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The Reality of No Governance for HR and IT

by TJ Fjelseth – CHRO, Socrates AI, Inc.

While few are inclined to admit it, deep inside the walls of almost every organization, hundreds of policies and documents do little more than gather dust. Once created, these documents get filed away in the recesses of intranet sites and file directories, with little hope of a timely review for updating. When an issue finally does arise (and one always does), and an employee embarks on a search for answers, the problem becomes clear – there’s no one in charge of the mess. HR and IT leaders have had little time to deal with this problem and hoped it wouldn’t rear its ugly head. But it’s a huge problem that reflects a painful truth: it isn’t just bad governance, it’s no governance.

Until recently, this situation manifested itself more as an occasional nuisance than a glaring organizational misstep. That’s because a work-from-home policy could have been written and “lasted” 10-15 years. Were it not for something like the COVID-19 global pandemic.

What’s Happened

Whether time or resource-constrained – and despite good intentions – HR and IT teams now face the simple fact that their policies are expiring faster than ever – and someone needs to fix this situation. At the same time, pandemic circumstances are causing the need for new documents to offer guidance during periods of extended uncertainty.

For HR and IT leaders, this cascading sense of dread is further complicated by their employees’ desire for straightforward answers to specific questions like “If we are required to wear a face mask, can I wear one with skulls on it?” rather than 59 pages of legalese to sift through. And while the idea of governance, like digital transformation, might not have been a top priority before, it certainly is now.

Policy vs. Process

Historically, HR and IT have primarily been process-driven functions, which would make one think that policy governance would already exist. While, in some instances, that may be true, typically, there is no headcount for a librarian or archivist responsible for managing both the creation of content and continued maintenance required to keep pace with changing times. Even if there were a designated role to cover this, the move between systems and departmental turnover would inevitably erode this approach.  

Researchers at Gartner explain, “As organizational complexity increases, HR leaders increasingly lack insight into key process activities and timelines, roles and responsibilities, frameworks and tools, or external vendors. A multitude of global and local processes can cause ineffective HR service delivery with duplication of efforts, higher costs and low-quality results.”

Companies are often mortified to find that their repository of policies and other documents, which represent hundreds of hours invested in research, writing and review, cover only 60 to 70 percent of the subjects within their domain of HR or IT responsibilities. Their sense of surprise grows when they also see that this content is riddled with conflicting and contradictory information, branding and other issues that ultimately harm HR’s or IT’s reputation within the organization.

Closing the Gap

Given that policies and documents directly contribute to the HR and IT experience, in this case, on the part of those same employees who are looking for help, governance should be a formalized process. But rather than try to add a new position to oversee said process, organizations should instead consider how technology can close the gap. What are the current systems? What role do they play in governance? Where is the information located? How do employees interact with it? Knowing what’s in place, it becomes possible to centralize and standardize policies, streamline and support regular updates and give employees up-to-date answers to their most pressing questions.   

Technology can help reshape an HR or IT leader’s vision for employee services into one that not only manages what’s written but also understands what’s missing. Targeted use of artificial intelligence can give HR and IT a comprehensive view of their policy framework and an ability to review or create what’s needed, adding new policies in almost real-time. Employees get the information they’re looking for from a single source, and governance goes from a seemingly insurmountable task to an ongoing and every day capability.