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Rick Cook Managing Change In An ERP Implementation

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 By Rick Cook

ERP Implementations Require Proactive Change Management

An ERP software implementation means change. It changes the way your company does things, sometimes radically. And change, inevitably, means resistance because people are resistant to change.

Part of a successful ERP software implementation is to manage that change so your people can transition as smoothly as possible from the way you do things now to the way you'll do them under the new ERP system.

Change management isn't easy and it can't be left to chance. You have to proactively manage change, just as you have to manage the technology side of ERP.

Change management begins at the very start of the ERP process. You should include a formal change management assessment in your ERP implementation planning from the very beginning. First seek to understand those business processes that have been around long enough to create a comfort zone, and then share with your staff what you're going to do early and communicate the advantages of the changed processes to them right from the beginning. As the ERP software implementation accelerates and people start to be impacted by the changes, change management should accelerate as well.

A best practice is to communicate early and frequently—and pursuant to a proven change management communication strategy whereby the messaging errs on the side of over communicating. Equally important is to tailor your messaging in a progressive manner which advances your staff along a continuum from awareness to interest to understanding to engagement. User reception and acceptance to change will be maximized when key messages are delivered in a logical and sequential order. Particularly in the later phases, the more you support the need for change with vision, facts and data, the more sound the foundation for change and the faster the change will be accepted.

Direct and honest communication with your people about goals, challenges, progress and what is happening with your ERP implementation will provide the safest backstop and over time break down barriers that contribute to user resistance or user adoption challenges. It's important to communicate honestly with everyone about glitches and other problems. This is particularly true in the case of problems which affect strategic objectives or the go-live event. Everyone needs to understand that there will inevitably be snags in getting a process running and that they need to be prepared for them. Realistic expectations will help users and stakeholders feel more comfortable with the process and not overreact to temporary setbacks.

Of course communication flows the other way as well. Actively seek out and provide plenty of opportunities for users and other stakeholders to voice their concerns about the new business system and how the implementation is going. This is important not only to bring everyone on board with the project, but also to keep close tabs on the project and to spot potential problems early.

Education is a key route to building acceptance for change. Your education program for the stakeholders, and especially the users, is a critical part of making the changes run smoothly. Don't limit your efforts to training your people on the new system, although that's important. Also try to give everyone the big picture so they can understand where their efforts fit into the overall process and how they contribute to the company's objectives. This is particularly important since ERP systems usually involve some shifting or reallocation of work. Some users will find they have more to do under the new ERP system. Others will find their responsibilities decreased. Both of those situations can be unsettling to staff. The people with more work are likely to resent it and the ones whose duties are decreased may be worried about the security of their jobs.

Your staff need to understand how business process and software changes, especially the ones that affect them personally, will impact the company. They need to know why the changes are a good idea overall and how they contribute to project objectives, not just how they will affect them.

Feedback is also important. As new changes are implemented you need to monitor processes closely to see that they are actually being followed and not ignored or worked around. If the new processes aren't being used it's important to find out why and eliminate any real reasons. All the coaching in the world won't work if the process is fundamentally flawed or unusable.

Of course people vary in their openness or acceptance to change. Some accept it easily, most people will be somewhat reluctant and a few people are likely to fight it tooth and nail. Generally you can expect acceptance to follow a bell curve with a few people accepting the new process immediately, more and more people accepting it over time and a final few who hold out and seemingly don't accept it at all.

This last group can be a particular problem, especially since they tend to be concentrated in the ranks of long-time employees. Expect red herring excuses when these users are confronted with their lack of user adoption. Also be prepared to incur extra effort with the non-accepters in order to get them to support the new processes. With persuasion and extra coaching, most of them can be brought around.

Finally, recognize you are probably going to have a few hold outs that will respond only to the stick side of a carrot and stick approach. You need to be supportive of people going through the change, but not at the expense of jeopardizing the project. It may be that you'll have to lay down the law to a few holdouts to get them with the program.

Change management is one of the most difficult parts of implementing ERP software applications. It's not technically difficult, but it involves changing people's attitudes and in many cases the corporate culture. The process has a lot in common with a starfish opening an oyster. It takes deliberate, steady pressure to produce results. However unlike a starfish, you have to be aware of the feelings and attitudes of your particular 'oyster'. End

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A best practice is to tailor your messaging in a progressive manner which advances your staff along a continuum from awareness to interest to understanding to engagement. User reception and acceptance of change will be maximized when key messages are delivered in a logical and sequential order.


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