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Buying human resources software: The adoption phase

In this sixth article of a seven-part series on buying HR software, two experts emphasize the importance of user adoption. Here is what to keep in mind.

We're into the sixth article in our series on buying human resources software. We've talked about choosing the right features, suggested questions to ask during the sales process, told you how to negotiate with your vendor, provided questions to ask when implementing your HR system and emphasized the importance of training. But the bottom line is that user adoption is where you realize your return on investment (ROI) or you chuck it out the window. Without solid user adoption, the path you've followed as you purchased and implemented your HR software might look like that shown in Figure 1.

Decisions about user adoption should be woven throughout the entire process (for example, when you're selecting a product, ease of adoption should be one of those criteria). However, in reality, user adoption (and user satisfaction) tends to become an afterthought that rears its ugly head only when you're suffering from a lack of it. But if you didn't consider user adoption during product selection, all is not lost. Ideally, as you're wrapping up training and preparing to "go live," if you follow our advice below, you'll be in much better shape.

An unsuccessful HR software rollout
Figure 1. This is not how you want your HR software purchase to end.

1. Catalogue the ways in which your users will "love" the new software

Yes, we said "love," because the more your users love the product, the more likely they are to adopt it. So, spend time writing a list of product qualities that is broken out into the following characteristics:

  • Attractive (referred to as UI): Does the software have a visually appealing color scheme? Does it have cutting-edge forms? Is the mobile version easy on the eye?
  • Attention-grabbing (referred to as stickiness): Does the system immediately pull the user in? Is completing a typically mundane task like onboarding now exciting?
  • Natural (referred to as UX): Does the system just feel right? Would you naturally look for your employee demographics where it is actually found?

Speaking of "natural," as a natural offshoot of this exercise you will uncover red flags for future user adoption. Add those flags to the top of the list, because you're going to use them with the next piece of advice.

2. Learn and monitor the ways in which users don't like the software

Sustainable user adoption is just like sustainable employment -- more important than the reasons your employees are happy are the reasons they aren't. The methods for determining why users might not be happy with the HR system came up on a recent #NextChat Twitter chat, hosted by the Society for Human Resource Management, with special guest none other than William. There are two schools of thought:

  1. Just ask them, either through surveys or impromptu interview style.
  2. Do your best to monitor usage in the background. In fact, rather than trying that out on your own, first ask the software vendor the following: Do you provide any usage, consumption or adoption metrics?

Both methods hold weight, but you're trying to identify challenges with the system that will predict problems of adoption. For example, in an interview or survey you might find out that people are extremely annoyed by the number of steps to request a vacation. The natural outcome would be to avoid completing that task in the system, which gives your ROI an immediate negative hit.

3. Decide who owns user adoption

Stop the pointless finger pointing. The vendor only owns a piece of user adoption, but the company (or your consultants) truly own user adoption. Allow us to explain:

  1. The software vendor needs to create software that not only secures initial adoption, but that continues to be "sticky." It can never annoy the user, it can't bore the user, and it can't give the user a reason to seek and find alternatives to system usage.
  2. The core team that was responsible for implementing the software, as well as company executives, can lead by example. If managers and executives are talking about how the compensation management process in the new system is cumbersome, the rest of the organization is listening.

A caveat to what we've said above about ownership. A good vendor will have been to this rodeo before. Ask them to describe user adoption best practices they use with other clients. If you like what you hear, consider leaning on them. If you don't, take the bull by the horns.

Securing user adoption takes time, and it takes attention. Once you go live, support of the product takes over and user adoption is the furthest from your mind. When you get to the point when user adoption should be your focus, you might be burned out from six months of the push to implement. Take a step back, focus on the areas we've described above and knock this one out of the park. You, your users and the human resources software vendor will thank you later.

The seven points of satisfaction
in buying HR tech

Each article in the series addresses one of the steps in the purchasing process that is a key determinant of buyer satisfaction.

  1. Product selection
  2. Sales process
  3. Negotiation
  4. Implementation
  5. Training
  6. Adoption
  7. Support

About the authors
Jeremy Ames is co-founder of Hive Tech HR, a consulting company based in Medway, Mass. He is a 15-year veteran of IT implementation projects and sits on the HR Management and Technology Expertise panel of the Society for Human Resource Management. Email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @jeremyallynames.

William Tincup is principal analyst and co-founder of Key Interval Research, which is based in Occidental, Calif. He is a contributor to and other media outlets and sits on the boards of several technology companies. Email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @williamtincup.

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