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Do you know how to drive HR-tech adoption?

(Article by Tom Starner originally appeared in HR Executive Magazine)

If you buy (or build) it, will they really come?

There is little question that employers around the world will continue to invest in HR-related technology in the coming years.

The global HR-management market, for instance, is anticipated to reach $30 billion by 2025, with a compound annual growth rate of 11% over that time, according to a new report by Grand View Research Inc. The report defines the main HR-management market as core HR, employee collaboration and engagement, recruiting, talent management, workforce planning and analytics.

That predicted spending spree on the horizon begs the question: Will HR-technology adoption rates meet expectations? In other words—borrowing a version of the tagline from the popular baseball film Field of Dreams—if you buy (or build) it, will they really come? It depends, say both experts and HR leaders who have experienced recent success with HR-technology adoption. Importantly, they note, high adoption/usage rates will happen only if HR leaders plan properly.

“The idea that, if you just buy it and roll it out, ‘they will come’ is not going to happen unless there’s an effective strategy in place,” says Chris Pinc, director of product management, data surveys and technology line of business at Willis Towers Watson. Pinc notes that planning needs to start well before implementation and go-live dates. Primarily, he says, HR must work through what the technology provides for users, delivering concise messages focused on why adoption is a good idea in the first place.

Regardless of the features and functionality of new software, HR must still take a proactive role to drive up adoption rates.

“There are very few products out there that drive adoption on their own,” Pinc says. “Nothing really sells itself.”

Earning Company-Wide Buy-In

Automaker General Motors, for example, identified employee recognition as one of the top drivers of employee engagement, as well as its potential to accelerate cultural change.

According to Sandra Garcia, global compensation and global strategic initiatives lead at General Motors, culture alignment was at the center of its revamped approach to recognition, for which it worked with Achievers, a provider of rewards and recognition technology.

“We took 60-plus disparate recognition programs and created a single unified program under one recognition platform, globally aligned behind our company behaviors,” she says. With that, the program enabled General Motors to provide a globally consistent recognition experience for its employees and measure program success.

When selecting its technology partner, Garcia explains, GM determined simplicity and user experience were two of the key decision factors, which it forecasted would drive program adoption. The company proceeded to work with Achievers to develop a comprehensive communication and training plan to ensure a successful launch.

“As the recognition platform was so intuitive, we were able to focus communications efforts on why recognition is important, everyone’s role in recognition and how to effectively recognize employees,” she says.

With strong messaging from the CEO and senior leadership integral to the plan, GM launched the new program to more than 68,000 employees across the globe in August 2017. In just three weeks, Garcia says, activation rates reached 87%, against a target of 80%. Since the launch, the program has set the record for most activations in the first day of program launch (26%) in Achievers’ history. Currently, GM has a 99% activation rate, with seven out of 10 employees actively using the platform monthly.

“Since launch, we’ve seen increases in positive perceptions of recognition in our engagement survey and steady improvements in program metrics,” Garcia says. “It’s the result of a robust program-sustainment strategy, comprised of ongoing communication, education and a phased rollout of new programs and program enhancements—all aimed at boosting program engagement and usage.”

Vanessa Brangwyn, chief customer officer at Achievers, says that, for employee-experience technology to deliver value to company leadership, HR departments and managers, employees need to actually use the technology, which is why Achievers focuses on driving consistently high levels of employee participation, especially during implementation.

“To earn company-wide buy-in and drive productivity, we created a frictionless installation process for the Achievers employee-engagement platform, to take the burden off HR leaders and make it easier and faster to meet employees where they are,” she says. The platform also uses push notifications to mobile and email to drive participation and engagement. Overall, Brangwyn says, Achievers’ customers report an average 86% activation rate, with 94% launch satisfaction.

Consistency and Communication

Brunswick Corp., a publicly held company with sales of over $4.5 billion annually, chose a technology solution to re-energize its sagging wellbeing program and drive employee engagement. According to Melissa DiLeonardo, wellbeing program manager at Brunswick, the company struggled to prioritize wellbeing in daily operations, which was affecting engagement, productivity and turnover. Brunswick, which has approximately 15,000 employees in more than 30 countries, works in three primary product categories: marine propulsion, boating and fitness.

DiLeonardo explains that manufacturing employees endure physically taxing, repetitive work and strict shift hours that make it hard to prioritize self-care. Alternately, employees in office environments are sedentary and susceptible to stress. Brunswick knew wellbeing and engagement can help drive the best business results, but its existing program wasn’t effectively reaching Brunswick’s complex population, a sentiment confirmed through a series of employee focus groups conducted at its larger sites.

DiLeonardo says the previous wellbeing offering was dated and not in tune with industry trends—such as shifting from ROI to VOI and pivoting from clinical wellness to holistic wellbeing.

So, leadership chose Limeade, a provider of employee-experience software, to help redesign its approach to wellbeing as an engagement driver. A new wellness program, called Be Your Best, launched last year to deliver relevant, whole-person opportunities to its diverse population and support wellbeing in every corner of the organization.

Brunswick also committed to a more data-driven approach to tracking employee engagement through the Limeade Insights Dashboards. The program needed to provide a simple, relevant experience to manufacturing-line employees, who have limited access to email and minimal time for participating in wellbeing initiatives during the workday, and communicate organizational support for wellbeing across all the company’s locations.

DiLeonardo says that, when launching broader HR initiatives, one of the company’s key objectives is to replicate the messaging through any and all available communication channels. When it partnered with Limeade to power Be Your Best, it announced the changes with home mailers, email reminders, on-site fliers and posters, and HR demonstrations during open-enrollment meetings. Senior and local leaders were also provided with program highlights so they could incorporate reminders during other employee meetings.

“We also developed a new wellbeing program logo and aligned with company branding, so all material is anchored in the same visual cues/memory triggers,” adds DiLeonardo. She says partnering with Limeade helped improve participation at launch through having single sign-on capabilities and straightforward, well-communicated initial login instructions with customer support. Limeade also helps maintain Brunswick’s improved utilization with a wide variety of available activities and challenges. For example, one successful effort had local “program champions” responsible for improving adoption and supporting employee inquiries.

Within three months of the 2018 launch, 57% of eligible Brunswick participants registered, compared to 30% participation in its prior wellbeing program in 2017. Today, registration sits at 71% of eligible employees, with 87% of department managers participating in the program.

According to WTW’s Pinc, creating champion networks, as Brunswick did, can work well in driving maximum HR-tech-adoption rates. The best example of the champion concept, he says, involves a group of employees—or even a single champion in each office, or one on each team or in a department—who are early tech adopters by nature and go through training early. Pinc says it’s best to choose employees who are tech-savvy and adept at helping others.

“It’s typically easy to find those kinds of folks in any workplace,” he says, adding that HR needs to get that group on board early so, when people have questions or get confused at any point along the way, they can turn to their local champion and say, “I know I’m supposed to use this new tool, but I can’t remember how to do it,” he says.

Maximizing the Benefits

Craig Johnson, a partner in Mercer’s Workforce Communication & Change Group, offers the example of launching a new HCM system, where it’s imperative that an adoption strategy is strong both on training and communication with the workforce.

“We’ve seen companies who will actually communicate that something’s going live, but there might not be any training available,” he says. “Or, we see some companies conversely who provide some training, but then there’s no follow-up communication or reminders. You need both elements here.”

Johnson says HR must provide context that lets managers know, for example, that, even though they may not have been involved in onboarding before, the new HCM platform changes that.

“Now that they will be involved in the onboarding process, HR needs to clearly spell out their role and responsibility and provide thorough training on the tool that enables them to meet those new demands,” Johnson says. “You won’t have high adoption rates without the right combination of training and communication.”

Brian Sommer, president and founder of TechVentive, which advises technology and services firms on thought leadership and sales training, says truly maximizing the benefits of new HR technology requires what he calls a success chain.

“You will make this work because you do your homework, your due diligence and you make an impressive business case, both with leadership and the workforce,” he says, suggesting that, before anything else, HR leaders need to go out into the field and “play in traffic.”

“That’s my term,” he says. “They can’t just go to events like the HR Technology Conference in Las Vegas and be passive. They need to get involved and come away fully understanding the entire range of possibilities that HR technologies can bring to bear.”

Laura Hamill, Limeade’s chief people officer and chief science officer, notes that, in a recent study from Gallup, only 17% of U.S. employees agree with the idea that their company “readily implements new technologies that help us be more productive.”

“It’s a signal that employees don’t trust their employers to implement technology that’s in their best interest,” she says. “The impact? Low utilization or worse—a sense of negativity or even hostility when it comes to using HR tech.”

Ultimately, boosting utilization depends on creating a meaningful and compelling experience for employees—an experience that’s done for them, not to them, Hamill says.

“We focus our approach on showing employees that the organization cares about them, which our research indicates is a great way to create a place to work where employees are engaged and want to stay,” she says. “When we do this, employees feel a sense of mutual trust and are more likely to utilize the solution—which is a win-win for everyone.”

“Since the Limeade program launched, we’ve noticed a change around the engagement, energy and collaboration of our employees,” adds Brenna Preisser, Brunswick’s chief human resource officer. “It allows us to drive initiatives across the entire enterprise, and it’s really resulted in great gains from a cultural standpoint.”