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How HR Tech Adoption Happened at Southwest Airlines

A man standing in front of a screen giving a presentation.
​Greg Muccio, director of talent acquisition for Southwest Airlines speaking at IAMPHENOM 2019.

​PHILADELPHIA—You're a talent acquisition leader. Imagine you've just convinced the organization to buy a really cool, new technology system. You're excited, but how can you convince your team to feel the same way?

"If you're a leader launching a new technology, you have the responsibility to make it successful," said Greg Muccio, director of talent acquisition for Southwest Airlines.

Partnering with the vendor to create and carry out training programs is one way to make adoption stick, Muccio said at IAMPHENOM 2019, a conference held in April by talent experience management technology company Phenom People.

[SHRM members-only platform: SHRM Connect]

Barriers to Change

Tech buyers face a variety of common obstacles after they purchase and implement a new platform. Many people are reluctant to change how they work and loath to try new technologies.

In Muccio's case, his team was already "superbusy," hiring up to 7,000 people per year. Southwest receives more than 300,000 job applications annually. The 120 employees in his talent acquisition function also have technology fatigue. "They've been through flavors-of-the-month tools that come and go," he said. "And I can relate. When I was a recruiter, I'd see something new roll out and think, 'Who thought this was a good idea?' "

For Muccio, the concern about tech adoption became more than academic about a year ago, when Southwest bought Phenom's talent experience suite, which includes a careers site; candidate relationship management (CRM) platform; and tools for creating recruitment campaigns, hiring events, referral programs and internal career pathways.

Now people had to be encouraged to use it. "During the rollout, I was very clear about my expectations," he said. "I told them this was the direction we're going—this isn't optional."

But he knew there would be holdouts. So he gathered his entire team from 12 different locations across the country for an in-person training developed with the vendor.

"It was really important to get them all together in person, hearing the same message," he said.

Whether employees begin to incorporate new technologies into their regular work routines depends in part on how new systems are explained, said Dan Staley, global HR technology leader with consulting and research firm PwC. "People need to understand what's in it for them to adopt new technologies. You have to create communication and support plans that appeal to these different desires."

Muccio explained that he manages the hiring for three unique groups: high-volume roles, corporate positions and campus recruiting. "Even within high-volume, we don't hire flight attendants the same way we hire ramp agents or call center workers. When we did the training, it was important that it was authentic to each group and applicable to what they are doing. The worst thing that could happen is that we do the training and everyone is pumped up, and then they go back to their desk and go back to doing what they've done every day."

Champions Lead the Way

Southwest and Phenom created a training program together, the first time either had done that before. Muccio said he didn't want the hands-on training to incorporate fake work examples, so he first had to walk Phenom through all the different occupations at Southwest, from ramp agents to data scientists.

"We came up with a 'training champion' program," Muccio said. "We selected 18 recruiters from across our different customer groups for advanced training on the platform. Then they were challenged to build the use cases themselves. When we launched the in-person training, instead of seeing hypothetical searches and campaigns, our recruiters could see how to use the platform to specifically attract mechanics, flight attendants, accountants, etc."

Success depends on the vendor's providing a responsive and dedicated support team. Southwest and Phenom held additional check-ins every week for about two months after the platform was launched in order to answer questions and share experiences. "It's important to keep the attention up," Muccio said. "You have to continually reinforce the message, constantly share successes and have conversations with your staff."

Muccio also used recruiters' natural bent toward competition to make adoption stick. "We created a three-month challenge with prizes for the most successful campaign using the platform, the first to run an event in the CRM, and the most CRM activity during that period. Once that competition was over, my regional groups started running new contests with their teams."

Weekly updates were sent out via e-mail highlighting the top 10 users of the platform and the best campaign for the week. "We still do that today," he said. "I love that message—instead of being punitive by showing who's not using it, we show who's using it really well."

But in some cases, a stronger hand was needed. He looked over usage reports and let managers know that slow adopters were on shaky ground. Failure to use the system would be reflected in recruiters' performance reviews.  

"We had an incredibly late adopter who doesn't like change," Muccio said. "His team leader told him that if his metrics didn't improve, we would take his customers away from him. He started using the system and improved his metrics significantly. He had two of the top campaigns in the last month."

Over the last eight months, Southwest has conducted over 150,000 CRM activities using the platform, run 150,000 searches and sent out 420 campaigns. "The engagement of my team with the tool is higher than it's ever been," Muccio said. "They are finding new and different ways to use it, sharing ideas. It's their lifeblood now."


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