To Succeed With New Technology, Understand the End User First

For a while, now, it’s seemed to me that at some point, the Learning and HR functions are going to become one. The increasingly dynamic, near-real-time approaches to performance management will be the primary driver, followed by the growth of experiential learning. A logical way for organizations to start working through the details of this change is to give more thought to the way HCM tools are rolled out.

Organizational BodyIn a recent blog post, May Huffer of the HCM systems consultant HRchitect noted:

One of the main reasons a new HR technology system fails is not providing ample time for training. Whether it’s a necessary system upgrade, implementing a brand-new system, or simply transitioning from one platform to another, your staff will be faced with change and new ways of doing things. It is easy to understand why an organization and the implementation team members may be eager to celebrate their success, and jump right in to using the new system, but it is crucial that training for all of the stakeholders is not overlooked.

It’s an obvious point that few would argue with. At the same time, unfortunately, the importance of training is often minimized when it comes to committing the time and dollars necessary to getting a workforce up to speed on the use of a new system. It’s not about the implementation team being on fire to launch the product so much as it is the hesitance of managers to disrupt their departments’ workflows to accommodate the planning and execution of an effective training program.

Besides that, rare is the executive who easily signs off on spending money to turn a new tool into something that can be used to its maximum effect. While technology is increasingly easy to use today, not every system works the same way and people still resist change. Companies are better off when they look on training as a component of the implementation process, not as a separate step that follows it.

Learning Before You Plan

But to really get the right package of tools and training in place, executives need two things: First, a clear idea of what they want the system to accomplish and, second, a true understanding of the workforce’s capabilities in that area.

Our favorite example on this front is the use of analytics by HR. Somewhere around 2012 or 2013, more and more articles were written and presentations given about how data could be applied to Human Resources and turn the qualitative into something quantitative. Many HR organizations were already using data warehouses to keep better track of employee records and measure simple things like time-to-hire or headcount trends, but now the heat was on to gather finer workforce-data points and develop metrics and analytics that could identify problems that may have previously gone unrecognized, predict behaviors of workers sharing certain traits and even suggest solutions to issues before they arose.

It was all very exciting and very promising, but somewhere along the way the architects of the HR analytics revolution forgot to look at the people who would be expected to use these tools. Few HR or organizational development professionals were schooled in the use of data and yet every time they looked at an industry web site or attended a conference, they were berated for resisting the inevitable.

The problem was tools were designed with the data specialist in mind, not the HR practitioner, and as analytics was adopted by more functions in more organizations, few companies were willing to spend the money on data scientists dedicated to HR. Consultants made money, to be sure, but you have to wonder how much further along we might be if software vendors and their clients had studied the skills and backgrounds of the HR departments they had in place and built tools around them. As one vendor executive told us, “we got ahead of the user” when it came to analytics.

Don’t Wait for Problems to Fix Themselves

Four or five years later, it’s hard to dispute the value big data offers to recruiting, workforce management and workforce planning. According to Deloitte’s Global Human Capital Trends 2015, only 8 percent of executives believed their organizations were “strong” in people analytics even though 75 percent of them called the area “important.” Eventually, that imbalance will ease as tools become smarter and more HR professionals learn how to use data in ways that result in a more engaged, more efficient workforce.

Now, we’re seeing a similar dynamic unwind with artificial intelligence. Though no one expects HR to become a sub-group of IT, it’s imperative for companies to have a clear idea of what they want each tool to accomplish and how users—both in HR and throughout the organization—can and should interact with the technology to make it happen. Part of that process requires evaluating the workforce’s comfort with the technology in question. And by “technology,” we mean the concepts that underpin the software that’s delivering the solution.

Let’s put it this way: Does every recruiter, HR professional and organizational development specialist need to be a data scientist? No. Should they understand the basics of how data can be applied to their work and help them develop solutions? Yes. What do you do if they don’t have that knowledge? You educate them.

Vendors are incorporating recommendation engines into their systems to help guide end users to viable answers to challenges they may face. But that’s only a component of the ultimate solution. Part of selecting the right HCM tool for your particular organization is understanding, in detail, the knowledge and comfort level of both your HR department and your workforce at large.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

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