Balancing the Innovation Equation: This just in! New technology solutions are a success, but only when they’re adopted by an organization’s users
By: Aaron Hudson
Division Vice-President, Implementation; ADP Canada
HR technology innovation is rapidly accelerating.
So why is business productivity only growing at 1.3%?1
The answer lies with your employees.
Visit the dozens of information technology (IT) conferences, summits and bootcamps throughout Canada this year and you’ll be amazed at the number and types of tech innovations that entrepreneurs are bringing to market. Broad-brush solutions, niche-driven tech tools, lots of artificial intelligence (AI) applications – they’ll all be there, with plenty more in the pipeline.
Yet, while today’s marketplace is awash in innovative technology to support important functional areas like human resources, some new solutions remain in search of users – users who can understand why the new technology is important to them. That’s because some producers of new technology and the organizations that purchase it place too much emphasis on software and too little attention to the actual users of the technology. As you look to implement new HR technology in your organization, follow a “user-centric” strategy.
Steer Clear of the “Productivity Gap”
HR technology is rapidly accelerating, but that’s not the case for business productivity, which is only growing at 1.3 percent annually. Why? Simply put, the beneficial impact of technology isn’t resonating with many of the people who can use it. The result is a productivity gap. There is a huge business reason why your organization needs to address this gap: If your tech users don’t embrace your new technology solutions, its purchase and deployment is nothing more than wasted money.
Chances are you have been through an IT implementation. How happy were you with it? Completely satisfied? Not satisfied? Maybe somewhere in the middle?
If you were less than satisfied, you aren’t alone. Traditional methods of implementing new technology are not working and failed implementations litter the landscape. The evidence is overwhelming. Organizations are experiencing an ERP implementation failure rate of up to 75 percent.2 Failed IT projects cost the U.S. economy between $50 - $150 billion every year.3 Moreover, 17 percent of IT projects fail so badly, they can threaten the very existence of the company.4
Among the surprising aspects of all this data is that the number of failed projects – and the severity of these failures – is not an aberration. As the Harvard Business Review has noted, “It will be no surprise if a large, established company fails in the coming years because of an out-of-control IT project. In fact, the data suggest that one or more will.’5
According to McKinsey & Company, “In the roughly 70 percent of change programs that fail to deliver results, the vast majority of problems can be attributed to the ‘soft stuff’: employee resistance to change and inappropriate leadership behavior.”6
What are the most likely reasons that prevent employees from adopting new technology? Ultimately, we are dealing with people – and, often, a natural reluctance to change. Four key factors can come into play:
- New technology disrupts the daily routine of users.
Routine provides comfort for people. Whenever you disrupt routines, you need to think about managing that change. Many employees and managers who have gained a good comfort level with your self-service app for benefits, for example, may not be easily amenable to switching from something that already works well for them. New technology brings value if it solves a problem or improves your employees’ lives. You need to tell your users why change is good for them.
- The audience of change is every employee in your organization.
Each employee who will use some aspect of the innovation you’re planning to deploy is just as important as your HR practitioners or managers. Failing to get buy-in by all users can slow adoption or cause it to fail, and the scope of disruption can be magnified hundreds or even thousands of times, depending on the number of users in a business.
- User loyalty to existing processes can be a clear drag on new technology adoption.
You may have a business technology system that everyone says they hate. It’s old, inefficient or not user-friendly and everybody complains about it. However, when you go out and provide something better, somehow everyone is telling you they want the old, broken system back. This is all about loyalty to an existing process that has become routine – and you need a plan to encourage your employees to switch to the better horse.
- Incorrectly estimating the impact of new technology can short-circuit innovation.
There is also danger in not correctly estimating the level of impact from implementing new technology. Ask yourself the tough questions. How much will adoption really cost?
How long will it take for you to declare success? If you have misjudged the impact of adopting something new, how are you going to minimize that impact?
Even as waves of great new technology come to market, one troubling axiom appears to be lurking at the doorstep of embracing something new: Everyone says they want to innovate, but no one seems to want to change. A “must” mission of every business that wants to improve their productivity by adopting innovative technology is to listen to their employees’ ideas, address their resistance to change and focus on getting their buy-in to the new solution.
Take a Fresh Look at Change Management
To drive adoption of new technology, you need to place as much emphasis on your user adoption plan as you do on the technology itself. That means a change management team should be part of your technology project team and, like so many other things, it can’t be an afterthought or done off the side of your desk. It needs focus – on people, impacted stakeholders, workflow and processes, training needs and communication.
To get the right people on the change management team, your entire business must be represented – a 360-degree buy-in from a broad set of perspectives and vantage points: executive, legal, training, communications, facilities, finance, HR, and payroll. Make sure everyone on the change management team also has their manager on board to back up their decision making.
As your change management team interacts with IT implementation, always keep top of mind that the use of new technology will make or break the business decision to deploy it. In the case of new HR technology, there are lots of ways to identify or confirm what is most important to your users to adopt a new technology solution. Start by asking them!
Focus on three areas:
- What do your staff want in a new solution?
- What tools or software do staff already use in their personal lives?
- What are the top reasons your employees contact HR – and what drives the volume of those contacts?
How will you know whether you have the right people on your change management team? Ask yourself if you believe they are savvy enough to identify and address potential obstacles – whether they are processes, tech issues or even cultural concerns. If the answer is yes, you and your organization’s users of the new technology solution will be in good shape.
Give Your Users What They Want
Ask yourself this question: How often do you use your smartphone? How often do you look at the screen, check it and use your phone for any reason? Every few minutes? A few times an hour? Once a day?
The fact is most people view smartphones as indispensable “cool” technology. Virtually everyone already has a phone. There are nearly 33 million wireless users in Canada.7 In 2017, Canada’s mobile data traffic grew 38 percent and is expected to grow four-fold from 2017 to 2022.8 Moreover, nearly two-thirds of worldwide users visit the Web on a mobile device.9 All of this is good for you and the adoption rates of your technology solution, if you can capitalize on smartphone technology.
When you are choosing the next piece of technology to introduce in your HR or payroll functions, you want something that your employees will embrace the way the world embraced the smartphone. The good news is most of the makers of modern HR and payroll solutions have already invested a great deal in the usability of their software. You don’t always need to hire a usability expert, but you do need to understand how your workforce interacts with technology, what they like, and what tools they prefer to use to engage it. Once you’ve figured that out, training must follow.
Training users on the new technology you are adopting is as important as the new technology itself. Ironically, training is one of the great contradictions when it comes to adopting new technology. Businesses are often willing to spend tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars on a “gee-whiz” solution but are unwilling to spend even a few thousand dollars on training that will help ensure successful adoption among their employees.
You can reduce your level of angst when it comes to new tech training by considering the obvious and not-so-obvious options to engage your users:
- Talk to your tech solution vendor to see if they offer user training.
- “Standard” or “canned” training can be a great starting point for your users – don’t discount it.
- Evaluate the cost effectiveness of custom training if it’s necessary.
- Create “user champions” within your organization who can deliver the training your users need.
- Get an early buy-in from your business stakeholders to make sure their teams of users are available to participate in training.
- Consider virtual training – delivered via Webex or similar technology.
Training can be expensive – but it’s worth the investment to help your organization reap the benefits of a great new technology solution for years to come.
Recognize That Your Workforce Is Changing
What percent of your workforce are full-time employees? Part-time employees? Gig workers? Are all their needs included in your new technology implementation plan?
The world of human capital management (HCM) and its technology often doesn’t fully accommodate the needs of contractors or “gig economy” workers – those who perform on-demand, freelance or contingent work. Many businesses don’t poll them when they do engagement surveys. Sometimes we create the very barriers that prevent us from serving these workers well, when we introduce HR technologies that are configured to be used only by full-time employees. Some employers might not even know how many gig workers they have, let alone how they feel.
That must change, as most companies see this agile workforce growing in the next few years.10 Keep in mind that technology is a key enabler for gig economy workers, like Uber and Lyft drivers, who rely on wireless technology to generate riders and revenue. Furthermore, most gig workers already use devices, like smartphones, to gather and transact information.
So how can we serve our contractors – our gig workers – better when it comes to new HR, payroll or other HCM solutions? We need to understand how we can help them, be their advocate and get internal IT team involved early with three key goals in mind:
- Reduce unnecessary barriers.
Some of the barriers to adoption of new technologies by contract or gig workers are “by design.” There are instances where we create the very barriers that prevent us from serving these workers well, like when we introduce HR technologies that are configured to be used only by full-time employees. Change involves removing unnecessary barriers.
- Deploy flexible technology.
Give preference to innovative tech solutions that allow different levels of user access/permission, based on the security groups you can define. This will allow HR to bring gig workers into workflow and processes without creating a parallel system.
- Focus on inclusion.
The number of gig workers – already more than two million in Canada – will continue to grow. Including them in appropriate programs will help us to serve our total workforce.
Aspirations Are the Seeds of Successful Change
According to the 2019 Forbes Technology Council, “Without change, your innovation aspirations are just that: aspirations.” Successful business leaders will always aspire to improve their organizations, using the best new solutions to help make that happen.
In the end, however, it’s your people – the users of new technology up and down your organization – who power innovation by giving new technology a purpose.
1 Global Human Capital Trends, Deloitte, 2017.
2 “ERP Implementation: To Avoid Project Failure, Assess the Impact of Change Before Starting Configuration,” Gartner, March 25, 2010.
3 “The Cost of Bad Project Management,” Gallup Business Journal, February 2012.
4 “Delivering large-scale IT projects on time, on budget, and on value,” McKinsey Digital, October 2012.
5 “Why Your IT Project May Be Riskier Than You Think,” Harvard Business review, September 2011.
6 “The Forgotten Step in Leading Large-Scale Change,” McKinsey & Company, October 2019.
7 Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association, December 2018.
8 Cisco VNI Forecast Highlights, 2018.
9 “When You Need to Redesign Your Website,” WebMax, May 30, 2018.
10 “The gig economy,” BMO Wealth Management Insight, July 2018.