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Change management critical in HR systems implementations

HR technology is a booming market, according to Bersin by Deloitte. But even the best HR systems will fail if they're not implemented properly.

Almost 60% of companies plan to buy a human resource information system or talent management suite in the next...

18 months, according to Bersin by Deloitte research. But IT projects often fail, so instituting change management during implementation is crucial to success.

Katherine Jones, vice president of human capital management technology research at Bersin by Deloitte, told attendees at the research firm's 2014 Impact conference in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. that buying plans are hardly shocking when considering the average age of existing HR software. For instance, 47% of human resource information systems (HRIS) are more than seven years old. Even talent management applications, which Jones said are part of a comparatively younger market, are aging. According to Bersin research, 17% of recruiting, 19% of performance management, and 40% of time and attendance applications have celebrated their seventh birthday.

With this in mind, Jones gave tips on how to navigate an HR technology implementation to ensure successful adoption.

Consistently administer change management throughout implementation

Overall, change management was "make it or break it when we looked at implementations," Jones said. However, only 53% of companies that had recently undergone an implementation focused on change management as much as technology throughout the duration of the project, according to survey data from Bersin by Deloitte, based in Oakland, Calif.

In studying HR systems projects, Jones identified six critical aspects of change management that were often overlooked.

"This is going to sound like 'of course,' but in a lot of implementations these were holes that people thought they knew about but didn't do; things that were left by the wayside," Jones said.

Jones' first two points were the importance of identifying challenges to successful change, and giving stakeholders a voice in making decisions. Third, she reminded HR leaders to connect with end users throughout the process to prepare them for and guide them through change, especially if their job processes or roles will shift as a result of new technology.

"I know this sounds trivial, but in one case after another the idea of engaging the people who were affected early and often did not happen," she said. "They would start early -- 'we're going to get more software' -- then about 14 months later, [say], 'It's here,' and nothing happened to help people change along the way. That was really bad."

Another consideration was coming to an agreement that a new system was needed in the first place. Jones used the example of replacing performance management software.

"[HR] thinks we need a new performance management system, so we go get it, but we don't talk to the rest of the organization to see if they think they need a new system or if they're happy or unhappy with what they're doing today," she said. "It really helps to know what the rest of the company is thinking when we try to buy software because if they don't agree [that] there's a need, it's not going to work."

Jones' final two points were to create a roadmap for delivering information to affected employees and to maintain a focus on change management throughout the project.

HR systems integration also key

Change management aside, Jones offered up other considerations to ensure project success. For instance, she said that underestimating the necessary integration work was a primary cause of delays and budget overages.

To avoid this scenario, Jones had a simple piece of advice:

"Keep digging. When you think you've found all the points of integration, keep looking for more because they're likely to be there," she said.

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Another sticking point Jones said companies tend to wrongfully wave aside was the complexity of a global system implementation, especially in scenarios where a single tool was replacing multiple disparate systems. Here, she recommended project leaders talk to stakeholders in other countries to clearly define their wants and needs with the new technology.

Additional tips for effective implementation of HR systems included creating a business plan early on, employing super users to be the first line of support for a new system, writing work-specific user documentation, fostering an ownership culture among end users and defining the measures of success at the outset of a project.

Jones stressed the importance of this oft-neglected last step.

"You should be able to say, 'This is what we think [are] going to be the positive outcomes of this experience,' and then you can [see], did they happen or not? However, this happens far less than one would hope," she said. "If you don't think about it, people will say, 'Is it successful?' and you don't have any quantifiable way of looking at it."

Emma Snider is the associate editor for SearchFinancialApplications. Follow her on Twitter @emmajs24 and the site @SearchFinApps.

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