How to make an HR system implementation run smoothly

Jim Torrence, practice leader, Human Resource Management Systems Group, Sequent, Inc.

Does the idea of implementing or upgrading your HR system(s) worry you? If it does, you certainly are not alone. Most business leaders either have been a part of or have heard horror stories of cost overruns, missed deadlines and failure to realize the promised benefits when implementing a new system.

But the reality is that contemporary HR business systems play an irreplaceable role in the efficiency of business operations, and it’s something that businesses should consider, says Jim Torrence, practice leader of the Human Resource Management Systems Group at Sequent, Inc.

“A business owner who delays a technology upgrade may be depriving the business of efficiencies that would increase profits,” says Torrence. “Worse yet, a competitor that is an early adopter of powerful technology may leapfrog over you and gain a significant advantage in the marketplace.”

Smart Business spoke with Torrence about how to automate your integrated resources/payroll, 401(k) planning, time and attendance, learning management systems or performance management systems to gain an advantage for your business.

If a business is considering implementing an HR system or upgrading its current one, where should it start?

First, businesses need to be aware of some of the classic pitfalls that doom many system implementations. Too many companies proceed with a lack of methodology. The project management process should be defined early on to ensure a happy ending. System selection and implementation become more difficult, time-consuming and expensive if you don’t have a methodology guiding this complex undertaking.

System implementations often require cross-functional teams to work together closely, with several departments supplying resources to the project. This makes it especially important to have a sound methodology in place so that these matrixes operate as efficiently as possible.

The methodology should include how changes will be tested and rolled out, and how various versions of software are managed. Failure to do this blocking and tackling can torpedo your project, or ensure that it can never be properly supported post implementation.

A second pitfall that companies fall into is thinking of implementation as an IT project, rather than as a business project. Once you’ve made the decision that a systems upgrade is necessary, you can’t just assign the project to someone and then walk away. The new system has to support the business operations and help advance the strategy of the company, which means that IT cannot be working in a vacuum. An executive sponsor, such as the owner, president, CEO or COO of the company, should actively provide high-level oversight and support to the project team from start to finish.

What are some other pitfalls businesses face?

Too many companies work backward from an implementation date. Many project plans are determined by an ambitious project leader choosing an aggressive date and circling it on the calendar, with the expectation that it will be completed by that date.

As a result, all implementation requirements and timelines are then worked against this date. While this sounds good in theory, this approach often puts extreme pressure on implementation teams throughout the process. Instead of dictating timelines, the implementation teams should be involved in the process and questioned prior to implementation to determine what timelines are appropriate. That way, you don’t end up cutting a lot of corners so that you can quickly implement a system that doesn’t really support the business.

Adopting inflexible timetables can also cause an implementation to falter. Many projects fail because project managers and executive sponsors develop an emotional attachment to the deployment date. And if bonuses are tied to completion dates, the project managers will be tempted to sacrifice functionality in order to go live on the magic date to earn those bonuses.

If business priorities have changed over the course of the project, the right business decision may be to delay a project. The motto should be ‘Do it right,’ not ‘Do or die.’ Trying to fix a botched implementation after it has gone live causes pain throughout the organization, which can possibly last for years.

How can failing to take people into account cause the project to fail?

It’s easy to be so focused on the system changes that you forget the human element of implementation. With system changes come procedural changes for your employees, so don’t forget to include them in the implementation.

By appointing a team of well-respected employees to help lead the change, you can boost morale and, ultimately, the success of the project. Those employees, along with the company’s leaders and managers, should not only communicate the timing, goals and strategies surrounding the project, but they should also be change agents who help create positive buzz in the workplace around the changes.

Botched system implementations are unforgiving to your business and to your employees’ careers. Downtime, decreased efficiency and deteriorating internal/external customer service can be especially detrimental to a small or rapidly growing business.

By avoiding these pitfalls, you can significantly increase your probability of having a successful HR business system implementation.

Jim Torrence is practice leader of the Human Resource Management Systems Group at Sequent, Inc. Reach him at (888) 456-3627 or [email protected]