HR Tools adoption : is it a change or a design related issue ?

As I said here, one of the things I noticed at the latest ‘UNLEASH Conference & Expo edition was the importance given to HR Tools solutions. It’s not a new matter but it’s taking a larger part of the stage over time. But even if the matter is legitimate, I’m affraid it’s being taken by the wrong end.

Self-Service HR and New Services put adoption at the center of the stage

That’s always been a legitimate matter because the least a business can expect when a new tool is implemented is to see employees using it. It used to be less an issue for HR than in other fields I used to work in. When a tool is closely tied to a bsuness process there’s usually no adoption issue : to some extent people like it ot not but they use it. The difference between a successful or a failed adoption is, in this case, rather about people liking it or not.

On the other hand, when it comes to collaboration, for example, enterprise social network and all that we used to call social collaboration it was a major issue because businesses tried to promote a kind of “off-ground” collaboration, not tied to business processes, and as a result the only people using the tools were the firmer believers.

Now things are changing on the HR side. Most businesses are updating their “old” HR systems, what comes two consequences

  • new tools employees have to take ownership of.
  • new roles for HR imply new tasks and new kind of services delivered to employees.

On top of that, the HR applications user is changing. Before, the HRIS was mainly used by HR users but today, with the advent of self-service HR that allow employees to do many things by themselves without having to ask a HR person or any kind of intermediary, it’s not anymore one department being concerned by the whole organization. And if self-service comes with benefits for employees, businesses still have to sell them the idea of doing by themselves instead of having things done by someone else. If we adopt a consumerist vision of HR tools and services, employees must be seen as clients and businesses can’t afford anymore saying “they must use it, either they like it or not”.

There are as many definitions of HT tools adoption than there are stakeholders

What’s funny (or weird) is that the definition of HT tools adoption differs according the person talking about it.

For vendors, adoption means utilization. “They use it it’s ok…no matter what they use it for”. It could be better but it’s much better than it used to be when selling the licences was their only success metric. The move to cloud and Sass forced them to review how they define success and that’s a good thing.

Businesses have quite the same definition to which they add ROI and, more and more user satisfaction. They expect that if people adopt the tools, some value will eventually show-up somewhere, help them to save money or reallocate resources on other matters.

On the enduser side adoption is all about meeting their needs. As a user would you use something that brings you absolutely nothing and even make your like more complicated ? Surely not !

For consulting firms that work on these projects, adoption means communications, training and change management. Logical : they make their living out of it !

Then come a new kind of players : vendors that don’t sell HRIS strictly speaking but tools that plug into it to drive adoption : online help and training, gamification, usage tracking.

HR tools adoption : it’s as much about when then about how.

Once again I will draw a parallel with collaboration tools to explain why I’ve never been comfortable with the idea of adoption.

One of the biggest issues with collaboration, and most of all with the social, informal, unstructured and emergent collaboration supported by enterprise social networks is that ik worked in parallel with the processes it was supposed to support an always disconnected from them. Businesses did not want to change their processes and expected that something would happen besides, just by magic, and will improve their delivery.

Since it made no sense for employees, the focus was on adoption : lots of communications, project marketing, community managers posting a lot because employees were not active. Since businesses did not want to adapt to what the tools made possible, the weight of change was put on the user. A lot was done to accompany users once the tool was launched because nothing was done on management and collaborative process design before the launch.

Regarding HR tools (and not only HR) I still think that when adoption is an issue it means that something was missed in design stage. The issue can relate to the design of the tool, of the businesses processes, of the organization, to the delivery or managerial model…. But a well designed project should fix 80% of the potential adoption issues before the tool is launched.

Towards “adoption by design”

Some will say that, obviously, change and adoption professionals have no interest in seeing businesses designing well their projects because it would kill their own business. And they’re right. Since I’ve been “on the other side” for years I can tell you they’re right. The less a client adapted its organization, processes and culture beforehand the more job we had to get him out of trouble once the tool was launched. I personally prefer deep and sound design stages but the truth is most businesses expect technology to solve everything by magic and make as few changes as possible until they’re forced to. Dealing with real issues is always delayed as much as possible, it’s not new and won’t change anytime soon.

But in my opinion adoption should not be a major issue provided the design of the tool, services, processes and has been done properly. As a matter of fact what does a lack of adoption mean ?

• employees find the tool useless

•  the tool makes no sense regarding the current organisation, culture and management

• the tool makes things more complicated.

• It does not meet any user need (even if it meets company ones).

It’s all about design.

Adoption should not be more than a facilitation and explanation job and should not consist of making people adopt unnatural behaviors and bridge the sense making gap.

Adoption should be a part of the design job beforehand in order not to become a problem once the tool is launched.


Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler
Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler

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