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The high stakes of getting your HR technology right

Jess Von Bank, Mercer
Jess von Bank
Jess Von Bank is a 20-year industry veteran and impassioned evangelist of the modern experience of work and the future of talent. Jess is a former practitioner, an expert in bringing workforce solutions to market and a global thought leader on HR transformation, digital experience and workforce technology. She offers specialized expertise in recruiting, talent strategy, employer branding, DEI&B, brand building, and storytelling. She also runs the Now of Work, Mercer’s global community for HR and work tech. Jess is the president of Diverse Daisies, a nonprofit to enrich and empower girls. She lives in Minneapolis.

Human resource leaders have monumental tasks ahead of them: boosting workforce productivity and trust, containing costs while cultivating a digital-first culture, remaining risk-aware today and designing sustainable talent models for the future, and figuring out a strategy for the biggest technological advancement any of us will see in our lifetimes (please don’t make me say “AI” again today).

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For every one of these imperatives and more, the potential for HR to drive significant impact and value through technology is immense. By embracing advanced tools and systems built for continuous improvement and scale, HR can transform from a traditional administrative function to a strategic powerhouse that fuels people outcomes and organizational success. The key is to align technology initiatives with the organization’s overarching goals, ensuring every technological investment drives tangible benefits, creates accretive value and supports the workforce effectively. We can’t gain trust if we only care about productivity gains, for example. We must keep people front and center to drive business performance.

We’re hanging a lot of hats on the technology choices we make. In 2024, HR technology stands as a critical pillar supporting organizational growth, employee engagement and operational efficiency. But beware: Getting your HR tech wrong isn’t just a hiccup—it’s a potential catastrophe.

The cost of HR technology failure: More than just money

In my early years as a recruiting practitioner, I was part of an internal product team tasked with building a homegrown candidate relationship management (CRM) system to support our global talent pipelining efforts. Of course, there were CRMs in the market, but we were a mega enterprise with vast technology resources and thought we could do it ourselves, maybe even better. Can anyone relate?

We invested one year and somewhere around $1 million designing to specifications, building the system, conducting user testing, training our function and rolling it out. If you’ve been here before, you know what happens next: You watch and wait. For everyone to use it, for highly sought candidates to fall out of the sky, for recruitment marketing campaigns to flow like a river, for a robust, engaged talent community to become a rich, dynamic, high-converting asset.

It never happened. No one used it. Because everyone expected the CRM to “work” automagically and the way we’d designed it to.

What went wrong? We made several false assumptions:

False assumption 1: We needed a (fill-in-the-blank technology—in our case, CRM).

At least, this may have been a false assumption. We didn’t actually know. Your ability or inability to hire the right people effectively may or may not have anything to do with how you create, nurture and convert a carefully curated pipeline of talent. If it does, a CRM might be your answer.

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But we follow “we need to hire faster/better/cheaper” with “we need a CRM” all too quickly. Even if you determine the need for technology, it’s only part of your solution. Taking it out of the box and turning on factory settings is likely not going to solve your unique business problem or consider the nuances you need it to. Rather, we should think of technology like a lump of clay we get to mold and re-mold. Notice I didn’t say mold and set. We forget to design for change when designing a solution. Your business, workforce and strategies are iterative, so should your supporting technologies.

Advice: Beware of jumping to technology as a solution until you deeply understand your problem.

False assumption 2: Technology just works.

A hammer doesn’t know what to do. It’s just a tool, and it definitely doesn’t have a strategy. We pick up a hammer or a screwdriver or anything else we put in our toolbox because it’s the exact tool we need to perform a specific function for the desired effect.

If I need to drive a nail home, I will clearly choose a hammer over a wrench. (Actually, a wrench could work, but I digress.) I would never throw a hammer at my blueprint and expect the house to build itself. We do that with technology a lot. Our vision for the desired workflow or employee journey is a blueprint; when I’ve determined what I need to build, for what purpose and for whom, I can decide on the right tools for the job. Even then, a human is in the loop to make sure the tools are being selected, used and maintained properly.

Advice: Technology needs a strategy; technology itself isn’t the strategy. It’s also not the intended experience; that’s also for you to design.

See also: Is your workforce management technology up to the job?

False assumption 3: User adoption is a measure of success.

Imagine pouring millions into a cutting-edge HR platform only to watch it crash and burn. This happens a lot; most technology projects don’t produce the intended ROI or impact on workforce experience. In fact, 67% of organizations adopt new technology without transforming the way they work, according to Mercer’s Global Talent Trends 2024. The financial losses from a failed project can be staggering. Direct costs include wasted investments in software, implementation resources and consulting fees. Yet, the true financial hemorrhage comes from opportunity costs. Those resources could have driven successful initiatives, fueling growth and innovation. Now, they’re sunk costs, dragging your bottom line down.

When it comes to technology implementations, we think “people using it” is a measure of success. That may be a measure of viability, but it’s not a measure of value. When you are clear and aligned around a vision for success, decide how you will measure progress and outcomes, how you will administer and govern, and how you will manage feedback and continuous improvement.

Advice: Getting a technology solution up and running is like toeing the start line of a race. All your training got you to that point. How you perform in that moment depends on how you prepared to get there. Think of go-live as your go-begin.

Operational and emotional chaos

An ineffective HR technology system isn’t just a nuisance—it’s an operational nightmare. Picture this: Employees grappling with a clunky interface, vital processes grinding to a halt. Productivity plummets, downtime skyrockets and your business grinds to a crawl. Every minute of downtime translates to lost revenue, and every frustrated employee represents a dip in engagement, trust and efficiency.

That’s the other sunk cost of failed HR technology we don’t talk about enough: human toll, or the impact on morale, trust, engagement and productivity. In Mercer’s Global Talent Trends report, 42% of HR practitioners say implementing or upgrading new HR technologies is the biggest challenge to their operating model. Even more, two out of three employees say their organization isn’t good at communicating how recent technology, AI or automation will improve the way we work. When we’re counting on a silver bullet to make things better and it fails or falls short, people suffer. We lose out on the value we hoped for, and we degrade trust and morale to boot.

Your people are your most valuable asset. But when they’re forced to navigate ineffective technology, frustration mounts. Morale dips, engagement plummets and your once-motivated workforce becomes a liability. High-performing employees, the backbone of your organization, may even start eyeing the exit and seeking companies that value their productivity and sanity.

Rallying cry: The imperative of getting HR technology right

This is our rallying cry. The stakes are too high to get HR technology wrong. Here’s how you can ensure your next deployment is a resounding success:

1. Plan, align, plan again: Thoroughly plan and conduct feasibility studies to align technology with your business objectives. Understand key stakeholders early; gain alignment of vision and buy-in for support.
2. Engage multiple stakeholders: Involve diverse stakeholder voices in every phase to ensure the solution meets their needs. Diversity of voice, perspective and needed value is key.
3. Design for change: Use agile methodologies for flexibility and iterative improvements. You don’t turn technology on and walk away; consider who will manage its upkeep and improvement over time.
4. Proactively manage risks: Identify and mitigate risks early. Look around corners with an eye to future needs. Test for alternate scenarios.
5. Continuously monitor: Implement ongoing feedback to track progress and adjust as needed. This might be part of a phased deployment approach, and it is certainly part of an ongoing optimization approach.
6. Partner well: Select HR technology vendors whose belief systems and perspectives align with your vision and strategy. I said a wrench could probably do the job of a hammer if I needed it to, but it’s just not the right tool. Don’t let every wrench tell you they’re a hammer.

The future of work is the “now of work.” Your HR technology choices will define your organization’s trajectory in 2024 and beyond. Get it right, and you will pave the way for growth, engagement and success. Get it wrong, and you will waste precious time, human potential and sorely needed value.