How to handle a big technology implementation

Implementing a new HR system can be anything but easy. Here's our tips for getting it right

The latest HR systems promise to make your department’s life much simpler, yet often the implementation of something new is anything but easy. But getting it right can be critical to the success of the project. In the words of HCM software provider Workday’s senior vice president, product Leighanne Levensaler: “Think about the experience because you don’t get many second chances.”

At Workday’s annual Workday Rising customer conference in Dublin, HR magazine asked two HR leaders to share their advice on making implementation as pain-free as possible. Here are their top three tips.

1. Be aware this is change management not just technology

“Technology is not the challenge; the challenge is the change management and how you drive that,” says engineering firm Ramboll’s senior HR manager Anna Schow. “Don’t ever underestimate change management as there will always be issues.”

The biggest lesson for Ramboll was making the false assumption that because its managers were engineers they would “just get it”, and understand both the system and the value of self-service without any training. “That was a big mistake,” admits Schow.

The lessons of this misstep led to the business taking a more centralised approach with later implementations, rather than allowing local HR managers to drive things. “Taking control of the message centrally was more effective,” says Schow. “It’s about having strong governance and policies around it from the beginning. You need to define your roles and responsibilities upfront.”

Raymond L’Homme, global HR business application manager at medical company Elekta, agrees that “the biggest challenge is the change management”. “You need to get through that and make sure people buy into it,” he says. “At first they think ‘there’s nothing in it for me’, because managers have to do more and can see it as an additional burden. HR needs to stimulate a more positive vibe.”

2. Communication is everything

Given the scale of the change management required in a big implementation it’s no surprise L’Homme feels “communication is the most important thing”. “You need to inform managers and employees why you are doing this,” he says. “Send out newsletters, putting the importance on why you are doing this and what the benefits are.”

And while you might think you can do everything using technology, L’Homme advocates face-to-face communication. “We made a big point of being there on site showing people that [the implementation] was important,” he says. “Even if they were doing training in Chinese, having a global HR person there shows it is important.”

3. Rethink the HR skillset

Embracing technology means HR professionals need to improve their analytical capabilities, which may require a rethink of the skills an HRD has available in their department.

“We have a lot of good business partners, but they weren’t hired because they are good at analytics,” says Schow. “The BPs should be driving this into the business, so we are developing them to be able to communicate insights and data. We need to train them in how to talk with data and how to use the data when they are facing a challenge.”

L’Homme believes understanding analytics “should be compulsory” in all HR qualifications, as should training in HR systems. “Systems should be incorporated into HR qualifications,” he says. “It’s only going to become a bigger part of your day job.”