Simplification VS Customization. What Works When?

This is a decision that almost all HR practitioners irrespective of level, geography and business segment struggle with. The reason for the struggle is the fact that while it should be a business decision, if it is not done with a well-strategized and thought out approach, it can seem like a judgment call. Avoiding the concerns that might arise if this is not a data-based or parameter-evaluated decision is absolutely critical. Therefore, as an HR practitioner, the primary role is to first identify what are the basis for deciding or suggesting that a particular process should be simplified or customized.

Below are some broad parameters that one can use for the identification process. There can be many more factors added based on the organizational context and the people processes that are present within it.

Current phase of the process Is the process well-established in the organization or just initiated?
Cross-geography application Is the process applied widely across geographies or is more specific to some countries of operations only?
Extent of impact Which segments of employees are impacted and how many of them?
Time and perceived benefit What is the time-frame to simplify or customize the process and the perceived benefits of both scenarios?


To give a better idea, here are some examples of processes where the parameters can be applied to get some insights. The Talent Acquisition process is usually the first step to the Talent Lifecycle in any organization. If the HR team wanted to evaluate whether it is better to simplify or customize one will need to analyze whether the overall process is well-established or in initial stages, whether the same process is currently being used across geographies or different ones in different countries, how many employees are covered within this process, how much time will it take to carry out either a simplification or a customization of the same, along with a feasibility assessment comprising of a cost-benefit analysis.

At some stage this will also need the overall process to be broken down into key sub-processes and all those assessed as well in order to take a well-assessed decision.

Another example of a process would be the Performance Management one. If the same parameters are used to conduct a base line evaluation first then we will be checking essentially for the maturity level of the process within the organization, the spread of the process and therefore its impact on various employee segments, and the time as well as benefits of simplifying the current process or making it customized. 

Apart from that, understanding what simplification and customization entail, for each process is also important before undertaking either exercise. Simplification can typically mean having a single, clearly defined, standardized and step-wise approach that can be followed as is across any location, any department, any function, within the organization. A consolidation of tasks which are inter-connected or removal of overlapping tasks from the process flow is also part of the simplification process. For example, typically the salary review process involves inputs from the performance appraisal data for a person. Therefore, in many organizations when there are internal performance appraisal discussions, between managers, they keep the merit increase percentages handy and allocate that while they allocate the appraisal itself. Two small sub processes are plugged together into one. But this might only apply in this manner, if the process is conducted in a certain way within the organization.

At times depending on certain unique needs that arise, organizations might opt to follow the middle path which comprises of elements from simplification as well as customization. That is also a good approach to follow if the organization’s needs are aligned to it. For example, a linear training needs analysis is a simple and standardized process. It takes inputs from one sub-process and feeds it ahead into another sub-process. However, if the organization wants to customize it to individual needs, there can be some aspects such as the parameters on which the analysis is conducted that can be customized. Therefore, the functional and behavioral needs can actually be customized based on the organization’s competency model itself. This kind of middle path is also very typical for some processes. Yet another example will be a simple and standardized process of payroll processing. If the organization wants to assess performance payouts by departments or levels or performance ratings, to understand how the salary budgets have been allocated, additional layers can be added to this simple process to suit the individual needs of the organization.

So far we have been applying Simplification Vs Customization in the context of general people processes. One of the biggest questions that faces HR today is that how would one address this comparison when it comes to HR Technology.

HR Technology has many applications – it touches all people processes, both vertically and horizontally. So the impact of deciding whether it should be simplified or customized is much higher. What are some guidelines therefore that one needs to follow to be able to identify which approach is better for one’s organization?

 Here are some basic elements to keep in mind –

  •  Type of HR Technology that is currently in place – It is important to first and foremost understand what exists in the current set-up, and how it is being used. This understanding has to be in-depth and without preconceived notions about the HR Technology itself. That means, getting insights into the current HR Technology platforms, their application across the organization, the duration that they have been there for, what kind of results they have yielded, what has been the reason for introducing them and then reasons for continuing to use them in their current form. Interviews with primary users of the technology are also a key part of this exercise.
  • Process Flow – The next step is to understand how the process flows, the sub-processes, who are the process owners and how they perceive it. Getting their understanding of the HR technology platforms is important in order to know what kind of approach needs to be defined for the future.
  •  Gap Analysis - While HR Technology can be extremely widespread and comprehensive, there might still be some elements that it does not cover. Uncovering these gaps are important because it is highly likely that those gaps can be covered through the same technology, just by choosing to simplify or customize!
  • Cost –Benefit Analysis – Both simplification and customization have costs as well as benefits aligned to them. So understanding these in detail are important. For example, simplifying the current form of HR technology within the organization can have a benefit like time-savings and a cost like re-training the employee on the new, simplified version. Similarly, customization of the current HR Technology can mean a cost of actually adding layers, elements or features and the benefit of better performance. 

Once these guidelines are used to get inputs, the decision related to Simplification Vs Customization becomes much easier, less intuitive and more data-driven. That is what the aim should be when it is related to decisions about HR technology.

If the organization decides to go ahead with Simplification of HR technology, at a broad level these are some steps that will be part of the process – Listing down all the tasks across all people areas that the technology has touch points in is the most crucial one. The next step is to understand where these tasks can be merged or consolidated seamlessly and then how the actual merging can be done on the platform. Finally, pilot testing a simplified version over a period of time, getting feedback from various users of the technology and applying it back into the system in order to further improve the simplification process will close the loop.

If the organization decides to go ahead with Customization of HR technology, at a broad level these are some steps that will be part of the process – A list of the new and specific tasks that are needed within all people areas that the technology has touch points is critical. Following that, defining those specific features, their outcome and need for including them into the current set-up is the next step. The last step is to work on the actual implementation of the customized aspects and a parallel change management plan so that there is faster adoption and acceptance of the newly customized factors, within the employees who are accessing the technology. Again, a pilot testing of this version over a period of time, getting feedback from various users of the technology and applying it back into the system in order to further improve process will close the loop. 


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