How HR Can Create Value: Fixing the Broken Button

by Jennifer Miller on June 22, 2010

in Business Management

The other day I was at a client’s office listening to a presentation.  The topic was how to effectively complete the company’s online timecard system. As the group was discussing the details of how to complete the online timecard, the talk turned to how to notify ones supervisor of impending PTO (Personal Time Off). One of the audience members piped up and said, “Well that’s easy— the XYZ system (not its real name) has a section in the upper right hand that says “Notifiy your supervisor via email.  All you have to do is click on the box.”  At which point someone else said, “Oh, that box?  It doesn’t do anything.”

“For real?”

“Yeah, for real. I learned the hard way.”

“Oh, man, I’ve been checking that box every time I file for PTO. You mean that my supervisor never gets an email?”

“Yep, pretty much.”

 The training participants looked to their instructor to verify that this was so.  Sheepishly, the instructor (who was a senior manager with the company) said Yes, it’s true. Actually, he did a marvelous job massaging the information so that the company didn’t look like it was hosting a total goat rodeo.

All the while, I’m quietly sitting in the back of the room thinking: Seriously?!  A section in an online employee timekeeping system that says “Check this box to notify your supervisor” and it’s not functional?  I felt like we were in a Dilbert comic strip. Back in the day, when I was in Human Resources, this kind of organizational idiocy made me crazy. (Although it is great fodder for comic strips and blog posts.)  I’m not in HR any more, but if I were counseling someone who is, this is what I’d recommend. . . 

Assess the Impact of the Situation

First of all, maybe nobody else thinks this is a big deal.  It seemed like a big deal during the training session, but it needs to be verified.  So, check in with your sources on the frontline throughout the organization (because, being the savvy HR person you are, of course you’re well networked). Send a few emails/phone calls to find out: how often does this happen? What’s the impact? Then, check in with a couple of folks in IT- what does it take to get this fixed? 

Let’s say that your frontline supervisors say, No Big Deal. Or, when you check with IT, it’s a battle that they’re not willing to help you with. It’s probably best to move on. You’ve got plenty of other fires to put out, right?

On the other hand, let’s say that your investigative work uncovers that it’s a problem and several miscommunications have occurred. Further, IT says it would not be a huge deal to fix (even if “fixing” means removing the check box altogether).

Build the Case

One of the great things about being in HR is you have great data at your fingertips.  So, you can quickly build a financial case about this issue:  estimate how many miscommunications occur as a result of employees mistakenly thinking they’ve communicated their absence to the supervisor.  Estimate the financial cost in monthly terms (hours productivity lost X average hourly wage= monthly productivity drain.) Then, contrast that with the estimated cost to fix it (average hourly IT wage X # of project hours to fix = investment). Numbers are the language of business. If the numbers are persuasive, move ahead. 

Gain Supporters

This is where it gets strategic. Think about who in the company might support this “fix it” project and (this is the important part) who also has the organizational influence to help you get it done. Pick one or two people who fit this bill. Sit down with them and explain the situation.  Show them how the company will benefit and share your financials. Enlist their support for when the project stalls.  Let them know you’ll give the periodic updates.

Execute the Plan

Once you get the go-ahead, circle back to the people you polled before. Ask: “I’ve been authorized to help get this fixed.  What else do I need to know before moving ahead?”  If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years, even seemingly simple projects like removing a check box from an online form have hidden pitfalls.  Another benefit of checking in with the people you tapped: it lets them know that you actually listened to their input and are taking action

Then, go make it happen.  Let’s say it takes 2 weeks months to get it done. (It always takes longer than planned, and let’s face it, this won’t be a high-priority project.) After the project is finished, you’re still not truly finished, because there’s one more thing and that’s . . .

Talk about the Success

I would advise my HR colleague in this situation to “talk it up” a bit when mentioning this project. Yes, toot your own horn, or a least toot the success of the project.  If you are going to be seen as a player who adds value to the company, then you have to be seen. Toiling away in some hidden back room is not the way to go. So be sure that you (again) circle back to those who helped you out: your colleagues in IT, supervisors on the frontline and your supporters in upper management.  A quick email will suffice.

Now, maybe these suggestions seem like a lot of work, all for the sake of fixing a broken button. Perhaps. But I ask you this: as a professional in HR, isn’t your role to make the workplace function more effectively and with less cost?  If that’s how you view your role, then this would be an ideal project to take on.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Kevin W. Grossman June 22, 2010 at 3:57 pm

OMG. If this was a broken button on the corporate website that prevented leads and customers from contacting the company, someone’s butt would be in the frying pan. This is simple customer service failure that will cost the company internal customers and lost productivity. C’mon. Fix it folks.

Thanks Jennifer! I’m going to look into hosting a total goat rodeo. 😉

Jennifer V. Miller June 22, 2010 at 7:09 pm

You are so right about that…if it was affecting external customers, the response would be swift.

Now, about that goat rodeo….

Michael Krupa June 22, 2010 at 9:44 pm

Another way to solve this problem is to have a business owner for every HR system. Typically the “owner” would be a Business Analyst in the HRIS department. Normally having a business owner would prevent these type of silly problems from making it into a production system in the first place but I digress. Should someone discover an issue like a non-functional button, they should be able to open a bug request with the Business Owner who then hopefully would own getting it fixed. If the Business Owner does not seem to want to be bothered with fixing it, then all your recommendations above are gold. Loved the post.

Jennifer June 23, 2010 at 7:06 am


I’m so glad you’re in my corner as “technical advisor”. You are absolutely correct– it most cases, large companies (such as the one I profiled above) have a point-person in place to monitor these issues. Clearly, this technical “oops” fell through the cracks. So perhaps under my heading of “Assess the Impact” we could add: “check in with your HRIS business process owner, if your company has one.”

Franke James June 24, 2010 at 6:04 am


Great piece! That nagging little button that never gets fixed and offers employees a false sense of security that their message is getting through reminds me of the BP Deepwater Horizon. How many broken buttons did they have?


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