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How to Boost New Technology Adoption Rates

Improving adoption rates of new technology requires putting users first.

An illustration of a wrench with a person inside of it.

Buying and implementing any new HR technology system 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 system.

But if employees don’t use the new technology—whether it’s a time and attendance, payroll, expense processing, or performance management solution—the return on investment will be lacking. 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.

Brian Kropp, head of the human resources 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 systems that are more intuitive and easier for people to master.

New technology that frustrates employees by having too many steps or logins, or that requires constant reliance on user manuals, may be tried 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 says.

Motivate Employees

Improving user adoption also requires understanding that how people embrace new technology varies by individual, says 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 explained, he says.

“People need to understand what’s in it for them to adopt new technologies,” he says. “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:

  • To help them advance their careers or gain status (cited by 37 percent of respondents).
  • Because they are curious about the promise of better efficiency and teamwork (34 percent).
  • Because it helps them do their work more easily (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 that get only minimally involved in change management. Yet only 27 percent of respondents (a mix of HR and IT practitioners and senior leaders) said 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 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,” which studies how employees perform their daily tasks and uses those observations, plus 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,” says 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. In fact, 73 percent of employees in the PwC survey felt they knew what kind of systems would help them be more productive at work, but top management disagreed and chose different tools, he says.

How to Speed Up HR Technology Adoption
Involve workers. Ask employees what they need as well as what challenges they’re having with the current technology. 
Choose the right products. Boring manuals and training sessions make employees less inclined to use new tools. When solutions are intuitive and user-friendly, adoption will come naturally.
Sell the benefits. Communicate how the new technology will make employees’ jobs simpler and their work better.
Make adoption fun. Learn what motivates each member of your team and use that insight to create valuable incentives. 
Share success stories. Highlight testimonials that make a strong case for change.

Solve Problems

Another reason new HR technologies often go underutilized is the lack of a clear vision for their purchase, says 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 says. “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 says. “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 occurs around the rollout of a new system, Brennan says. “It has to go beyond an e-mail saying, ‘We have this new system that you’re expected to use now,’ ” she says. “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.
Illustration by Mike Austin.


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