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How to Ease Anxiety When Deploying New HR Software

An image of a person looking at a screen with the word upgrade.
​Illustration by Roy Scott for HR Magazine.

Change can be scary. When implementing new technologies at work, employees are often concerned that new tools will be harder to use than the old ones. And they fear that advances in technology will make their jobs more complicated or, even worse, obsolete.

But anxiety doesn’t have to rule the day. Offering proper training and support—and helping employees feel invested in the implementation process—can go a long way toward making technology deployments successful, says Katherine Jones, a partner and director of talent research for Mercer.

"Seventy percent of software implementations are considered failures; that is huge," Jones says. Done right, however, "there is no reason for the change aspects of software implementation to ever cause your organization [to be among] that 70 percent."

A 2016 Mercer survey of HR professionals about their top five implementation challenges found that:

  • 49 percent thought it was difficult to define HR’s future involvement in supporting new roles and responsibilities stemming from human capital management (HCM) implementations.
  • 44 percent cited the need for customization, which added time and expense.
  • 37 percent said they had difficulty developing and running reports and analytics.
  • 29 percent said the internal team lacked knowledge of and experience with HCM technology.
  • 28 percent cited internal resource constraints, such as "not having enough people to pull it off."
  • Only 18 percent felt they overcame their challenges, Jones says.

The best way to manage a tech implementation is to anticipate what it might mean for workers and to address employees’ concerns proactively, she says.

Anticipating Concerns

On the first day of the new technology’s deployment, be prepared to respond to questions staff may ask, such as "What do I have to do differently? Do I have the skills to succeed at it? Will I get sufficient training time, and what changes can I expect?"

Organizations should consider what day one looks like for anyone affected by new software, even those at the highest levels, Jones recommends.

Keep in mind that workers’ hesitance to adopt new systems may be based on previous experience. "Our HR landscape today consists of disparate systems, redundant HR processes, stand-alone apps, decentralized data stores, irreconcilable reports, and aging and overly customized solutions and fragmented employee data," Jones says. "It’s confusing for people who have to make changes."

That turned out to be the case several years ago when Avon Products Inc. was forced to halt a massive multiyear software project. The rollout of a new product ordering system not only disrupted regular operations but also proved so difficult that a significant number of sales representatives left the company.

Jones advises organizations to support employees by providing information and reassurance and making sure employees understand the change and are ready to implement it.

"If you can’t get people to change, nothing is going to happen," she says, noting that employee acceptance is a factor for any major project, whether an employer is installing new enterprise resource planning software or a new human resource management system, moving to the cloud, or outsourcing.

Be honest with workers about the implications, especially if the technology will make someone’s job obsolete either now or eventually, Jones advises.

Focus on People, Not Systems

To keep HR technology projects on track, Tom Sonde, principal at SilverRoad Solutions, a New Jersey-based management consulting firm specializing in business improvement, offers the following tips:

  • Remind process owners not to make design decisions based on the current system.
  • Make design decisions with input from all process owners (those who will help implement the system depending on their function—payroll, benefits, etc.).
  • Ask process owners what they would like "in a perfect world."
  • Enlist executive management or the software vendor to help employees network with others who have successfully implemented the new software.
  • Push back with the vendor when appropriate.
  • Designate a senior HR staff member to make final system setup and process design decisions.
  • Avoid decision by committee.

An HR technology implementation isn’t a one-time event, so understand that the process will require time and commitment. "Keeping people engaged over the course of the journey is important," Jones says, whether they agree with the change or not. In addition, "consider who is critical to the project—who is influential and how important their buy-in is to the project. You’re going to have to change the average employee, but first you need to figure out who is going to be on your side."

How do you do this? "One of the easiest ways is to ask them. Conduct surveys, repeat pulse surveys and hold focus groups," she suggests. "Remember, people’s views change over the course of the project."

Aliah D. Wright is an online editor/manager at SHRM.

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