Wednesday, August 4, 2010

What to call HR Technology implementations to increase odds of success

I’ve ended my brief hiatus from blogging in which I was heads-down on white papers and other HR technology projects. I will try to get back to roughly a bi-weekly blogging schedule.

As the title of this blog post implies, I feel a change is in order with respect to how HR technology implementations are labeled, marketed and positioned within organizations. Whether we want to admit it or not, many HR technology implementations do not live up to expectations – either in terms of empirically measured ROI, or anecdotally reported perceptions of the new system or module. While there are many useful articles and blog posts about causal factors, perhaps we haven’t adequately considered the need to simply call these very strategic initiatives something else. Why?

For one thing, there’s a legacy here that cannot be ignored so easily … a few decades of HR systems being owned by the HR function and designed more from an administrative, compliance or transaction-processing perspective. Consequently, line managers (the true stewards of Talent Management) didn’t exactly view the announcement of a new HR system as cause for celebration. Even Integrated Talent Management Suites have not always proven to be so integrated or designed from a “what’s in it for the user?” perspective.

Compounding this challenging legacy is the fact that the terms “next generation HR system” … “new HR system” … and/or “new Talent Management system” have been so broadly used within customer organizations – often before they were ready to materially change business outcomes -- that they’ve lost much of their meaning and ability to change attitudes toward broad adoption.

There’s perhaps yet another reason to call HR technology implementations something else – the words "technology implementation." Most astute observers of large-scale, complex technology implementations would probably agree that for every technology implementation considered widely successful, there is one considered a train-wreck. So, there you have it -- the double whammy syndrome of labeling these initiatives “HR Technology implementations.”

A logical candidate for re-naming these projects might be more reflective of what they really are --- or should be – “Foundational Change Management Initiatives" ... in which technology will be a major component. These endeavors are truly aimed at changing hearts and minds about how people should be managed for competitive advantage, using technology as an enabler. This is an "inside-out" transformation, brought about by such techniques as being open about perceived take-aways (and offsets), identifying and converting those “on-the-fence”, promoting major benefits at the individual stakeholder level, etc. The most successful change management efforts are designed to impact at a very personal level, not at the level of how processes will be better or more efficient for the organization.

Every time I hear about an HR technology implementation to optimize and enable HR/Talent Management processes, I quickly ascribe 3 things to the effort: (1) the change management dimension has been short-changed once again; (2) an overly simplistic, process-centric view of Talent Management / Human Capital Management which will likely prevent holistic thinking about the Talent Agenda; and (3) no more than a 50/50 probability of resounding success due to (1) and (2).


  1. In the last 6 years I have been working in Learning and Talent Management Technologies (with another 12 yrs in L&D) and I would have to agree with your assessment. It's too often that the technology is seen as the solution rather than the business needs and requirements as driving the solution.
    It seems funny to me that as part of our DNA, HR practitioners overlook their own change management needs. That or they are driven by an HRIS group that only sees the technology as an implementation and drives the project. I have only seen one successful enterprise level implementation of an LMS and it took over 5 years. It was driven by requirements and backed by good sponsors who understood the timeline reality.

    So, now that I've lamented this state, what do we do differently to produce a better outcome?

  2. Many thx Lori! I think what we should do about this is keep sending a message to the vendor community and our corporate IT/HRIS friends that technology should never be more than 30-40 percent of the answer to driving the HCM/Talent Mgt agenda. Whenever it exceeds that, it's likely destined to fail ... since critical aspects like clarity of strategy, decision frameworks, change management, process changes and data model have probably been short-changed.