How to Boost Lagging Adoption Rates of New HR Technology

 

By Dave Zielinski January 8, 2019
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Getting any new HR technology system purchased and implemented can be a daunting task. It takes considerable time and effort to demo and compare different vendor software, negotiate contracts, and ensure a smooth and rapid deployment of the new technology.

But the work doesn't stop there. If employees don't use new systems, the return on investment will fall far short of expectations. Even the most innovative or feature-rich systems will languish if HR doesn't make a compelling case for how the new tech will make employees' lives easier or work processes more efficient.

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Go for the Easy Solution, Not the Fancy One

Brian Kropp, head of the HR practice at research and advisory firm Gartner, says companies may be setting themselves up for failure if they invest in cutting-edge systems rather than in those that are most intuitive and easy for people to master.

New technology that frustrates employees with too many steps or logins or that requires constant reliance on user manuals may be used a few times and then abandoned in favor of legacy systems or processes.

"What HR needs above all else to improve adoption is for technology to be easy and effortless," Kropp said. "If it takes someone more than two or three clicks to get the answer they need, to complete a task, to fill out a form or provide a peer with recognition, you're making it far too hard for employees to use your technology."

Motivate Individual Employees

Improving user adoption also requires understanding that what motivates people to embrace new technology varies considerably by individual, said Dan Staley, global HR technology leader with consulting and research firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC). Whether employees begin to incorporate new technologies into their regular work routines depends in part on how new systems are pitched to them, he said.

"People need to understand what's in it for them to adopt new technologies," he said. "You have to create communication and support plans that appeal to these different desires."

PwC's 2018 Technology at Work study, which surveyed 12,000 workers around the world, found that employees are motivated to use new technology for one of three reasons:

  • It will help them advance their careers or gain status (cited by 37 percent of respondents).
  • They are curious about the promise of better efficiency and teamwork (34 percent).
  • It helps them do their own work more easily and within a predictable environment (29 percent).

Manage the Change

The time and resources that organizations put into change management efforts for new technology can spur adoption. Sierra-Cedar's 2018-2019 HR Systems Survey found that HR departments that support a culture of change management are 10 times more likely to be viewed by leadership as contributing strategic value to their organizations than those who only get minimally involved in change management. Yet only 27 percent of respondents (a mix of HR and IT practitioners and senior leaders) to the Sierra-Cedar survey said that HR invested heavily in change management efforts.

"The connection between investing in a culture of change management and being viewed as a more strategic HR function has increased every year for the last three years in the survey," the Sierra-Cedar study authors wrote.

Use Design Thinking

Another strategy that more industry vendors and HR tech leaders are using to improve adoption rates is "design thinking." Design thinking studies how employees perform their daily tasks and uses those observations and user feedback to build solutions that better fit within the flow of work.

"Instead of vendors or companies simply pushing out new systems to employees and waiting for the magic to happen, design thinking takes into account how people work most efficiently and effectively and builds technology to support those processes," said Chris Havrilla, vice president of HR technology and solution provider strategy at Bersin, Deloitte Consulting.

Staley believes there's often a disconnect between the technologies that company or IT executives believe will help the workforce become more efficient or more productive and the tools that employees believe will accomplish those goals: 73 percent of employees in the PwC survey felt they knew what kind of systems would help them become more productive at work but top management disagreed and chose different tools, Staley said.

Solve Problems

Another reason new HR technologies often go underutilized is the lack of a clear vision for their purchase, said Sarah Brennan, founder and chief strategist of Accelir, an HR advisory and research firm in Milwaukee.

"One of the biggest factors in low adoption is that people don't understand why they are buying an HR system to begin with," she said. "They're purchasing without a clear idea of the problem they're trying to solve."

For example, she worked with one client that purchased more than 70 different technologies, some with duplicate functions. "The company had three contracts with one vendor and actually repurchased the same product once," she said. "They didn't know they already had the product when they purchased a similar version from another vendor."

Another key to adoption is the employee communication and training that goes into the rollout of a new system, Brennan said. "It has to go beyond an e-mail saying, 'We have this new system that you're expected to use now,' " she said. "It should detail how the technology will make employees' lives easier and provide training."

Dave Zielinski is a freelance business writer and editor in Minneapolis.

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