Your ATS Implementation Will Fail for This One Reason

By: on July 5, 2018

Less than half of applicant tracking system (ATS) implementations are delivered on time, and only 32 percent are delivered at or under budget, according to a 2017 study by HR technology consultancy Aptitude Research Partners. But why’s this the case?

In the past, recruiters could legitimately blame the software—ATSs were clunky platforms that were hard to set up and even harder to use. Nowadays, with so many intuitive, highly flexible options to choose from, this excuse doesn’t hold water.

Here’s the reality: Seventy-eight percent of small business ATS buyers will experience delays or extra costs with their implementation not because of software, but because they don’t have a defined change management process in place for new technology.

That’s why we’re covering three change management best practices that can make your ATS adoption process much smoother. These practices will help make sure your implementation stays on time, on budget and—most importantly—doesn’t cause you to mismanage or miss out on qualified candidates.

1. Establish Your Recruiting Workflow Early and Refer to It Often

If your company has done its due diligence in selecting an ATS—separated its software “needs” from its software “wants,” considered numerous options and demoed extensively with different vendors—your new ATS should align pretty well with your team’s ideal recruiting workflow already.

Even so, new software has the tendency to motivate even the most steadfast organizations to tinker with their processes to death. Stakeholders start discovering all of the new functionality they have to play with, new requirements get tacked on and suddenly everyone is left chasing a moving target.

This is a classic example of scope creep—a problem that hinders half of all projects, according to the Project Management Institute. It can wreak havoc on effective change management.

Watch: “4 Tips on How to Manage Scope Creep”

To combat ATS implementation scope creep, Brett Kashanitz, vice president of operations at CareerBuilder, recommends that buyers create “a fully documented and agreed-upon recruitment workflow with as many details as possible.”

This involves answering critical questions about how your organization plans to assess and hire talent, including:

  • What fields need to be included on submitted job reqs?
  • How many and what type of screening questions should be included in applications?
  • What custom fields or tags need to be included in applicant profiles?
  • What will the standard criteria be for scoring or ranking candidates?
  • Will workflows differ by department, role or seniority level? How so?
  • Will the application process differ for those on mobile devices? (Hint: It should.)

Having a detailed recruiting workflow that’s cemented early on will not only help your ATS vendor (Kashanitz says it’s the one thing every buyer should do to help them during an implementation), but will also provide a stable goal for your organization to work toward.

Throughout your implementation, this workflow documentation will become the alpha and omega for how to proceed, so refer to it often when determining what the next steps are and when you can deem your implementation “complete.”

Bonus tip: If leadership keeps wanting to implement new functionality that wasn’t agreed upon at the outset, try a phased rollout approach with your implementation instead of a “big bang adoption.”

In a phased rollout, changeover occurs in different stages, while in a “big bang adoption,” the changeover to a new system occurs completely at one point in time.

This way, your initial rollout can remain unchanged, and you can introduce new features at a later time to keep users engaged.

2. Choose Your Implementation Team Carefully

Think your ATS only affects recruiting and hiring? Think again.

Kashanitz says one of the biggest misconceptions that ATS buyers have about the implementation process is the sheer number of people that need to be considered during its duration. When you break down every role that’s affected by a new ATS, you can start to understand what he means:

Who
Their Role With a New ATS
Recruiter Primary user of a new ATS
Hiring manager Submits job reqs and assesses candidates through the ATS
Job applicant Interacts with the ATS when submitting a job application
Director/VP of HR Most common decision-maker in ATS purchases, according to Software Advice data; often oversees the implementation project
Owner/CEO Second most common decision-maker in ATS purchases, according to Software Advice data; plays a larger role in smaller businesses
CFO Approves ATS budget and implementation costs
IT manager Handles ATS tech requirements and integrations with other software/sites
Marketing Ensures employer branding is consistent with company guidelines


With so many folks to consider, your company can easily make a mistake with the makeup of your implementation team:

  • Include too many people, and you risk having “too many cooks in the kitchen” influencing decisions and making it impossible to schedule meetings.
  • Include too few people, and you risk leaving important people in the dark on important steps and extending your implementation timeline unnecessarily.

To keep your implementation process comprehensive but flexible, we recommend breaking your implementation team up into two groups.

The first group is your core implementation team that oversees the entire process, works directly with the ATS vendor and provides updates to a predetermined list of stakeholders throughout.

In most scenarios, a two-person core team is all you need: typically the head of recruiting and an assistant or the head of recruiting and the head of HR. That’s it. In smaller businesses, this could easily only be one person.

The second group is your extended implementation team that is only looped in by the core team for specific purposes. The IT lead is only brought in for specific configurations and integrations, for example, or a small group of hiring managers is only brought in for testing. Otherwise, these folks know to wait in the wings until they’re summoned.

Defining these roles early and making sure everyone knows what they’re responsible for delivering and when is crucial to effective change management with any new ATS.

Bonus tip: It can be easy to forget about job applicants with your new ATS, but you shouldn’t—a bad candidate experience can be a major factor in a failed ATS implementation.

Assign someone on your team internally to play the role of “candidate” and have them test your careers page and ATS from that perspective to work out any issues that can negatively impact the application process.

3. Follow This Methodology to Go From Resistance to Enthusiasm

Recruiters can be incredibly hesitant to embrace a new ATS if they don’t understand why the change was made or how it benefits them. If organizations don’t address this resistance early and consistently, it can lead to a delayed implementation, or worse: abandoning your new ATS altogether.

Using a proven change methodology can help organizations address the buy-in aspect of a new software implementation, and one of the most widely-used methodologies that SMBs should try is ADKAR. Close to 70 percent of Gartner clients that use a change methodology started with ADKAR as the foundation. (Full content available to clients.)

Based on observations of over 4,500 organizations, ADKAR—Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, Ability, Reinforcement—represents “the five milestones an individual must achieve in order to change successfully.”

The ADKAR change management methodology

Source: “5 Critical Steps for Your Software Implementation Plan

Once you learn where users are falling behind in the ADKAR model, you can take steps to address that milestone. Here are some ATS-specific examples:

Awareness Create a presentation using historical and anecdotal data to highlight where your organization has specifically fallen short of recruiting and hiring goals and why a new system is needed.
Desire Tie rewards to completing system training and hold meetings to explain how the new ATS will benefit recruiters individually (e.g., better data will give top performers evidence for a raise or promotion).
Knowledge Give users ample training resources that cater to different preferred learning styles, using a combination of scheduled instructor-led training and flexible online training.
Ability Remove barriers that are affecting how users are able to apply their new knowledge. Upgrade old computers, check user permissions and address frustrating bugs or glitches quickly.
Reinforcement Acknowledge and celebrate wins with your new ATS (e.g., the first hire made, the first goal reached). Meet with users that revert to old methods or systems to discuss what’s getting in the way of their progress.


Getting employees to abandon their old ways can be difficult, but methodologies such as ADKAR can help you identify problem areas and transition users from reluctance to acceptance and, ultimately, enthusiasm with your new ATS.

Bonus tip: ADKAR doesn’t just apply to technology. You can use ADKAR for any major change in your organization, be it a transition to a new office space or an overhaul of company processes. Dr. John Kotter’s 8-Step Process for Leading Change is another popular change management methodology to consider.

Bonus Tips for ATS Implementation Success—and an Important Warning

Cementing your recruiting workflow early, choosing your implementation team carefully and utilizing a change management methodology, such as ADKAR, can significantly increase the odds that you’ll complete your ATS implementation on time and under budget.

Here are some bonus tips that can increase these odds even further:

  • Implement multiple feedback mechanisms. Recruiters and job applicants both need easy ways to bring up any issues or questions with a new ATS. Some systems make this easy with features such as user surveys and comment boxes that go straight to the vendor, but consider using other mechanisms as well, for example, a dedicated Slack channel.
  • Identify your advocates. There’s one person in every department that knows your goals with a new system and is adamant in promoting its benefits more than anyone. Identify and leverage these advocates to reinforce communication, help with questions and promote enthusiasm with your ATS in those business functions.
  • Leverage your vendor as much as possible. This should be obvious, but you’d be amazed how many businesses get burned with a prior implementation and refuse to seek additional help. Your vendor knows your ATS better than anyone, so exhaust every support option they offer.

All of these tips and best practices come with one significant caveat though: If you expect new software to fix bad recruiting processes, your implementation will fail every time.

As Kashanitz puts it, these are “enablement tools,” not solutions. Don’t even attempt a search for new ATS software without first addressing gaps and flaws in how you attract, assess and hire talent.

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