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 is CEO of Creelman Research. Based mainly in Toronto and partly in Kuala Lumpur, he’s best known for his research on the latest issues in human resources.

He works with think tanks such as Talent Tech Labs (New York), Works Institute (Tokyo), Workforce Institute (Boston) and CRF (London). He’s collaborated with leading academics such as Henry Mintzberg (leadership development), Ed Lawler (“Built to Change”) and John Boudreau (future of work).

His books include The CMO of People: Manage employees like customers with an immersive predictable experience that drives productivity and performance with GrandRound’s CHRO Peter Navin; and Lead the Work: Navigating a world beyond employment with John Boudreau (USC) and Ravin Jesuthasan (Willis Towers Watson).

You can connect to Mr. Creelman on LinkedIn