Include Disappointment In Your Technology Implementation Plans

A seasoned HR leader told me that one of the keys to managing HR technology was to be prepared for disappointment. It’s worth distinguishing this droll observation from tales of HR technology disasters; his point was that even when implementation goes reasonably well, the result often falls short of our hopes.

This disappointment is, in many cases, unavoidable because it’s impossible to get everyone committed to the new technology without an overly-optimistic view of what it will do, what it will cost, and how long it will take to implement. Combine that dynamic with the natural tendency for vendors to promise the moon and for buyers to believe what they want to believe, and you have a recipe for repeated disappointment.

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Knowing that what you’re buying will help achieve business goals, then communicating, engaging and training are among the “7 Steps to Successful Technology Adoption.


The conclusion is to build managing disappointment into your plans.  Be clear on what’s essential and deliver that. Keep an eye on what initial promises you won’t be able to deliver on and find a way to let people down gently. Perhaps one day your organization will develop the maturity to recognize what is achievable and escape the cycle of constant disappointment — until then, disappointment and HR tech will remain close companions.

What is interesting?

  • Even when everyone individually knows that expectations are unrealistic, collectively we all pretend the optimistic view is justified — even the people in finance.
  • People are often bewitched by some unproven shiny new feature; that can be a major source of disappointment.
  • “Phase 2” never happens. By the time we get through Phase 1, resources are used up and priorities have changed, this leaves those hoping for Phase 2 features feeling let down.

What is really important?

  • Even when new technology disappoints, we almost never want to go back to the old system — which means the new technology is a step forward.
  • Even when new technology fails, a great deal can be learned. Some new technology implementations should be seen as pilots to drive learning.
  • You need to protect the implementation team from criticism that is the result of unrealistic expectations. Implementation can be extremely draining and if the people face unfair criticism then it can lead to burnout.
  • If you cut corners on testing and training to hit a deadline you can turn a disappointment into an unmitigated disaster.

David Creelman, CEO of Creelman Research, is a globally recognized thinker on people analytics and talent management. Some of his more interesting projects included:

  • Conducted workshops around the world on the practical aspects of people analytics
  • Took business leaders from Japan’s Recruit Co. on a tour of US tech companies (Recruit eventually bought for $1 billion)
  • Studied the relationship between Boards and HR (won Walker Award)
  • Spoke at the World Bank in Paris on HR reporting
  • Co-authored Lead the Work: Navigating a world beyond employment with John Boudreau and Ravin Jesuthasan. The book was endorsed by the CHROs of IBM, LinkedIn and Starbucks.
  • Worked with Dr. Wanda Wallace on “Leading when you are not the expert” which topped the “Most Popular List” on the Harvard Business Review’s blog.
  • Worked with Dr. Henry Mintzberg on peer coaching, David’s learning modules are among the most popular topics.

Currently David is helping organizations to get on-track with people analytics.

This work led to him being made a Fellow for the Centre of Evidence-based Management (Netherlands) for his contributions to the field.