HR Tech

5 HR Processes That Shouldn’t Be in Spreadsheets

December 1, 2022
March 8, 2024
Andy Przystanski
Lattice Team

Spreadsheets make it easier to budget, list your to-dos, or manage a wedding guest list. But while they have their personal and professional uses, they come with limitations and risks — especially if you’re handling others’ private data.

Your People strategy shouldn’t hinge on a VLOOKUP. Thankfully, there are more HR technology solutions available than ever before, making it easier for teams to manage, analyze, and act on employee data. Update your tech stack with solutions that address each of the below HR priorities.

1. Compensation Management

Compensation isn’t the only reason employees come into work, but it’s a big part of the equation. Raises and bonuses still account for the leading reasons why individuals either join or leave a company. When mistakes are made, they affect employees (and their families) in tangible ways.

“The very first HR process that we migrated from spreadsheets was compensation management,” said Mark Blackwood, HR Specialist at TheWordPoint. As his company’s headcount grew, managing raises and cost-of-living adjustments across multiple workbooks became untenable. “We made the switch mainly because we had issues in the past with human error when it came to calculating bonuses — you can imagine the issues that can arise with a single slip of a finger.”

His concern is wellfounded, as a University of Hawaii study estimated that nearly 90% of all spreadsheets have errors. Using a dedicated tool to manage compensation helped eliminate these and made it possible for Blackwood to share numbers with the right stakeholders. While HR teams often make recommendations and implement changes, it’s not uncommon for department heads, finance, or even CFOs to weigh in. Rather than stress over sending comp spreadsheets to the wrong people, Blackwood just has to set the right permissions in his compensation software.

“It’s just comforted me to know that our data is secure and well-organized...It just leaves you with more time — and healthier eyes and nerves.”

Spreadsheets have other limitations, especially when it comes to documentation. Pay decisions typically involve multiple stakeholders, and it’s not uncommon for managers, directors, executives, and others to all weigh in on a single change. In this respect, documentation isn’t just a compliance checkbox — it also pressures stakeholders to back up and explain their recommendations. This dialogue needs to be preserved by the People team securely so only those authorized have access.

A Lattice product screenshot showing a manager and HR team discuss a potential merit increase.
Using a compensation management tool like Lattice, you can clearly and securely document how employee compensation decisions are made.

Naturally, not all manager recommendations are guaranteed approval. When it’s time for HR leaders and compensation managers to have these hard conversations with managers, they have a paper trail to point to. Similarly, if the data yields pay equity concerns, using software like Lattice gives them a place to discuss and note those discrepancies in context. Having this documentation in an integrated tool — and not in spreadsheets or worse, on paper — gives businesses a means to protect themselves and their employees from the stubborn challenge of inequity.

2. Performance Reviews

It’s natural to get butterflies before your performance review. It isn’t natural to worry about hidden columns becoming unhidden or emailing evaluation forms to the wrong employees.

“Running our annual review process using spreadsheets was one of my team’s most dreaded and painful tasks,” said Christine Millette, Human Resource Manager at Mintz + Hoke. Not only did Millette’s team have to coordinate the send-out of self, peer, and manager reviews using spreadsheets, she had to collect and redistribute those evaluations via email. That back and forth was an administrative headache and rightfully a security concern.

Thinking about ditching pivot tables for good? Read our guide to evaluating HR software first.

“Our agency recently transitioned an automated, 360 performance review process with Lattice, which just streamlined everything,” she said. Ditching spreadsheets didn’t just make it easier for Mintz + Hoke’s employees to offer feedback during review season; it encouraged them to have conversations about performance throughout the year.

“As a bonus, we’re now using the platform throughout the year for constructive feedback. This eliminated the use of spreadsheets on our end, and the automation makes feedback more frequent and much less painful for employees to execute on,” she said.

3. HR Analytics

HR teams use an average of nine standalone applications, each storing sensitive data like employee demographics, performance reviews, compensation, and more. For those looking to get started with People analytics, the first step (usually) is to export that data and drop it into a spreadsheet. If you wanted to run a report on engagement among top performers, for example, you’d need to consolidate data from both your employee survey and performance management tools first.

It sounds simple — but in practice, seldom is. “The more systems, the more room for error,” said Kris Osborne, Chief of Staff at FinanceBuzz. Data fields between systems might not match, requiring you to scrub the data before running reports. Errant spaces, special characters, or other quirks could turn a simple report into an hours-long assignment. That hassle dissuades HR teams from doing more with their data, like running equity audits or providing managers with up-to-date engagement metrics.

“Ideally, you should have a solution that brings all this data together to make it easy to manage, report, and share the right information with the right people,” Osborne said. For him, Excel isn’t the solution — it’s a workaround. Using cloud-based HR software like Lattice makes it easier to analyze and cross-reference data, via an API or built-in functionality for multiple focus areas, like performance and engagement.

Lattice's DEIB analytics dashboard feature
HR analytics tools like Lattice empower you to cross reference engagement scores, demographics, and more in one platform — empowering more robust and customizable DEIB reports.

Bottom line: As companies scale, the need for real-time data becomes more apparent, forcing even spreadsheet warriors to convert. “I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with spreadsheets,” Blackwood said. “But creating and maintaining them is just so time-consuming. They become a no-no when your company expands, and a really quick way to corrupt your reports,” he said.

4. Job Levels and Competencies

The value of maintaining a list of job competencies and levels is part of employee development 101. Visualizing them in Excel is a start, but it’s not always the best format when you’re ready to share that information with the managers and employees.

“If competencies are only considered occasionally, it’s easy for managers to reflect only on the current state of play” and lose sight of long-term growth, said John Moss, CEO of English Blinds. It’s not uncommon for HR teams to maintain a private spreadsheet of company competencies, sharing them with employees by request or during review season. This inadvertently makes it harder for teams to bring up development throughout the year.

“Employees should always be able to share their views on which competencies they are benchmarked by and what their thoughts are on their performance,” Moss said. If you store them in the same software you use for performance reviews and one-on-ones, you don’t even have to switch platforms to start the conversation.

5. Recruiting

The applicant tracking system (ATS) has become a must-have part of today’s HR tech stack, streamlining how organizations source and communicate with job-seekers. By 2027, the ATS market will reach over $2 billion, making it one of the most lucrative HR tech segments. Given that growth, it’s hard to believe so many recruiting teams still use PDF job applications and spreadsheets to manage pipelines.

“On a spreadsheet, you can’t track every email or touchpoint you have with a candidate — so why even try?” Osborne said. Once just used for managing resumes and interview scheduling, today’s ATS vendors include a suite of features that include candidate pre-screening, DEIB reporting, and employee referral management. They’re also helpful for keeping candidates in the loop during the entire interview process.

“Automated email replies and triggers also help to keep your candidates informed because a great candidate experience leads to great hires. This again saves us hours of manual work,” he said.

HR software buying decisions impact your whole company, so look before you leap. Lattice makes performance reviews, employee development, and engagement surveys easy — and we rank number one in customer satisfaction and ease of use.

Over 4,500 companies, including brands like Asana, Reddit, and Slack use our software to keep employees inspired and engaged. See Lattice for yourself by scheduling a demo today.