list and request for proposal to her three potential vendors (called Personnel Information Generators, in that far-off land, or PIGs) and sat back to wait for their responses.

Cinder HCM (“the perfect fit for your HR needs”) rang her first. They were excited to respond to the request and anxious to schedule a time for a system demonstration. Drawbridge (“spanning the gap in HCM technology”) and Haystack (“Delivering your HCM needle”) were quick to follow with their responses.

Then Miss Goldy received the vendor proposals (“piggy plans”) and got busy pouring over the 100+ pages of information. She read and read and then read some more but was not equipped to compare all of this information to her list of future state requirements. And the cost information – what a mess. She and her team had already spent many hours on this project, and she was staring down at many more potential hours. She was beyond tired and under increasing pressure to break this curse.

At that very moment, she heard a swish and the sound of a tiny twinkling bell in her ear, like a small wand awakening her senses. She immediately remembered the consulting hours she had included in her budget. “Maybe I do need help!” Maybe a consultant who has managed this process before and has practice evaluating HCM systems would provide just the right expertise to drive this project to successful completion,” she said, realizing the magnitude of the work before her.

And so, off she went again – this time resolved to get the help she needed to succeed.

Part 4 – Help Arrives

Miss Goldy had made significant progress in pursuing the perfect HCM solution over the past weeks. She had learned that no one system works for every organization. And, having gathered piles of data, Miss Goldy realized that selecting a new system required many hours of work that were no longer tenable for herself or her team. And with that realization, she called in the troops.

Now, by “troops,” I mean she called in Vantage Heights Consulting (“VHC”) because, after all, she was in the Kingdom of Vantage Heights.

They scheduled a meeting that very week. The wise knights (and consultants) of VHC had waged this battle many times before and were fully prepared to battle for Miss Goldy and her team. VHC assured Miss Goldy they would bring the needed bench strength to save them from doing this time-consuming project themselves while also managing the business as usual.

Fortunately for us, they were not starting from scratch. If they were, it would make for a much longer story, and all involved felt that it would not be in the audience’s best interest. So VHC went immediately to work reviewing the work that the team completed. They sorted, organized, color-coded, and finally created a document to beat all documents. For this was a skill in which VHC excelled – this and humility, of course.

The date for a grand tournament was proclaimed, in which all three software systems would compete against each other to see who was most worthy to serve the Kingdom. Each vendor was excited to participate and prove its might. The first to arrive was Drawbridge. The Drawbridge team launched confidently into their presentation, building their case, plank by plank. Automated workflows, intuitive user interface, and outstanding help features were all amazing. Their focus on system security had dug a moat around the system that would be difficult to cross. (Lol, get it?)

But it was not long before they saw that this system would not fully bridge the gap for Miss Goldy’s team. When the topic of off-cycle payroll came around, VHC probed and prodded until, finally, it was evident – their solution was lacking.

“Why that’s worse than what we have today!” exclaimed the payroll manager. “We cannot afford to take a step backward on this.” And the rest of the team nodded in agreement.

VHC’s fine work had saved Miss Goldy and her team from a fate worse than… Let’s say it saved them plenty.

And so, the team agreed that Drawbridge was not the solution to their problems. Miss Goldy and her merry band left the tournament’s first round with heads hanging, hoping for a better outcome tomorrow. But they took with them another important lesson – sometimes, the functionality we already have is not so easy to duplicate, and that needs to be part of the process.

Tomorrow, I have to bring a better solution!

Part 5 – Their “Just Right” 

Over the past weeks, Miss Goldy and her team have endured several disappointments. Would there be a system just right for them? The grand tournament was still in full swing, and the whole of the Kingdom was eager to see who would win the final round.

VHC asked the remaining systems to complete challenges such as sorting through large amounts of data and performing annual Talent processes like Performance Management and Salary Planning. Being a sturdy little pig, Haystack quickly and accurately completed the Talent processes efficiently, impressing the team. However, their reporting and analytics were blown away by Cinder, which offered additional, user-friendly tools.

On the other hand, Cinder offered undersized Talent management modules in comparison to Haystack’s sturdy showing.

“Why can’t we just get it all in one package!” complained the team. “We love both, so how do we choose between them?” (Please remember that Miss Goldy’s team was not typically whiny, but this process took its toll on them, so try not to judge.)

VHC had one more trick up its sleeve. “These vendors both have Technical Partners that provide integrated solutions in various areas,” they explained. “Let’s request that Cinder and Haystack bring the best of their Technology Partners to support Talent and Reporting, respectively.”

And so they set the challenge for the next step. Partners were brought. Demonstrations were mounted. It was as good as any jousting match and almost as nerve-wracking.

Ultimately, Miss Goldy and her team declared Haystack the winner because they had a solid foundation and were willing to look for the tiniest needle to bring solutions for the Kingdom. (And also because hay is more challenging to blow down than one might have believed.)

As for Cinder, although the system was lovely, if the shoe doesn’t fit, it’s hard to live happily ever after.

Everyone rejoiced, knowing that Haystack would be the perfect HCM for them! And from that day forward, Miss Goldy referred other Kingdoms to VHC because they were the best in all the land. (And someone had to be the hero of the story.)

The end.


1 Source: HRR Tech Satisfaction Survey (November 2022), Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp).


Barbara Buchanan, Vintage Hill Consulting
Director of Strategic Services at | + posts

As Director of Strategic Services for Vintage Hill Consulting, Barbara Buchanan engages with clients around the task of HCM System Selection.  For the past decade, Barb has excelled in leading both large and small HCM projects, showcasing her expertise in conducting business analysis, system selection, and implementation projects. With over 25 years of HR operations and shared services experience, she possesses a profound passion for empowering individuals and organizations to fully embrace their HR technology. Barb's hands-on leadership approach has been pivotal in working with numerous organizations across diverse industries, and navigating through significant organizational changes, such as start-ups, mergers, acquisitions, and dissolution.

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