In today’s business environment, HR is as involved in digital transformation as any other part of the business, if not more so. HR is pivoting from a focus on more of an administrative role within the enterprise to a focus on leveraging solutions that engage and build strong teams, foster great culture, and spearhead organizational change. There’s no doubt that for today’s best-in-class companies of all sizes, HR is critical to success with digital transformation, and it’s critical to business success overall.

I’ve written extensively about why HR needs to lead workplace transformation and how to develop an effective digital HR strategy, but we can’t forget that not all tech implementations succeed. In fact, tech implementations and digital transformation efforts often fail within organization, and HR is not immune. Let’s explore the top nine reasons HR technology implementations fail—and how you can avoid falling into those traps.

  1. Lack of adoption. Sometimes HR teams implement technology solutions that looks great on paper—perhaps a collaboration platform, talent management system, or workflow tool—with one key problem: Nobody wants to use it. This can be for several reasons. Perhaps employees don’t feel they’re properly trained on the new tool or are resistant to change, not understanding the reason behind the switch. Perhaps the tool is—as I’ll discuss next—difficult to use and doesn’t meet their needs or workflow processes or needs. HR can mitigate these issues by focusing on prioritizing user experience and focusing time and resources on training and engagement far after the implementation is complete.
  2. Poor user experience. Employees are essentially your internal customers when it comes to their expectations of the delivery of HR technology solutions. They want them to be intuitive, easy to use, and mobile. If a platform serves up a poor user experience, it’s not going to be widely adopted, no matter the bells and whistles. Just like focusing on customer experience is your best bet for the win in business, focusing on user experience is your best bet when it comes to winning with HR tech.
  3. Outdated legacy technology prevents progress. Many HR technology implementations fail because teams (or, sometimes, stakeholders) are hesitant to invest in digital tools, choosing instead to proceed with outdated legacy systems. Organizations can’t be agile if their technology is behind the times. Getting this buy-in is easier if HR pros have a seat at the table—something I’ll cover more in a second.
  4. Inability to measure success. Like every software implementation, HR tech initiatives need to be continually reevaluated to determine their effectiveness, their usage rates, their impact on productivity, and more—all of which, of course, help determine the ROI of the investment. Getting to this point means setting goals and benchmarks that rely on metrics specific to your organization. Some organizations overlook this critical step—a recipe for failure because it does not leave room for business agility, which I’ll discuss next.
  5. Lack of agility in the business, workforce, and culture. A key ingredient to agility is fostering the right culture—one that prioritizes an inclusive, diverse workplace, encourages continuous learning, and takes steps to actively engage teams personally and professionally. If your next HR technology implementation meets business goals but not workforce and culture goals, it’s the wrong choice. Equally as important, if it meets all three goals today, but doesn’t leave room for future growth of the business or the teams who use it, it’s the wrong choice. Prioritizing agility in HR tech choices allows your team—and the organization as a whole—to move more quickly when opportunities arise and recover more quickly if you make a misstep.
  6. Propensity to choose solutions not relevant to the business. Some companies chase the “shiny new toy that everyone needs” when it comes to software solutions rather than closely vetting. Choose HR technology solutions based on what is best for the needs of your specific organization now, but keep the future in mind, too. Is the solution scalable? Can you add or drop features? Does the level of support and training provided match the needs of your organization? Building in that agility and flexibility in your tech choices will help the business mirror those key growth-builders I just discussed above. (Want more? My friend Meghan Biro has written insightfully about both sides of HR tech—it’s promise and its potential challenges. Read: How to Choose the Best HR Tech for your Business.)
  7. Poor integration between IT and HR (and the rest of the business, for that matter). HR and IT must be allies in when it comes to HR technology solution implementations, not foes. That means HR must examine how solutions integrate with current IT platforms and processes before making decisions on new initiatives. That also means IT teams must be on board, helping HR pros select, implement, and integrate tech that will lead to organizational growth, not stagnation or—worse—interoperability and other issues.
  8. Unengaged owners, managers, and stakeholders. In Avoiding the Top Digital Transformation Sins, my colleague, Daniel Newman, wrote about sloth—the sin that allows “momentum behind the change to dissipate into the organization.” He’s talking about a lack of buy-in from those at the top, an issue of not only budgeting pitfalls but motivational and follow-through issues as well. This is more reason than ever that HR leaders need to demand a seat at the C-suite table, ensuring engagement for digital HR solutions flows throughout all levels of the company.
  9. Lack of highly skilled teams. It’s not enough to leverage the right HR technology. You also have to have the right people leading the charge, inspiring, educating, and engaging with employees, stakeholders, and everyone in between. HR pros don’t to have all the skills of an IT department, of course—but they do have to have (or be enthusiastic about learning) some basic IT skills, some basic marketing skills, some basic data analytics skills, some strong people skills . . . you get the picture. See Figure 1 for a unique HR Fit Grid that compares functional strength with fit strength to show four categories of HR leader: HR Pro, Grow, Watch/Exit, and Great Fit.

9 Reasons HR Technology Implementations Fail—and How to Avoid Them

Figure 1. Source: Talent Strategy Group

What’s Next?

If you think digital transformation is a necessary for business growth, you’re right. If you think it’s easy, you’re wrong. Research from just a few months ago—in May and June 2017—showed that nine out of ten digital transformation initiatives fail. Before I share the next stat, let’s get some context here: The survey, conducted by an independent market research organization for Couchbase, tallied the responses of 450 digital transformation leaders around the globe hailing from companies with more than 1000 employees. Here’s the kicker: On average, those organizations—the same ones that just said most of their initiatives fail—spent $5.67 million on digital transformation projects within the last twelve months.

While this data represents a mere snapshot of the entire digital transformation landscape across an entire company, it’s clear we’re dealing with a disconnect—a disconnect HR is poised to overcome if teams can avoid falling into the nine traps I covered above.

What has been your biggest challenge with HR tech implementation in your organization? How did you overcome it, and what did you learn along the way? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Additional Resources on This Topic

Digital Transformation Cannot Succeed without the Right Culture
Three Reasons HR Transformations Fail (And What to Do About It)
How Strategic HR Drives Digital Transformation

Photo Credit: gobidas Flickr via Compfight cc

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