HomeFuture of WorkDigital HRHR Technology“I want less tech”: Overcoming the HR software adoption obstacle

“I want less tech”: Overcoming the HR software adoption obstacle

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William Tincup draws on conversations with attendees from 2023’s HR software and Work Tech conferences to address common complaints, from low rates of adoption to bloated HR ecosystems.

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The relationship between HR practitioners and enterprise HR software vendors is complicated. In-person HR tech conferences, says William Tincup in the latest Decoding HR Tech Q&A for HRD Connect, feel more popular than ever. And yet, he consistently hears HR leaders frustrated by overly complex HR ecosystems and lows rate of adoption.

It is time for HR leaders to see through the sales pitch and realign their expectations for the ROI of HR tech; to re-imagine work tech conferences as a chance for learning; and crucially, to work intentionally on driving adoption. In this Q&A, Tincup dissects the vendor-practitioner relationship and considers a new future for effective HR ecosystems based on gamified adoption, realistic ROI, and calculated investments.

1. What is the current state of the relationship between HR software providers and HR practitioners?

William Tincup: Overcoming the HR software adoption obstacle

William Tincup: At the last HR Tech conference I attended, an HR leader told me “I want less tech. I get it, but I just want less. There’s too much.” The irony wasn’t lost on me, but I’ve heard it several times.

I also spoke to another global talent acquisition leader about TA technology adoption. His organization has wonderful change management and communications teams, and they do a brilliant job of purchasing new technology. It’s a huge organization and the TA team itself asked for the product. And they could still only get a 50% adoption rate.

So, on the one hand, you’ve got a practitioner who says there’s too much tech. And on another, a practitioner who just can’t drive adoption. And that’s representative and indicative of many other organizations.

2. Do HR leaders need to realign their expectations for the ROI of HR software?

William Tincup: The ROI in business cases for HR software is flawed. It often assumes 100% adoption and no one ever reaches 100% adoption. We have to start financially punishing the proposed savings from any technology with lower adoption rates. This extends the ROI even further out which makes it less attractive. But it’s more realistic this way.

I said in our last Q&A that work tech is sold, not purchased. The sophistication of sales teams and marketing teams far outpaces what practitioners expect. I’ve also said before that if you’re on the vendor side and your demo doesn’t get people excited, you should be fired!

When the demo looks gorgeous, no one asks if we actually need the technology. Will our people adopt it? If so, at what rate? Practitioners have to be realistic with the rest of the executive team and their own team.

3. What can HR leaders do to drive adoption?

William Tincup: I gave the global TA leader two pieces of advice. If you want to drive adoption, here are two non-negotiables.

Firstly, recognize that HR software or work tech is not the job of your team. Outside of payroll clerks using payroll technology, all the technology we buy for our people is not their job. We’re asking them to adopt it. As a part of that recognition, incentivize them. Gamify adoption. Throw a $500 reward at certification! Or let your team know that the next person to gain certification will get two days off. Whatever the incentive is, big or small, it doesn’t matter. It’s the recognition on the front end that counts. Certification could be as simple as a 50-question test. Vendors will be happy to help because more adoption is better for them.

Secondly, is transparency. All this technology has user statistics in the back end. Make it transparent so everyone can see who is using it or for how long. It becomes a game. Instead of siloing off the knowledge and usage, push it out! It’s not about peer pressure, it’s about creating a story. If John is bottom of the usage leaderboard and is a low performer, there’s a story there. If Tammy is bottom of the leaderboard but is a top performer, there’s a story there!

We imagine adoption as Moses coming down with the tablets. Here’s the technology, now they have it, so they’ll use it. It doesn’t work that way. It never has and it never will until we change our mindset.

4. How can organizations best manage their ecosystem of work tech?

William Tincup: People are, in general, more looking for ecosystem plays. The idea is, does it fit? Will a new piece of tech coalesce into our ecosystem? If people have to log in to each new system, it’s not going to get high adoption. Practitioners are becoming smarter about integration.

I’ve seen this really work well in the ATS market, where people are building browser-based extensions. This could be a great thing to look out for.

Another important component is an internal audit. What do we have? What are we paying for? This is where practitioners get caught up. They make a purchase, people don’t use it to its full potential, and it feels like they have failed. We need to forgive ourselves quickly. What’s not being used? Can we get out of the contract? When does it renew? If we were to buy something else, what would it be? Is our biggest problem internal mobility, skills testing, or another priority? Also, keep in mind that some of the technology you have already purchased might solve that problem. All you need to do is go into the product and turn it on! It’s crazy how many companies have solutions at every stage of the employee journey, they’re just not using them.

5. Does this mean a re-think of how practitioners approach HR tech conferences?

William Tincup: Don’t be overwhelmed. Go to these conferences in learning mode, not purchase mode. Start in a corner, and row by row simply ask what problems each person solves. It doesn’t have to be a long discussion, but an opportunity to educate yourself about what the market is saying. Do still filter through what’s important to you because some of the best salespeople are in enterprise software.

Assume you have zero budget and that you won’t buy anything for a year. Use it as a chance to understand what technology is being developed, what’s coming to market, and whether it’s being adopted.


Decoding HR Tech is an exclusive HRD Q&A series with William Tincup. William is the President & Editor-at-Large of RecruitingDaily. At the intersection of HR and technology, he’s a writer, speaker, advisor, consultant, investor, storyteller & teacher. He’s been writing about HR and Recruiting related issues for longer than he cares to disclose. William serves on the Board of Advisors / Board of Directors for 20+ HR technology startups. 

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