HR technology exists to make workflows more efficient, increase accuracy, simplify mundane tasks and, ideally, improve the employee experience and the company's performance. And while research shows that small businesses in particular are spending more money on workforce-related technology than ever before, HR practitioners often worry about whether employees will use it. One reason for their concern, they say, is that most employees are suspicious of change, which makes convincing them to use even basic self-service tools a serious challenge.
"There's a proliferation of work tools vying for employees' attention, and if the tool isn't core to their daily job function, it at least must be relevant and address a friction point they encounter," said Dilshad Simons, senior vice president of products at TriNet, a professional employer organization headquartered in Dublin, Calif. With five generations making up the workforce today, "it's important for employers to understand how various members of their teams will respond to a particular tool and what pain points it will resolve before rolling it out," she said.
That means a companywide training effort may not be enough to convince workers to use new tools. In addition to explaining the nuts and bolts, Simons said, your plan of attack must include clear communications about why the technology is being introduced, as well as an explanation of how it will benefit both the company and the employee.
Plan and Prepare
Your efforts should begin with planning. From the beginning, employees need to know that the new technology has a purpose and has been selected with their needs in mind.
"We've had some projects that we started working on a year in advance," said Marilina Acevedo, vice president of human resources at PetroChoice, a Fort Washington, Pa.-based lubricants distributor. "We wanted to make sure that our tech team had vetted the process so we'd be ready for what potentially could come up" with employees.
Testing the product before deployment is just as important, she added. "You don't want to have issues that cause people to say, 'This doesn't work,' and you realize, 'Oh, wow. No one thought about that,' " Acevedo said.
While any new tool will have bugs, she said, HR and IT must work through those early on. "When you roll out [the technology], you should try to have it at pretty much 100 percent."
Developing a communication plan for rolling out the technology and training workers is also critical. "It's important for businesses to communicate the how and why to their employees before they introduce the tool," Simons said. "This helps set expectations of what function the tool will serve and how it can help make employees' jobs easier."
For communication to be effective, it must be tailored to the needs of your audience. Simons recommends conducting research with workers to make sure you understand their challenges. "The most important thing for adoption and success is that you're solving a real problem," she said. "If the tool doesn't address a real issue, it doesn't matter how strong the rollout plan is."
Communications happens on several levels, Acevedo added, so you'll need more than a one-size-fits-all strategy. "There's communication at the senior level, at the middle level and then on the ground," she explained.
At PetroChoice, new tools are introduced in meetings held for the teams that will be impacted, such as drivers and salespeople. When the time comes, experts on the tool conduct face-to-face training.
Managers' buy-in and reinforcement of the company's message is also crucial. Introducing a tool through a companywide newsletter and all-hands meetings is fine, Simons said, "but having people managers reinforce the message to their teams and in one-to-one meetings can make a big difference."
Understand User Dynamics
Today's multigenerational workforce embodies numerous comfort levels with technology. As a result, excitement and wariness about new tools is bound to vary.
"I'm crazy about using technology, but a lot of the employees we hire are older drivers and warehouse workers, and they don't use it on a daily basis," Acevedo said. One driver, she recalled, told her, "You asking me to do this is like me asking you to back up an eighteen-wheeler." Given that dynamic, she knew she had to invest time in educating employees "to show that it's really not that scary."
The users' work environment should be a consideration, as well. "Most of our people work inside refineries during the day and can't access their phone or their laptop or anything like that," said Rod Branch, CHRO for HydroChemPSC in Deer Park, Texas. To accommodate those workers, the company conducts training at different times of day and night, and records sessions to make them available on demand.
Branch notes that the use of HR tools isn't always limited to employees. Family members may access benefits-related technology, for example.
"We have a lot of families where the spouse is the one who actually administers all the family business, including health care and that kind of thing," he said. In response, his company is implementing a learning management system to help employees and their families understand the tools it offers. "We really do think about who's going to use this and for what," Branch said.
Tailor Your Training
"People learn in different ways," Acevedo said, "so we try to appeal to everyone on their way of learning and home in on that."
At PetroChoice, instruction begins with in-person sessions and PowerPoint presentations. From there, trainers move into hands-on demonstrations, followed by tests to determine how much information employees have retained. Putting metrics in place to track adoption is also important, Simons believes.
Of course, training is more challenging as the size of the workforce grows, Branch said. Though he believes live training is the most effective way to introduce new tools, HydroChemPSC employs 6,000 people in more than 40 states. Even though each facility is home to around 50 or fewer employees, "it's hard to get in front of them all," he said. So he offers webinars, posts brief video tutorials and makes subject matter experts available to answer questions.
"We always have some sort of lifeline for each of these things so employees can reach out and ask questions," Branch explained. "We use all channels."
Whatever approach you take to training, your work isn't done once sessions have been completed and support documents posted. Employees must always be able to seek help if they run into trouble, Acevedo said. At PetroChoice, managers play an important role at this stage, she said, because they can "work day in and day out with [their teams] to make sure that they get comfortable."
Access to user support that is always available is also important, Simons said. If help by telephone isn't feasible, she recommends packaging information in different formats, such as FAQs, webinars, video tutorials or lunch-and-learn meetings.
In order to avoid upsetting employees, businesses "must keep change management at the center of their agenda while introducing new tools," Simons asserted. She stresses that employees must understand why a particular new tool was chosen and how it will be implemented. This explanation must be followed by effective training, ongoing support and management's hands-on backing, which sets the stage for higher adoption rates across the company.
Mark Feffer is a freelance business writer based in Philadelphia.