HR Technology Q & A with Tracie Sponenberg

The 2017 Human Resource Executive 20th Annual HR Technology Conference takes place October 10-13 in Las Vegas.  As a 2017 HR Technology Conference Insiders Blogger, I interviewed several human resources and technology experts to get their perspective on how technology and trends are impacting the HR profession.


Tracie Sponenberg is the Senior Vice President, Human Resources for The Granite Group, a full-service wholesale distributor of plumbing, heating, cooling and propane supplies based in Concord, NH.  She is responsible for leading all human resource functions throughout the company, which has 34 locations, and nearly 500 employees, throughout New England.

With expertise in strategic business development, employee engagement, employment branding, culture development and turnaround, leadership and team development, organizational and strategy development, along with legal compliance, she has gained a broad generalist background across a wide range of industries in her more than 20 years in human resources, with much of her career focused on working with CEO’s to develop people strategies to help the organizations grow.  She began her career in HR while in college, interning with a global public transportation company, and advanced through the organization over the next five years.  She found her HR home in smaller, private companies, where she could have the most impact on the business.  She’s led the HR function at an award-winning multi-state professional services firm; a pulitzer-prize winning newspaper and publishing company, and a national wellness distribution company.

Tracie has a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from The College of The Holy Cross, and a Master’s Degree in Human Resource Administration from Framingham State University.  She is SPHR and SHRM-SCP certified. She is a member of SHRM, MAHRA, HRA-GC, the Board of Directors of Families in Transition, and Anthem-NH Customer Advisory Board.  Tracie lives in Concord, NH with her family.

MK: What advice can you give to HR professionals who are new to the HR tech buyer role for sourcing HR technology vendors?

TS: Attend an event, like HR Tech or SHRM, with a large number of vendors.   That was the process I used, and it was invaluable to be able to travel from booth to booth, talking to potential vendors, and then returning later after I had researched and reviewed materials.  If you are searching for a new payroll system, talk to every payroll vendor.  If you are searching for a new LMS vendor, talk to everyone. View demos, talk to other HR professionals at the booths and at the conference.

 

MK: How can HR professionals – especially those in small companies — avoid the common mistakes made early in the HR tech selection process?

TS: ​It is critically important to ask A LOT of questions of potential vendors, and be sure that the tech you are looking at is the right tech for you.  Most vendors will be able to accommodate your size of company, or particular needs, but some vendors will be better suited to your needs.  ​ Make a list of questions, ask them of all potential vendors.  Talk to references (ideally at companies of similar size) that the companies provide you.  If they cannot provide you references….. run!  But as we all know in HR, references give you only so much information.  Talk to your HR peers at other companies, post questions in Facebook or LinkedIn groups, dig in and find out as much as you can.

 

MK: What were your biggest challenges as you converted your HR department’s outdated and paper-filled processes to new HR technology? What advice can you share with HR pros who are looking to update their departments?

​TS: We had quite a few challenges.  As a company of about 500 team members, we have a team of three in HR (we are also responsible for payroll.)  When I started here two years ago, I looked at going paperless as absolutely critical to being able to provide the best service to everyone in our company, and relieving the burden on our 50+ managers, who were responsible for their own hiring and on-boarding.  One of our biggest challenges was to make change happen – and this was a big change!  We went very, very slow to ensure everyone was comfortable with the process.  We also rolled out the changes in stages. (Our changes included a new performance management system, new LMS, significant payroll/HRIS changes, our first ATS, along with going paperless!)  The biggest piece of advice I can share is to talk to your team members – managers, front line employees, everyone.  Find out what they are looking for.  We talked about it for many months before we made any changes.  We wanted to make sure we could get buy in on the changes we were making.   ​

 

MK: How can HR professionals convince and achieve buy-in from the C-suite on why the technology improvements are necessary?

TS: We are fortunate to have a very supportive CEO.  Although we were not able to back the theory up with metrics, we theorized that by making these technology improvements and moving some of the processes into HR (and automating them), we would free up time for managers, allowing them to spend their time focused on their business – and on sales.  We also took a look at all of the products we had, and services we bought as an HR department, and made some changes there.  That allowed us to buy additional technology without spending quite as much as we thought.​  When going to a CEO with a problem (in our case, too much paperwork and overloaded managers), I always find it helpful to have a solution mapped out (new technology to take away the paperwork and relieve the burden on manager.)

 

MK:   How are you using HR technology to improve the not only employee engagement, but also the “employee experience” at The Granite Group?

​TS: At The Granite Group, we have nearly 500 team members, spread across 34 locations, all over New England.  We are a family owned, employee-focused company, so the “employee experience” is critical to us.  We moved our on-boarding and benefits processes online (they were previously paper based), allowing us to free up our orientation program to focus on company and culture, instead of paperwork.  New team members ​have access to a wealth of information on our HRIS system and on our intranet, giving them access to everything they need to know as a new hire at TGG.  This is such a critical area for us, however, that it continues to evolve.  We regularly ask new hires for input on their experience here, via surveys, town halls, meetings, emails, etc., and we make improvements based on those suggestions.

 

MK:  As technology continues to evolve, what do you think the future of HR will look like?  

​TS: I view technology as a critical tool to help us all deliver information and services better, and more efficiency.  HR is often a little slower to evolve than some areas, but as more and more companies see the value of HR Technology, HR can spend more time working strategically, partnering with leadership to help grow the business and drive change.  However, as important as technology is, people run companies.  We must never forget the value of human interaction.  HR is in the best position to ensure companies remember that!

Tracie Sponenberg will speak at the 2017 HR Technology Conference on Thursday, October 12, 2017 from 11:00 AM – 12:00 PM:  How the Granite Group Improved Engagement, Efficiency and Got Back to Business.