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Whatever you’re trying to do online, you can invariably automate it in some way: that’s the promise of today’s internet landscape. We look ahead to a wonderful near-magical future in which most of our daily tasks will be handled for us, leaving us hours to while away in pursuit of our personal passions.

But the reality isn’t even close to that yet, and those of us in the digital world have developed the bad habit of simply and generically recommending “automation” and “tracking” without adequately explaining how these options should be used.

Look at it this way: the more powerful the tool, the harder it is to use well. If you’re currently automating some of your processes and tracking your time mainly because you were advised to, it’s worth stopping to think about what exactly you’re getting from the enhancements — used correctly, they’re incredibly useful, but when used poorly they tend to be costly and ineffective.

Let’s take a look at why the use of HR tools isn’t always justified, and consider how you can tweak your approach to make sure you’re using these resources correctly.

Automation isn’t quick or easy to implement

In principle, anything can be automated. If I had unlimited time and patience, I could spend thousands of years painstakingly mapping everything I do each day: how I react to things, how I respond, and what I exactly I achieve. But that’s clearly counterproductive. Not only would I automate myself out of work, but I’d waste an astonishing amount of time achieving it.

HR tools don’t take years to configured, of course since they automate fairly simple routines — but they aren’t always easy to understand. Not only do you have to learn how they work before you can use them effectively (how triggers work, how you establish integrations with your systems, etc.) but you also need to fully understand the process you’re trying to automate.

Knowing what you’re trying to automate sounds fine — after all, you know what you’re doing — but there’s a difference between being able to do something and being able to explain or codify it. Some things we learn by rote, and others we figure out intuitively.

There’s also the risk of losing the information that fed the initial implementation to think about. Even if you own your business and intend to run it indefinitely, it won’t be in your possession forever, nor will you always be responsible for the regular procedures.

When the day comes that you sell your business, or simply delegate your responsibilities, will the next person tasked with the job know what to do if the automation goes wrong? In anticipation of this event, you must painstakingly document every part of your daily process, taking up yet more time.

Consequently, what if the amount of time it would take you to set up an automation routine would exceed the amount of time you’d save through the modest efficiency improvement? Consider trawling through resumes, for instance. An applicant tracking system can do various things, but its in-depth analysis will be significantly limited, and creating that kind of setup would take far longer than it would take you to use your knowledge to conduct manual reviews.

There is such a thing as excessive tracking

Tracking time and applicants alike is incredibly valuable because it provides accountability and clarity. It’s easy to get lost in tasks and lose your working structure, then find it difficult to determine how long you spent on any specific matter or which applicant came from where — something that proves dangerous when you’re trying to invoice clients and spend time wisely. Like it or not, you need to treat your business as a brand, and that means ensuring that your client-facing operations are as smooth as possible.

To that end, keeping every minute element of an application process within a tracking system allows you to easily review the process and weigh the time spent on it against the value it generated: how much you were paid to do it and what you ultimately received from it. If that was too much time, you can revise your approach.

However, getting too obsessed with tracking will rapidly start to erode the flexibility, creativity, and experimentation that are so important to high-level recruitment. Fix your recruitment process to immutable milestones and your time commitment to a certain figure and you might start to overlook certain things that would have affected how you viewed particular applicants.

Tracking is something you should do, absolutely, but it shouldn’t provide a rigid binding for any given application. It should be advisory information, there to help nudge you in the right direction and ensure that you don’t get too lax with your operational structure, but sufficiently accommodating to allow you to go in a different direction if you want to.

How you should approach HR tools

So with automation not being easy to configure (and not always being applicable) and tracking having the potential to go too far, how you should be approaching HR tools if you want to make them optimally effective? Well, here are some broad suggestions:

  • Choose tools with a lot of support behind them. The software is often complex and must be updated over time. Since the time you spend using an HR tool is an investment in using it more effectively in future, try to choose tools that have enough developer and community support to make them safe bets for the future. This will also ensure that you can get your pressing configuration queries answered.
  • Define a limited and company-wide selection. Not only do your automation and tracking systems need to be able to export data to your main systems, but you also want everyone in your company to be using the same tools. That way, you don’t need numerous training sessions, and you won’t run up against bugs and misunderstandings. Take a look through this selection to see what will fit your operation.
  • Use automation for basic and repetitive tasks. Automation in HR is fantastic for the really time-consuming top-level tasks: anything involving checking basic forms, gathering applications, or requesting feedback is ripe for automation. Anything that isn’t fundamentally and straightforwardly repetitive is going to be a bad fit. Even if you could, it wouldn’t be a good idea to automate everything (as noted).
  • Prioritize manual judgment in the end. Great recruiters bring a lot of experience to bear when assessing candidates, and they’re able to look beyond the technical requirements of a position to identify good candidates. A position on the sales team for an e-commerce company might ostensibly require 5 years of experience working for a comparable company, but a recruiter could spot a self-starter with no formal experience but an impressive entrepreneurial record and immediately recognize their suitability.
  • Focus on broad tracking and allow some leeway. By all means, try to improve efficiency by cutting down on bloat, but pay attention to the averages instead of specific cases. Not every tiny element needs to be tracked, and as far as time goes, spending five times longer than the average on an application will occasionally be justified. You’re an expert in your field, so it’s your call to make in the end.

Follow these suggestions and you should be able to use high-quality HR tools to achieve efficiency improvements without letting them interfere with your work.

Are you getting the balance right?

In light of everything we’ve looked at, what do you think? Are your current efforts in automation and tracking really saving you time, or are you falling into some of the traps we’ve looked at? The potential to save you time and money is always there — you might simply need a nudge in the right direction in order to begin using these resources correctly. Good luck!



Kayleigh Alexandra is writer and editor for Micro Startups, your #1 hub for charity and startup business tips. Visit the blog for your latest dose of marketing advice and entrepreneurial insights.