Technology Adoptability: Is It Possible to Herd Cats?

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I was recently perusing a popular recruiter’s bulletin board on which the subject of recruiting technology was being discussed. A recruiting manager asked, “How do you get recruiters to use their technology properly?” One contributor’s response (paraphrased here) noted that “most recruiters are pretty independent folks and tend to do things ‘their way,’ so getting them all to use a system in the same way is about as easy as herding cats.” This exchange brings up a critical issue on the radar screens of agencies, corporations, and recruiters alike. The issue is adoptability and adaptability to business-critical technology, or how to ensure recruiters actually properly use the technology that is available on the recruiter’s desktop. In this article we’ll look at “adoptability” issues, and examine “adaptability” issues in my next article. What is adoptability? Starting with a classic Webster’s definition, adopt means “to take up and make one’s own,” such as adopt a new technique, follow a course of action or adopt a new idea. From a technology point of view, we can define adoptability as the speed and ease at which the users or adopters receive, accept, and utilize a newly introduced technology. New technologies are basically adopted to solve problems, increase effectiveness, and increase efficiencies of a business process. Recruiters are faced with many challenges, the least of which may be dealing with technology tools. Amidst sourcing, selling, negotiating, networking and closing there is also entering, tracking, searching, updating and corresponding. “Adopting” to the recruiter means whatever technology is made available (either by choice or inheritance) is taken on as “my tool” and used to find new and hopefully better ways to perform necessary functions. How many software developing recruiters do you know? The first aspect of user adoptability sends us backwards to look at the design and the development stage in the software development lifecycle. Before a system is ever purchased, developed in-house, or run in beta tests, software designers and developers are working on translating ideas and innovations into features and functions, buttons, and links. The first key to user adoption of a system is to ensure that developers and designers understand and relate to the problems of their end users, in this case, recruiters. Developers who don’t consider the adopter’s resistance to change, feature/benefit ratios and other human elements will do so at great risk to all stakeholders. Perception is reality for adopters, and positive adopter perceptions are the key to widespread adoption of a technology. The Software Engineering Institute (operated by Carnegie Mellon University) reports that there are four characteristics needed to build into a technology package for successful adoption. Let’s examine these four characteristics as they relate to recruiting technology:

  1. Benefit. Although absolutely necessary for adoption, interpretation of benefits can vary widely from organizational decision makers to end users or recruiters. For example, the benefit at the organizational level might be to reduce thousands or millions of dollars of costs in several areas of the recruiting lifecycle or even staff. To recruiters, benefits might be defined as improved system performance, reduction of administrative tasks, or the ability to locate quality candidates faster. Organizations that implement systems based only on their perceived benefits, without really listening to the needs of end-users, could end up with an adoption struggle down the line. Whatever the benefit, it is ultimately the recruiting users who need to adopt the technology. Benefits to end-users should be top-of-mind for developers.
  2. Clarity. Clarity can be summed up in one familiar phrase: “user-friendliness.” If end users become frustrated early on with any new technology, they are likely to become unmotivated to learn the technology and abandon putting energy into adoption. If at all possible, users will revert back to “old ways” of doing things. Usability is a hot subject matter in the software and web technology development world. Developers should be thinking of words like “intuitive,” “clean,” “natural,” “short cut,” and “common sense.” Of course, focus group testing will help this process. In concert with the actual interface, any support documents need to be clearly written and indexed for easy reference.
  3. Accessibility. In this principal, busy people will take the path of least resistance. So again, if a system is not as accessible to the end users, either by performance problems, hard to access or slow login procedures, or functional restrictions, they will go to a system that is accessible…like email.Then when it comes time to run some reports, data is ultimately missing.
  4. Wholeness. Getting 50% of the answer or taking a process 80% of the way is just not good enough for end users. A “whole” system approach includes processes that are clearly compatible with the system, for instance understandable online help, supportive training, relevant system integration, and “conveniences” for users such as reminders, templates and intelligent-execution functions that think and do the work for them. An example can be as simple as having the system automatically “unpost” a requisition from corporate career and job board web sites once a candidate has been hired.

The “C” Word We can see the design of a system can greatly influence the adoptability factor. The second main factor to adoptability is owned by the organization itself. On this side, gaining acceptance to the technology can be directly related to how well the organization identifies and addresses internal sources of resistance or basically manages “Change.” Humans naturally have a tendency to resist change and in recruiting, the issues of every stakeholder must be examined. This includes hiring managers, recruiters and recruiting managers, human resource professionals, and regular employees. What makes adoption more palatable for these groups? Here are eight adoptability keys:

  1. Distribute early, clear and frequent communications stating (and selling) key end-user benefits before the new technology is available. Any opportunity to reinforce the message that “this is going to make your job easier” should be reinforced.
  2. Conduct technology previews or demonstrations for all stakeholders where initial fears and questions can be addressed.
  3. Identify evangelists or champions that can “spread the news” informally within the organization.
  4. Involve as many end users as possible in planning and implementation phases for new technologies.
  5. Provide effective, ongoing training opportunities that can address real “day in the life” issues for end users.
  6. Provide an accessible support network to get questions answered quickly to overcome early frustration hurdles.
  7. Communicate early success stories that can be directly attributed to the system such as successful sourcing, record-breaking requisition cycle time or elimination of a key time-consuming task.
  8. Provide direct channels to provide feedback for changes or improvements to the software design.

Identifying resistance points and addressing these appropriately will not guarantee that adoption will be completely smooth, but it will provide a more predictable framework to the technology introduction. Next time we’ll look at how individual recruiters can “adapt” to the technology they have adopted.