106 Reasons Why New HR Programs Are Rejected

I get to work with quite a few senior HR people during the time they are proposing new HR or recruiting programs. Almost without exception, they seem totally surprised when their new “pet project” is massacred by a team of MBA financial analysts armed with a battery of what I call “questions from hell.”

In case you are planning on proposing a new ATS or another HR program, you might use this checklist of questions to prepare for the inevitable bombardment from the “non-believers and naysayers.”

Criticisms and Complaints You’re Likely To Hear From Management

When new programs are proposed in HR, there are invariably a series of “it won’t work” criticisms that you will get from cynical managers and executives. These are concerns and comments that you must be able to anticipate and respond to if you expect to get any new HR program approved, particularly during these tough economic times. The most common concerns you’re likely to hear include:

Business Issues: “It Impacts Our Business Results”

  1. It doesn’t fit our business plan or model.
  2. You haven’t demonstrated its impact on employee productivity.
  3. It increases overhead costs, which negatively impacts our product margins.
  4. It has no positive dollar impact on shareholder or customer value.
  5. It raises headcount or requires new hiring (during a hiring freeze).

Where’s the Proof That It Works?

  1. There is no data that proves it actually produces results.
  2. No one has done a side-by-side comparison to show this program is clearly superior to the other alternative programs that were considered.
  3. We tried it already last year (in another business unit) and it didn’t work.
  4. You have not demonstrated the program’s normal success and failure rate.
  5. It never works on the first try.
  6. It’s effectiveness will only last for x number of months (i.e., it will become obsolete rapidly).
  7. Sure, “they” (the benchmark firm) use it…but that doesn’t mean it actually works.

Benchmarking and Learning From Others

  1. No one else has tried it (or had success with it).
  2. No one in our industry has tried it (or had success with it).
  3. Many firms have dropped it.
  4. It won’t work in a firm of our size.
  5. It won’t work in our industry.
  6. It won’t work in our region (location).

What Competitive Advantage Does It Provide Our Firm?

  1. This project or its components are based on information that is available to all, so there is no competitive advantage for us.
  2. Your program can be easily copied. So how many months will it take for a competitor to copy or produce a similar program?
  3. This program is “vanilla” and no different than what other firms already have.
  4. The vendor will also sell it (the service or program) to the competitor, so where is the competitive advantage?

Managers: Voicing Their Concerns

  1. Top executives hate the idea (no executive buy-in).
  2. Managers hate it (they haven’t asked for it).
  3. Managers don’t have the time to participate or use it.
  4. Managers don’t have the necessary people skills to make it work.
  5. Managers (and others) aren’t measured on whether or how well they do it.
  6. Managers (and others) aren’t rewarded for doing it, so why should they do it?

Money and Costs

  1. No one ever calculated the proposed project’s ROI.
  2. It’s ROI is too low compared to our firm’s normal expectations.
  3. The proposed program won’t work on half the budget allocation (and that’s all we have available).
  4. The payback period is too long (i.e., the wait to get initial investment back).
  5. It’s not in this year’s budget, so it will have to wait.
  6. It requires too much upfront money to get running.
  7. The cost per unit of service is too high.
  8. No one calculated the risks (probability of occurring and potential dollar impact) related to this new project.

Time and Delays

  1. We need it now (i.e., it takes too long to implement).
  2. It takes too long to design.
  3. It takes too long to get up to minimum performance level.
  4. It takes too many hours a week to operate and maintain.
  5. The service isn’t available 24/7.
  6. The response time is to slow.
  7. The program doesn’t have a component for forecasting (or predicting) our firm’s future needs or problems.

Quality and Errors

  1. The error rate is too high
  2. The user or employee satisfaction rate is too low.
  3. It’s too easy to cheat or bypass the system/rules.
  4. It doesn’t meet six-sigma or ISO standards.

Volume and Scalability

  1. The program can’t rapidly vary the volume it handles or its output (scalability) as needs change.
  2. If we need it to double the volume (after a merger, new plant, or international expansion), can the process handle it?
  3. It won’t work, since as our firm’s size (and thus our needs) shrinks we need a lower volume.

Metrics and Performance Measures

  1. The information you need to operate your project hasn’t been collected.
  2. There is no one that can do the data collection.
  3. The data you need is collected inconsistently, is inaccurate, or is too expensive to collect.
  4. You don’t know what an “acceptable” score (or performance level) is.
  5. The program has no measurement plan, or the metrics that are used are too “soft” to be of any real use.

HRIS and Technology

  1. The system (hardware or software) you are considering using isn’t compatible with our current systems.
  2. We don’t have the hardware to support it.
  3. We don’t have the software to support it.
  4. We can’t afford to update the system as the vendor upgrades it.
  5. We can’t afford to maintain the system.
  6. We can’t offer it outside our firewall (on laptops).
  7. The system/data isn’t web based.
  8. Our employees don’t have access to a computer.
  9. Our employees don’t have the computer skills.
  10. The “IT” department will never allow it.
  11. We can’t use technology or we will lose the “human touch.”

Project or Program Management

  1. There is no continuous improvement element designed into the process.
  2. We don’t have the time to manage another program.
  3. We don’t have the management skills to manage another program.
  4. No one is available to manage it.
  5. The vendor isn’t reliable, so we need to be able to shift rapidly to a backup plan.
  6. You actually believed the “story” the vendor told you.
  7. It’s a “corporate HQ” designed program, so it won’t work outside of “corporate HQ.” In addition, it doesn’t fit our unique needs.
  8. The program designer (or project team) has no successful track record or credibility in this area.
  9. There is no formal performance monitoring process or system that is designed into your proposal.

Global Scope

  1. It’s a U.S.-designed program that won’t work in different geographic regions because of legal issues.
  2. It won’t work in different cultures around the world.
  3. It isn’t designed to work in different languages, or different language versions aren’t available.

Legal Issues

  1. There is a high probability that the program will discriminate or have an adverse impact on diversity.
  2. It doesn’t protect employee privacy.
  3. The union agreement doesn’t allow it.
  4. It might lead to unionization.
  5. We might get sued if we do it.

Environmental Factors

As the environment shifts, it won’t work if:

  1. The unemployment rate changes,
  2. The economy goes in the tank,
  3. The interest rates change,
  4. The laws change,
  5. The currency valuation rate changes,
  6. Competitors can copy it quickly, or
  7. The stock market (our price) crashes.


  1. The training is too expensive.
  2. The training is too time-consuming.
  3. Managers won’t go to the training since they have no time for it.
  4. The training doesn’t work (or there’s no proof that it does).
  5. The training isn’t available online.

Miscellaneous “Soft” Factors

  1. It conflicts with our corporate culture.
  2. It doesn’t fit our values or ethics.
  3. You don’t understand…we’re different and we need a customized (local) approach.
  4. It doesn’t directly contribute to us developing a more diverse workforce.
  5. We have always done it this (a different) way, and there is no need to change it.
  6. It violates or runs against our past practices or policies.
  7. There is no consensus for doing it.
  8. We need to study it further (i.e., let’s form a committee).
  9. Equity demands we treat everyone the same.
  10. It produces waste and harms the environment.
  11. It’s just another HR “flavor of the month” program and it too will fade away in time.


If you only propose a new HR program once every three years, you are likely to forget the type and ferocity of the “concerns” or issues that others are likely to raise against your proposal. But being rusty might doom your project to failure if you don’t have a checklist to guide you in preparing for and directly addressing each concern your team will encounter.

If I have left out any major criticisms that you commonly encounter, please send them to me in an email at [email protected].

About Dr John Sullivan

Dr John Sullivan is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high business impact; strategic Talent Management solutions to large corporations.

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