Change is a difficult but important part of business. It can be most difficult on the employees, but if you involve them in the planning process and make an effort to understand their points of view, you can mitigate resistance and facilitate the experience for everyone. This article deals specifically with ERP implementation, but its advice is useful for any change management situation.
Enterprise resource planning (ERP) is a type of business process management software—usually a suite of integrated applications—that helps an organization manage the business, interpret data, and automate many back office functions.
Introducing a new ERP system is the same as introducing a new product into the market. If not handled properly, the product will fail and result in huge losses for the organization. Most importantly, the time, effort, and morale of the employees involved in the process would take a beating.
ERP conversions may feel like a slam-dunk because they are forced on the user, but just like with new products, they are not always accepted with open arms. Marketing departments plan several strategies to test the product and introduce it to their target segments; if you ignore these strategies with ERP conversions, you risk those same angry customers, at the very least losing productivity and time, if not employees.
End-user training is one of the critical factors for the success of any ERP implementation. End-users need training on three fronts: changes in business processes as a result of ERP implementation, training on the actual ERP solution, and, most importantly, change management training. In fact, improper handling of change is one of the major reasons for ERP failures. Therefore, training on the processes and ERP solution has to be planned in sync with change management training.
You could paint this as “not a test issue,” but if you care about quality, it becomes everyone’s issue. Instead, I suggest we confront ERP conversions head on, portraying quality staff as the experts on change management and helping it happen.
Thinking about Change Management
One of the models for change management is based on the change curve developed by psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in the 1960s. This model is also commonly known as the five stages of grief, and they can be used as a yardstick to understand employee responses and performance changes when organizations announce a new ERP implementation. Employee reactions to change can be grouped into three major stages loosely modeled on Kubler-Ross’s change curve:
- Stage 1: shock and denial
- Stage 2: anger and skepticism
- Stage 3: integration and acceptance
Understanding these emotions enables better planning for end-user training during ERP implementation.
Stage 1: Shock and Denial
The initial reaction to any change is shock. The first question that comes to employees’ minds is why? Employees may find the new idea unacceptable and hope that it never materializes. They may choose to ignore that this change is going to happen and continue to follow the old methods, oblivious to the suggested changes. If not managed properly, there may be a dip in performance and productivity.
This is the stage where employees are not yet aware of the full implications of the change. This is the ideal time to engage with the employees in an open discussion about the problems, delays, errors, and cost over-runs due to the existing system and explore the benefits and advantages of the new system. You should also address how changes in the processes and systems are going to positively impact their work routines, making their jobs easier. Employees have to be informed about the need for change and the organization’s vision for business growth. This is also the time when a broad idea about the ERP project can be shared.
It is also important to acknowledge the fact that change is not going to be easy but that it will be better with the support and involvement of employees. This can be done through short video trailers, interactive online modules, poster campaigns in the workplace, online and physical bulletin boards, and so on. These measures keep the conversation going and gently pull employees out of the denial stage and get them to start thinking about the new system.
Stage 2: Anger and Skepticism
As employees begin to realize the reality of having to endure a new system, there may be anger and resistance coupled with a fear of the unknown. There is also a natural reluctance to move out of their comfort zones. Usually, this is manifested through constant putdowns of the new system, trying to prove that the existing system is better and cheaper, and questioning the efficiency and operation of the new system. It is necessary that supervisors patiently resolve all employee queries and spend time making an effort to drive away the underlying anger.
Once employees begin to accept that change is inevitable, they will find ways to move on to the new ERP system. This is the stage when apprehensions and questions arise in the minds of the employees. Will they become redundant? Will their roles and responsibilities change? If so, would they fit into the new roles and responsibilities? What is the need for going through all this trouble? How does it impact the organization in concrete terms?
It is important that employees feel their voices are heard and that the organization is sensitive to their concerns. Functional heads can be appointed as change agents and act as mentors to support end-users. Another idea is to provide an online platform similar to a Facebook group where employees can post their questions, thoughts, and concerns anonymously. The feedback will give an idea as to where management can start dealing with change management.
A planned and methodical way to address these concerns has to be worked out. When you know what employees are worried about the most, you can start addressing those issues through workshops, interactive sessions, informative videos, and online tutorials. The videos and online tutorials at this stage could deal with the change in greater depth, touching on individual roles and the changes that may be involved. At this time, employees need constant reassurance that their services are required, and they must be guided and supported at every stage of the project implementation.
Stage 3: Acceptance and Integration
The final stage is acceptance, where employees are convinced about the new system and how it is going to help them and the organization. At this point they have begun integrating and using the new system.
There likely will still be moments of frustration and problems for employees during their integration into the new system, and technical hitches and questions might continue to arise. Delays in addressing these issues may result in employees being frustrated and losing faith in the new system. Consequently, it’s important to address concerns quickly and provide coaching, support, and reinforcement.
To minimize costs and duplication of efforts, you could have a common platform where training, troubleshooting, and interaction with subject matter experts is made possible. Online modules that simulate the ERP program should be designed by learning experts who understand how adults learn. Subject matter experts provide the subject knowledge, and learning experts decide on the best way the knowledge can be passed on to the learners. Simulation-based tools can be used to create online courses that are engaging, interactive, and interesting.
You can also consider creating courses where employees watch how the program works, get hands-on experience trying out different possibilities in a fail-safe environment, and do the tasks independently to test their knowledge. These online courses can be broken down into short modules and customized based on the end-users. That way, employees can access courses or modules relevant to them. The program also can have a social platform where employees can share their experiences, voice their concerns, or post questions for solutions. Subject matter experts and mentors need to be available to monitor and answer user queries.
All the small benefits accrued during the implementation of the new system should be made public through posters, mailers, celebrations, and so on to provide positive reinforcement to the employees. An atmosphere of achievement and momentum bolsters employees’ attitudes, shows that their efforts are appreciated, and communicates the implementation’s overall success.
A Plan for Success
Accepting change is hard, and constant and regular communication is the key. Fortunately, there are technological infrastructures that are cost-effective. Even small organizations can create videos, interactive courses, and digital resources to facilitate easy exchange of knowledge. This helps to dispel fears about the new system being adopted.
Any ERP implementation will have its share of problems and unforeseen technological hitches. Being smart and proactive about change management ensures that instead of resisting the change, employees become partners in the initiative.