Stop Using Spreadsheets To Manage People

Posted by Trakstar • November 29, 2022 • 8 min read

Ask any HR professional or people leader what they use to manage people and record essential data, and you’ll get a litany of answers that tell you a lot about a person. 

  • Some people still use paper performance reviews, which means they aren’t always willing to break with older habits and try something new.
  • Some use talent management software, which shows an emphasis on organization, automation, and data.
  • Others will use spreadsheets, which shows they aren’t quite aware of the limitations they’ve placed on themselves.

Why are spreadsheets so bad when it comes to HR management? It might be a worthy solution for an office with only a handful of employees. However, as those numbers grow and the company has to scale, the HR department (and everyone interacting with them) will feel the pain. Spreadsheets weren’t meant to manage people or the data relating to them. They were designed to run calculations for financial modeling. It doesn’t matter whether you need to fill out performance appraisals, review course completions, or track hiring data – forcing these numbers into a spreadsheet takes out some of the humanity of human resources and people management.

That’s a problem.

If you know that using spreadsheets is a problem and want to learn more about the complete talent management platform that includes performance management software, a learning management system, and an applicant tracking tool, click here to schedule a no-pressure demo.

Spreadsheets Are Great – Until They Aren’t

Spreadsheets changed a lot about how people do business. They afford people a ton of freedom from creating charts manually, completing calculations, and trying to organize using paper. However, there is a big difference between using these solutions to monitor certain numbers and using them as a complete solution. 

Spreadsheets can often cover up a lot of information you don’t see, they’re clunky, they aren’t dependable, and they aren’t safe. For people who don’t only need to worry about strict data, spreadsheets don’t get the job done. They aren’t built for people-oriented tasks. 

You don’t have to look far to find mistakes that cost people time, job, and reputation:

  • The London Olympics committee oversold an event by over 10,000 tickets.
  • Kodak suffered an $11 million severance error due to an Excel typo.
  • Barclay’s bought 179 more contracts than they wanted to because someone hid cells on a spreadsheet.
  • AstraZeneca accidentally released confidential information due to an Excel templating error.
  • Outsourcing specialists Mouchel made a mistake with pensions and had to write down 4.3 million in funds.
  • JP Morgan Chase lost more than $6 billion in their London Whale disaster. 

Even if you are the type of person who pays attention to details and double (and triple) checks your work, sometimes typos happen. Sometimes the people who work with you aren’t as diligent. Sometimes, mistakes are going to happen. 

Still aren’t sold on putting those spreadsheets into the trash and deleting them forever?

5 More Reasons To Stop Using Spreadsheets For HR Tasks

Some of those big mistakes aren’t related to the work that human resources does. However, if those big companies, who hire top-rated talent, anyone can make mistakes. Here are some other reasons to avoid using spreadsheets for HR tasks.

Reason #1: Close to 90% of spreadsheets contain errors

People are going to make errors. It is normal, and it is okay, most of the time. However, HR leaders often work with sensitive information and data that can impact the lives of their employees, the general public, and themselves. A recent study shows that nearly 90% of spreadsheets contain errors of some kind.

These errors might come from someone else! Maybe you errantly hit a key while answering a text message on your phone. Or perhaps you have children who like to pretend to type on your laptop. Your cat might even enjoy walking over your keyboard when you take a quick water break. Things are always moving in an office, and someone may have interrupted you in the middle of something.

Mistakes happen. In HR, those mistakes can mean someone’s job, missing out on top talent, or getting into legal and financial trouble. 

Even if you proofread your spreadsheets (which is nearly impossible), you might miss something. As your company grows and they get longer and more complex, you might make an error you notice far too late.

Reason #2: People Leave. Then What?

If you are a people leader who manages others who use spreadsheets for HR tasks, you need to consider what will happen if those employees move on. What’s the plan to transfer those spreadsheets? Will someone new even know what they mean? 

Using software to monitor things like course completions, performance review scores, and hiring efforts just makes sense. It’s easier to transfer power to someone new, plan for succession pathways, and keep everything running smoothly when someone inevitably leaves, retires, or moves into a new role.

Reason #3: Spreadsheets Are A Security Risk

Security and employee privacy are essential topics for most people. Spreadsheets are a security hazard. If anyone can get into someone’s email, they likely have access to all of the files they have, including spreadsheets with sensitive information.

The security risk can even come from the inside! Spreadsheets are easy to manipulate and change without anyone knowing or seeing it. Do you have a process in place to ensure no one is editing your spreadsheets? Do you even notice the last time your spreadsheet was updated? 

There are plenty of cases where employees will manipulate spreadsheets to make themselves look better. There are also cases where someone broke into a Google account and was able to access the Google Drive of a particular company and see all of the employee data. You need to ensure that information is kept confidential.

To learn more about how Trakstar helps to keep data secure using our talent management software, click here to visit our security page.

Reason #4: Are You Going To Update It Thousands of Times?

Repetitious work is a significant cause of employee burnout. HR data changes all the time and constantly updates because of attrition, growth, updated information, and so much more. The bigger your company gets, the more updates there are. Keeping all of that employee data in a spreadsheet means you will make thousands of updates to it. Of those thousands of times, you might forget a few times, you may waste time trying to update several spreadsheets, or you may just get things wrong. The more times someone has to do something, the bigger the chance is for human error.

If you can work with software that will automate the update across different products and databases, you’re going to reduce the risk of human error, eliminate swivel chair work, and save yourself a bunch of time.

Reason #5: How Are You Going To Make A Decision?

Spreadsheets contain data and numbers that are just black-and-white stats on a page. Your people aren’t that. Analyzing the data in spreadsheets is very difficult, and there are even companies that will hire HR data analysts to do the job for them. Most companies can’t afford to have someone dedicated to this role, so the burden falls to the people leaders. When someone who isn’t good with data, or perhaps doesn’t have the time to glean information from the data, tries to analyze it and then consolidates it into reports isn’t really effective. Even the smallest error can lead to bad results, incorrect reports, and wrong people decisions that impact everyone.

Trakstar’s Insights dashboard does the work of a data analyst for you. This dashboard is built into all of our products and helps you understand your workforce and put that data to good use. You’ll be able to see your own data on things like performance review scores, course completions, speed-to-hire and more, depending on the product you’re using.

We even offer benchmarking! Benchmarking is our latest analytics tool within Perform and Hire to give HR leaders presentation-ready views into their workforce metrics, compared to others in their industry and company size as related to their hiring and performance management efforts.

Hire Benchmarking uses aggregated, anonymized Trakstar data to show where your organization stands on hiring metrics against companies in your size category and industry. The analysis is done each month for you — letting you tell your HR story, and make decisions about your workforce — while focusing on what matters most — your employees.

What Should You Use Instead?

Our answer is simple: dedicated software for all people operations and talent management steps. Solutions that have been tested by time (and thousands of other customers) and were made by experts who focus on the daily tasks of HR leaders. Those experts will ensure that your product is safe, delivers the best results, and functions as it should. 

Software costs money. That’s true. However, you will end up paying for using spreadsheets repeatedly with lost time, effort, and even employees. If you are ready to use a better solution, sign up for a demo with the Trakstar team today.

Don't Miss Out on More Great HR Articles!

Subscribe to get the latest, greatest HR and Talent Development content straight to your inbox.