Because so much Human Resources (HR) work is process-driven and touches on many different aspects of work, good HR professionals are always proficient at researching complex topics ranging from health insurance to labor law. This is no different at nonprofit organizations, where HR professionals often do the same work with tighter budgets and much more limited resources.
This scenario would lead some to view digital tools as invaluable, but this is only partially true. Although they’ve become indispensable tools, search engines, and other digital resources have their own limitations. In a field like HR — which can deal with complex legal issues, sometimes spanning multiple cities, states, or countries — generalized information that a search engine provides can prove unhelpful. What’s more, information overload can often lead to a loss in productivity, misallocation of resources, and employee stress.
So, if you’re an HR professional, what’s the best way to sort through a digital environment that seems information-rich but answer-poor? Let’s take a closer look at some of the options available to you, along with the advantages and disadvantages of each:
Most working people rely on Google and other search engines as the go-to method for learning more about an issue getting a quick answer to a question, or discovering ways to work better. Because they’re free, work continually to find coverage of a topic, and are accessible to everyone, search engines offer a lot of value — even for a complex HR topic.
However, it’s helpful to consider their internal limitations as well. Because their ranking tools are opaque and not necessarily driven to find the most accurate answer to every question, search engines can lead you to the wrong conclusions or, too often, to more open-ended information that isn’t helpful. As an HR professional, you shouldn’t shy away from using search to get a broad understanding of an issue or research your options, but you should also be willing to dig deeper, particularly with complex subjects or anything with legal implications.
Like any new technology, the newest incarnation of artificial intelligence (AI) is receiving a great deal of hype and is being touted as the best tool for any and all automated processes that businesses might use. However, it is also very new, even by technology standards, and the extent of its capabilities is still being determined.
AI tools also have some of the same limitations as search engines: The underlying technology is opaque, and the outputs depend entirely on the quality of the data that the machine learning tools have consumed. Moreover, while it can certainly “read” legal, cultural, and technological information relevant to nonprofit HR workers, it’s doubtful that the creators of ChatGPT or other tools would recommend using the tool for legal or professional advice.
Finally, because AI is still not a “product” in a traditional sense, the actual cost of an AI tool is hard to determine and could end up being higher than your nonprofit can afford. For this reason, it’s difficult to determine if it’s worth integrating AI tools, at least in the short term.
Human resources information systems (HRIS) are designed to be an all-in-one HR software tool, tracking payroll, vacations, benefits, time cards, performance, and employee training. The benefits are easy to see. Rather than manually tracking this information, you can automate these processes, which saves you time for more critical tasks. Additionally, many of these systems enable you to track trends and spot conflicts or issues before they arise. For example, you could use an HRIS tool to determine which departments see the most turnover or which departments aren’t taking vacation days (a potential sign of burnout).
The downside with HRIS is the same with any all-in-one solution: high initial investment. Because these tools can be costly and require a great deal of initial input, the cost of moving from system to system is very high. As a result, the process of selecting, purchasing, learning, and setting up an HRIS can take months. Because of the high upfront cost and the tendency to get “locked in” to one system, it’s worth considering whether you have the resources and time to devote to finding the right one.
Organized groups such as state associations or professional accreditation and training organizations are invaluable resources for working professionals in the private, public, and nonprofit spheres. These organizations are dedicated to the management, finance, or HR worlds and keeping tabs on relevant laws, tools, and industry trends. They also sponsor or produce original research into the state of a particular profession. In the example of human resources, many HR focus groups will provide information or access to data on the U.S. labor force, which can be a very useful way to gauge internal issues, difficulty hiring, salary expectations, and other factors.
However, many of the resources these associations provide are available only to their members, who pay to join and maintain their membership. Although additional information and access to their advisor network are very useful, the cost might be difficult to justify for nonprofits that need to maximize resources elsewhere.
In addition to the limitations, these four approaches also have the drawback of being highly generalized and not necessarily designed to meet the unique challenges of your nonprofit. These solutions aren’t going to be easily customized to meet the goals of your organization or the desires of your team or to conserve the resources you have available. These factors are what make consulting invaluable: Person-to-person interactions with consultants are more likely to give you solutions that take these considerations into account. A good HR consultant will not only learn the details of your nonprofit, but they will also bring a wealth of knowledge about HR work at other nonprofits.
Much like HRIS, consulting involves costs that need to be considered, so a lengthy up-front due diligence search into the services available and whether using a consultant to get answers makes sense for your organization is required.
Expert HR Consulting from 501(c) Services
Working to solve HR issues at your nonprofit is difficult without the right information. Investing your limited resources in expertise is an ideal way to get actionable HR guidance that takes your unique situation and goals into account. 501(c) Services works with nonprofits like yours to help make the most of internal resources. We can help you solve persistent HR issues and find useful tools and resources, enabling you to work on more important tasks. If you’d like to learn more, reach out to us today.