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The importance of a backup for your HR system administrator

Before you assign an employee as a backup system administrator, make sure they've been trained on the systems they'll be in charge of and have documentation to refer to in a pinch.

What would you do if your HR system administrator left your organization today or had to be away for an extended period? Do you have one or more backups that can take on their tasks, or would panic set in? Your company relies on your HR system administrator to be there everyday to support your critical business systems. Perhaps you are implementing new features, evaluating new systems, ensuring reports are run, managing the compensation or performance management processes, or assisting with the recruiting and onboarding modules. These are just some of the systems and applications your HR system administrator may be responsible for managing.

There are multiple options for ensuring you can avoid panic while coping with the loss of a critical employee:

1. Cross training: One of the most effective ways an organization can protect itself from the loss of a critical employee is to cross train other employees. This includes identifying, training and delegating tasks to another employee on an ongoing basis. Alternatively, you may want to identify multiple employees to act as a backup for specific systems rather than the whole role. For example, you may have an employee who is the backup for the recruiting and onboarding modules, and another who can assist with core HR functionality and performance management, while a third helps with reporting. The added benefit of splitting the tasks among multiple employees is that they may also learn components of other related tasks over time, such as the employee managing a couple modules also learning how to run and customize related reports. This division of tasks also provides additional backup because it would likely be easier for someone who knows a few HR systems or modules to learn additional functionality rather than teaching someone new.

An important consideration to make this work is to set aside time for the HR system administrator to cross train one or more employees, selecting employees with the right skill sets to be a backup, and allocating time to each employee to perform the backup duties on a regular basis so that their skills stay current.

2. Documentation: This is an often-overlooked method of helping others understand what has been set up in the past, why it was configured the way it was, and how a feature may be used within your organization. While reading documentation is not as efficient as hands-on training, it can make a big difference if someone is tasked with performing the duties of the HR system administrator with little or no help. Maintaining up-to-date documentation will also help the HR system administrator when they perform tasks that are not done on a regular basis, such as configuring a compensation or performance management form that might only be updated annually.

3. External support: There are two forms of external support you can utilize: the vendor and consultants. The vendor will have a professional services team who can make configuration changes or answer questions while someone is learning the system. They will also have a technical support team who can assist when needed. However, they may not have someone who can manage the day-to-day needs for your company. Often the vendor's professional services team is project-focused, such as implementing new modules or making configuration changes to a specific form or workflow.

Consultants offer the ability to support you on a day-to-day basis until you replace the HR system administrator, or they return from leave. Depending on the HR systems you are using, you should be able to find a consultant with the necessary experience, cutting down on the time required to learn your HR systems. This option is not only viable for permanent or long-term leaves, but also as a replacement for short-term assignments, such as vacations.

4. Vendor resources: Ensure someone, in addition to the HR system administrator, has access to vendor resources. This may include online training, administrator documentation, access to technical support or a user group. Also, keep a list of contacts for each vendor you work with so that you can contact them if needed.

5. System access: You will want to have at least one employee, in addition to your HR system administrator, with administration rights to your HR systems. This will provide you with instant access to your systems in case your HR system administrator must leave on short notice.

6. Networking: Networking with others in the HR community is a great way to identify potential talent before you need them. This may be at local events, conferences or even non-HR related events. By meeting people outside your organization, you may identify potential future candidates, or they may be able to introduce you to qualified people. While networking may not always pay dividends immediately, you may be able to take advantage of the connections you've made when you need them or help someone you've met find a new position.

Your company relies on your HR systems for many business-critical functions, such as recruiting, performance management and securely storing confidential employee information. Ensure you have a backup plan to keep your HR systems available, updated and maintained in case your current HR system administrator is unavailable.

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