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How to Meet Challenges When Deploying New HR Technology

Here's how to lead people through HR systems upgrades

A woman sitting in front of a computer in an office.

​CHICAGO—Change can be scary for employees who are asked to adopt new technologies at work, said Katherine Jones, Ph.D., a partner and director of talent research for Mercer, speaking to attendees at the Human Resource Executive HR Technology and Exposition Conference here recently.

She said employees could be concerned that new tools will be harder to use, will make their work more complicated or, in some cases, will make their jobs obsolete.

However, providing proper training and support and making employees feel as if they are part of the implementation process can go a long way toward making technology deployments successful.

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

When Mercer surveyed HR technology professionals about their top five implementation challenges:

  • 49 percent said they found it difficult to define the future state of the HR organization to support new roles and responsibilities stemming from human capital management (HCM) implementations.
  • 44 percent cited the need for customization, which added time and expense.
  • 37 said they had challenges 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 of respondents felt they overcame their challenges, Jones added.

Address Employees' Concerns

The best way to manage change is to anticipate what it might mean for workers, she said, and to address the concerns of affected employees.

On the first day of the new technology's deployment, Jones said, employees may ask questions such as "Will I lose my job? 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?"

"Even within the highest levels," she said, organizations should consider what "day one looks like for anyone affected by new software."

Jones said change agents should keep in mind that "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. It's confusing for people who have to make changes."

Support employees by providing information and reassurance. Make sure they are all on board with the change and are ready to implement it.

"If you can't get people to change, nothing is going to change," she said, whether you are installing new enterprise resource planning software or a new human resource management system, moving to the cloud, or outsourcing. "If you don't change people, nothing is going to happen in your environment."

And if the technology will make someone's job obsolete, she said, be honest about it.

Biggest Challenges May Be People, Not Systems

Mercer data reveals that 55 percent of organizations are redesigning their end-to-end HR processes with new HRIS implementations.

The biggest challenges?

  • Integrations (cited by 47 percent).
  • Configurations (41 percent).
  • Change management (30 percent).
  • Project management (26 percent).
  • Reporting (26 percent).

Other headaches include HR organizational redesign, HR vendor selection and building the business case for obtaining new software.

Jones said there are a number of other barriers to change: fear, resentment, confusion, culture, uncertainty, being tied to poor processes, lack of communication and lack of sponsorship.

"Make sure there is a consensus among key influencers and leaders that the change is necessary," she said, adding, "You'll want to evaluate your stakeholders, naysayers, derailers and the uninformed."

That's because "keeping people engaged over the course of the journey is important," she said, whether they agree with the change or not. You'll also want to "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 suggested. "Remember: People's views change over the course of the project."

Checklist for Managing Change During HR Technology Deployments

Planning for how people will need to make changes in order to accept new technologies is as critical as planning for new processes or new technologies. So change agents will need to:

  • Define what will constitute success upfront; measure it at the end of the initiative.
  • Identify stakeholders and ascertain levels of initial commitment, then re-evaluate commitment over the life of the project.
  • Consider the gap between where your organization is and where you want the proposed change to take you. Do people have the skills, the desire and the capacity to make the change required successful?
  • Identify a mediator who will have the final word when differences arise (and they will).
  • Assemble implementation teams wisely. Don't choose people who may have the most free time; instead, choose those best suited to collaborate on a strategic project with long-term consequences.
  • Develop a solid enterprisewide communication strategy that goes beyond initial project launch.


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