Business man holding dominoes from falling

An ERP system can be an extremely successful business management tool, but an important part of that success is down to your staff, and specifically, them using it the way you envisioned it to work.

When implementing a new ERP system, you will be asking your people to change long standing habits and processes which have come to define their working life. A formal organisational change management programme, in conjunction with the ERP implementation, will reassure staff and help them to understand and accept the changes. With many executives focused on the business benefits on offer with the end result, this stage is often ignored or underestimated during ERP implementation.

Obstacles to change

“We’ve always done it like this”

Over time, people develop a familiar perspective of processes, data entry, metrics and technology. The implementation of a new ERP system will change that perspective completely. If this change is not managed properly then ‘management by paper or Excel’ may become a reality in many areas of your business; adding time to processing data, reducing the strength of the new system by not having the necessary processes followed and potentially not gaining that all-important ROI.

Lack of management support and sponsorship

Insight from McKinsey shows that 70 percent of change programmes fail to realise set goals, largely due to employee resistance and lack of management support. That same insight mentions that when people are truly invested, the change is 30 percent more likely to stick1. Without visible management support and sponsorship your people will believe that the new ERP system is actually not as important to the business as it should be.

Insufficient change management resourcing

Employee involvement in an ERP project may only apply to training users and even that sometimes comes as an afterthought. Expecting an implementation team to manage the change management programme as well can be a crucial error. The skills needed to implement an ERP system, including the necessary training, aren’t always the same skills needed to convince, motivate and communicate with your employees.

Making change stick

Change is never easy, and you can’t please all of the people all of the time, but there are a few things an organisation can do to make change less painful for everyone.

Bottom up – top down

Springing change on your people at the last moment (e.g. at the point of ERP user training) will only increase the risk of resistance. By involving employees from the beginning, you will tap into the knowledge of the day-to-day business processes in each department. Most people are open to change that will produce a clear benefit they can identify with; i.e. less time spent on mundane tasks or providing better customer service by having access to real-time data, etc. By delegating certain tasks to employees not involved in the project management of the ERP implementation, the burden is shared, and knowledge can be transferred more easily along the project. By selecting relevant employees in each department as “super users” and involving them at an early stage, these employees can become informal advocates of the system.

However, it is also vital that all employees understand the importance of the new ERP system to the company by making management support of the project visible and constant.

Communication is key

Communication should be at the heart of the ERP implementation project, as it generally affects most areas of the business. Starting the communication process before the ERP supplier’s project management team turns up on site will stop the “jungle drums” or ”Chinese whispers” with their potential for breeding negative perceptions. It is vital to communicate the business reasons for the new ERP system implementation and the expected outcomes from having that new technology, including expected key benefits to both employees and the business overall, to ensure buy-in.

Embrace, don’t brace

There is no reason why there can’t be a bit of fun around the introduction of a new ERP system. One customer introducing a new business critical system gave it a ‘fun’ name and organised events with relevant give-aways/gifts around the different stages of the project. This is not to make light of the importance of the new business management tool, but to engage staff along the way and by making it somewhat lighter, the new system becomes something to be embraced, rather than braced for, in fear and trepidation.

Change for good

An ERP system stands or falls not only by how it’s implemented, but also by how much it’s adopted by your staff. If you can convince your employees to embrace the new system and adapt to the change, you may not only benefit from increased productivity and efficiency, but also from a workforce with a vitalised sense of purpose – supporting the company in its growth.

1 McKinsey Insight