Getting staff to accept HR tech

The deployment of HR technology has become simple, cost-effective and, thanks to cloud-based systems, easily adapted to suit a variety of business models. HR technology allows for improved analytics and data management that can be used to drive employee retention, performance metrics and compliance among other things, but it needs employee buy-in to work.

Says Yahya Mayet, manager at Africa Wide, a consulting firm in Johannesburg: “The correct term is not ‘buy in’. The word to use instead should be engagement. This might seem like semantics, but when viewing technology implementations, all too often the human element is completely forgotten or there is a significant upfront buy-in with no follow-through of support.”

Employees need an understanding of how any new systems will benefit them and to receive the right levels of training and support to reduce barriers to entry and resistance to take up.

 The HR department has to become far better at marketing — it needs to inspire, instruct and engage when deploying any level of technology across the organisation. The risks of not doing so can often divide the workforce and lead to fractured results.  One solution is to make use of social leaders who can champion the programme and show how it has worked to their benefit within the context of the business. 

“Peer pressure is a powerful thing so try and get a pilot site or success story where you have someone leading the change,” says Kriya Govender, chief executive officer of  PRP Solutions. “Identify the team most receptive to change and most likely to adopt new solutions and use them to show how the system can make a difference. When people and teams see the success of the technology in other parts of the organisation, this often leads to quicker and improved adoption.”

Any solution needs to have its value assessed against the requirements of the business and the people that fill its floors.  The benefits that technology can provide are significant, if it is backed up by an effective management process.

“Staff buy-in is highly dependent on the level of technology adoption throughout the business in all aspects of internal operations,” says Suren Govender, Managing director of  Accenture Analytics. “Technology for technology’s sake does not effectively empower staff and this is when we see the most resistance. Technology is best deployed as an enabler to performing one’s job or to augment staff capabilities.”

Accenture used technology solutions to automate and simplify basic HR functions in order to make it easier and less frustrating for staff to go through mundane, but important, processes. The company was driven by its staff, most of whom are Generation Y, into building a richer technology solution to deliver improved digital experiences.  This is the first step towards gaining the support of employees, by acting on their feedback and input.

“Staff must be part of the decision to adopt and deploy the technology, it should not just be an instruction from HQ or executive management,” says PRP’s Govender. “Help staff and middle management to understand what the benefits are in cost saving or time saving. I specifically mention middle management as they are often the team expected to deploy the technology to make it work in their environments and it is key that they are on side.”

A study undertaken by Viswanath Venkatesh and Fred D Davis titled A Theoretical Extension of the Technology Acceptance Model: Four Longitudinal Field Studies showed that a person’s intention to use a system is determined by two things: perceived usefulness and perceived ease of use. If the employee feels that a technology solution will enhance job performance and allow for them to deliver more effectively on their mandate, then they are more likely to commit to using the system properly. The study also showed that by using a compliance-based approach that forced people to adopt new systems was not as successful as using a socially-led approach where social influence was used to show the benefits of the implementations. 

“Look for those gatekeepers in the business, all businesses have one or two people that hold the collective respect of the community and have significant influence,” says Mayet. “Considerable impact can be derived by simply allowing them to step in and steer the process rather than having a perceived outsider or a consultant engage with them.”

HR technology can be used to empower the employee and give them a sense of ownership within the organisation by granting them greater control. 

“Allowing employees to take ownership and accountability improves morale and has the potential to reduce some of the smaller HR issues that crop up in the business,” says Alexandra Hadfield, director of aHa! Consulting and HR practitioner. “Through a self-service system, staff have access to HR and can get information and approval quicker than using older, paper-based systems and they can take responsibility for their own leave applications and performance management, which encourages them to take responsibility for their deliverables.”

Showing an employee how a technology solution will change their lives for the better is one thing, but this strategy needs to be applied to the IT department, executives and any other group that will be directly affected. People are resistant to change and so the HR department has to be prepared to consistently show how things have improved and to move at a pace that suits employees.

“The technology in and of itself cannot fulfil the complete HR function and cannot necessarily solve HR issues if the underlying problems are systemic within the organisation,” says Jason Bygate, director of Engage Empowerment Partnership. “It can contribute to easing issues, highlighting issues and improving performance.  From an HR perspective technology can improve data management to drive efficiencies and assist with regulatory compliance, and from an employee perspective it can contribute to improved visibility and self-management capabilities.”

Transparency should be the next word on the list when trying to gain traction for a new solution. Employees are already fairly savvy when it comes to what technology can do, so it is worth showing them the reasoning that went into selecting the solution and what the long and short term benefits should be.

“Set the expectation of what the roll-out process is going to be and ensure there is quick and good support to resolve any teething problems so as to avoid frustration,” says PRP’s Govender. “Link the deployment and adoption of technology to incentives such as key performance indicators, for example. Show how the technology makes things simpler, how cloud lets them work from anywhere and how it can reduce the time it takes to get things done.”

What is also essential is that there is a strong chord of realism running through any campaign to gain employee acceptance and usage of new technology. 

It will not be seamless or perfect or time efficient, at first — there is a learning curve and some processes that were once quick may slow down while things are being implemented and understood. 

Employees that understand the value, have engaged with the concept and understand the rationale behind its implementation are far more likely to adopt it willingly and make it work for themselves and the organisation.

This article is part of a larger supplement which can be found here.

The supplement has been made possible by the Mail & Guardian’s advertisers and the content has been vetted by the Top Employers Institute.