Bringing HR Back to Its Original Purpose: How Adopting a Target Interaction Model Could Transform the Employee Experience

That's not a valid work email account. Please enter your work email (e.g.
Please enter your work email


What does HR look like in the era of the employee experience? To paraphrase a recent report from Mercer : Exactly what HR was intended to look like before it lost its way.

In “Transforming HR: Why a Target Interaction Model (TIM) Is the Key to Unlocking the Employee Experience,”  Mercer puts forth the case that, since the 1990s, HR departments have largely followed a target operations model, or “TOM.” Meant to create business efficiencies and cost-savings, a TOM focuses mainly on the services HR provides its customers — i.e., employees, managers, and leaders — and aims to provide those services in the most efficient way at the most affordable prices for the business.

But something can get lost in a TOM: the human component of human resources. As the Mercer report puts it, “Over time, farming out HR processes to shared services created a fractured candidate and employee experience, and the cost benefit was never achieved.”

A fractured candidate and employee experience is particularly damaging for a company today, given the tight talent market and a shifting business paradigm that now recognizes employees as the greatest differentiating asset a company can have. That’s why Mercer recommends the HR department adopt a new model, one that allows it to “essentially return to its original purpose, which is to serve the company’s people and organize the workforce according to what the company needs to succeed.”

That’s where TIM comes in.

TIM Before TOM

In contrast to a TOM, a target interaction model, or “TIM,” starts by looking not at how services are offered to HR’s customers, but at how HR’s customers interact with the department to get the services they need.

“The TIM starts with formally drawing a picture of that interaction,” explains Karen Piercy, a partner at Mercer. “So if you think about employees, it’s showing how often the first step for employee access to HR is through technology, whether that’s serving up a policy or practice information or helping them do a transaction, and then it maybe shifts to a service center for something that can’t be handled through technology. For leaders, it’s a direct connection to an HR strategic advisor who can help them ensure they have the right workforce or whatever they need.”

The advantage a TIM has over a TOM is that it “allows organizations to have a real thoughtful approach to focusing on employee experience, leveraging technology, and creating a model for how HR engages its customers,” Piercy says. Essentially, a TIM allows HR to build its function on a foundation of engaging candidate and employee experiences — which is precisely what companies need to compete in today’s markets, talent or otherwise.

But TIM doesn’t replace TOM — rather, it acts as a necessary precondition. With a TIM in place, the HR function can create a TOM tailored to both the needs of employees and the needs of the business overall.

“The way we refer to it is ‘TIM before TOM,'” Piercy says. “You start with the TIM, and the TOM is the next layer. That gets into what services HR is providing to its customers, whether those services are provided internally or externally, what technologies are used, and so on.”

The issue isn’t that HR departments are concerned about providing services in efficient and cost-effective ways — it’s that HR departments have a tendency to “jump right to TOM without thinking through TIM,” as Piercy puts it. In doing so, it’s all too easy for HR departments to lose sight of their key customers: the employees who actually need those services.

For more expert HR insights, check out the latest issue of Magazine:

Technology Opens New Opportunities for HR — Are Companies Ready to Invest?

The time is ripe for HR departments to be thinking “TIM before TOM” — not only because of the increasing importance of the employee experience, but also because new technological developments have made it more feasible to implement a TIM in the first place.

“I think, right now, cloud technology is a real natural driver for the focus on TIM,” Piercy says. “A lot of the new technologies we’re looking at — the cloud [human capital management software] like Workday and the service-delivery technology like ServiceNow — is shifting more toward engagement. The other thing we’re seeing is the ability to really finally do the predictive analytics we’ve been talking about for years.”

But even as technology opens new doors for employee engagement, HR departments often find their digital transformations on the back burner. According to the Mercer report, a third of employees say it takes longer than an hour to complete a straightforward HR task, thanks to current technology. Furthermore, only 13 percent of companies offer fully digital experiences to their companies.

“HR has historically been underinvested in,” Piercy says. “Leaders talk about employees as their most important assets, but they are not always drawing that line to HR as the function that helps grow that asset. HR is thought of as transactional and compliance-focused, rather than the function or the technology that is going to help organizations engage their employees.”

But those companies that do draw the line and invest in HR’s digital transformation tend to see powerful results. According to the Mercer report, companies with fully digital employee experiences are “six times more likely to see HR as a significant business contributor,” and employees at organizations that provide the tools they need to do their jobs efficiently are three times more likely to say they are “thriving” at work.

HR Needs a Clear Picture of Its Own Path, Too

In general, Piercy says, HR leaders are on board with the need for transformation — but that doesn’t mean there is no discontent in the ranks. Any major overhaul to organizational operations is bound to meet some resistance. In this case, that resistance often exists in the next few levels below department leaders.

It’s not because HR pros don’t want to change; rather, it’s because HR pros may struggle to adapt without a clear model of what their new function looks like.

“People in HR get their value from helping employees,” Piercy says. “If the model changes and their role isn’t the one everyone goes to to answer questions, they may not feel that value right away. They may feel like they’re losing that important role.”

In trying to create better employee experiences companywide, HR departments can’t forget about the experiences of their own employees. As organizations gear up to transform the way they do things, they must be sure to “clearly define compelling roles in the new model, and then help HR get there,” Piercy says.

“You can’t just say, ‘Don’t do this anymore,'” she adds. “You have to say, ‘And do this instead, and here is how to do this, and here is how we’ll help you do this.'”

By Matthew Kosinski