How to Introduce New-School HR Tech to an Old-School Team

Take concerns seriously and get buy-in early

By Ilima Loomis September 24, 2019
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​Employee self-service platforms. Mobile timesheet systems. Virtual training. The newest generation of technology promises to streamline core HR tasks. But not every organization will experience a smooth transition. On many teams, there are still employees who are uncomfortable with technology, worried about privacy or just reluctant to let go of old ways.

"We can call them Luddites, but putting large groups of people under a common banner ignores the different challenges in how to successfully address their concerns," said Danny Speros, people, talent and HR leader at HR tech company Zenefits.

HR and company managers can help smooth the transition if they engage employees early in the process, before purchasing the software. "Don't leave the decision to executives and upper-level employees," said Ellen Mullarkey, vice president of business development for the Messina Group, which recently went through a change in its HR tech. "If a certain role is going to use the product, their input is needed. You might not be able to let everyone test it, but each level of the company should be represented in the decision-making process."

Phil Strazzulla, an HR tech expert and consultant who has helped companies implement new HR systems and founded the HR software review site SelectSoftware, recommends forming a buying committee made up of volunteers from different departments throughout the organization. In addition to providing input on the software needs of front-line employees, these volunteers "can be a really important point of evangelism to the rest of the people in their department," he said.

One of the most common mistakes companies make is choosing software based on an existing relationship with an established vendor, rather than finding the best provider for the system they need. "They say, 'OK, we need a new HRIS [human resource information system], and we already use XYZ company for our payroll. They have an HRIS, so let's just use that,' " Strazzulla said. "A lot of the pain comes from using outdated technology, so you should really stretch yourself to do a little more research and find out who the emerging vendors are in the category you're looking at."

It's smart to think about how employees will engage with the new system and look for software that will be easy to use and integrate with the communications platforms the company is already using, like Microsoft Teams or Slack. "Think about how your employees are going to use it and how you can make it so they don't have to log in to a new system," Strazzulla said. Employees are also very concerned about privacy, so it's important to make security a priority when choosing a vendor and to explain how new technology will offer a higher level of privacy protection.

When it comes time to roll out the software, communicate with employees about the reason behind the change. "There has to be the story behind why the organization is adopting this [and] how it's going to have a positive impact [on] the organizational and individual level—whether it's to allow people to work in a company that has a better culture or so people can have easier access to their benefits," he said.

Organizations should prepare for communication to go in two directions, said Jeff Skipper, a change management consultant who has worked with companies such as IBM, BP and Goldman Sachs. He suggested having regular conversations among senior leaders, project teams and middle managers, and even holding open forums where employees can ask questions and raise concerns.

Middle managers play a critical role in getting teams on board, and organizations should make sure they're informed about changes well in advance with information that employees might ask about. "If that person is surprised by the announcement or is not equipped to answer questions, it's a big loss of credibility for what the organization wants to do," Skipper said.

Even with good communication, there may be a few holdouts. After you've worked with resistant employees and provided needed coaching or training (as well as closed any backdoor workarounds by, for example, going through the office to remove old paper forms that might still be in circulation), some workers still may refuse to adopt a new way of working. "Often you can tell by the attitude you get, if it's passive-aggressive or just blatantly aggressive where they're saying, 'I don't want to do this, and you can't make me,' " Skipper said.

But, he noted, those cases are unusual. While people often talk about the difficulty of change, it's important to remember that employees already have plenty of experience in learning new technologies in both their personal and professional lives. "In fact, we see lots of examples of people rushing to embrace changes, if they see how it benefits them," Skipper said. "People adapt all the time, and we miss out on emphasizing that."

Ilima Loomis is a freelance writer based in Maui, Hawaii.

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