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Change management strategy for successful ERP implementation

Change management, ERP, and your organization’s culture

Change processes are often characterized by significant upheaval and disruption to an organization’s working practices. All projects come with learning curves - especially a major change event such as the implementation of a new ERP system. Without proper planning, education, and support, change projects can result in significant drops in performance, much to the exasperation of leadership teams, managers, and individual contributors alike (who have generally been sold on a new system as the answer to all their problems, rather than the source of a whole host of new ones.)

Fortunately, there are capabilities and competencies any organization can adopt and deploy to make digital transformation projects a more manageable, less ambiguous, and more certain affair in terms of their effects and benefits.

These are, of course, the principles of change management. The change management strategies for successful ERP implementation are the same strategies as you would use for any other major change project.

But what many fail to realize is that change management isn’t something you can simply view as a process

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The importance of change management in ERP implementation

A Unit4 Strategic Business Architect once described organizations as being a bit like chocolate chip cookies. Individual projects are like chocolate chips: they’re self-contained, but each one contributes to the overall quality and effectiveness of the cookie. The cookie dough is the medium that supports the chocolate chips - it holds them together, gives them context, and lets them contribute what they’re supposed to contribute to the whole. In this analogy, the cookie dough is the equivalent of the organization’s attitude and culture.

Rather than an individual process, change management is best seen as a component of the organization’s cookie dough. It isn’t something which ensures a given project (like your ERP implementation) succeeds, it’s the medium within which an implementation project can succeed, a core part of the way your organization operates.

ERP change management best practices

Change management is best thought of as a set of behaviors that let people successfully make use of new systems and processes. These behaviors include the information, training, and tools which you can equip people with to successfully adopt the tool, system, or process you’re implementing - in this case, a new ERP.

Remember that change is ultimately about people

The most important part of this equation is, of course, people. In service-based organizations, change management is even more essential because of the way change can affect your people - in terms of their wellbeing, performance, emotional state - and as a consequence, affect your entire organization’s effectiveness.

  • Change has an impact on the way people do their jobs – it can be stressful, confusing, and in some cases, it might even negatively impact performance.
  • Approaches to the way changes affect your people must therefore be handled with compassion and patience to support positive outcomes.
  • And the activity that goes into the program has to address the variety of different ways people respond to change.

Change projects are learning projects

Learning, of course, isn’t something that happens overnight - and your ERP implementation isn’t going to either. Everyone from leadership down will need to follow a learning curve in order to ensure the system is bedded in properly - and then will have to follow another learning curve as they work out how to best leverage the new system.

This means that you ultimately can’t guarantee a successful ERP implementation purely through “traditional” change management approaches like developing and sharing a vision, articulating a case for change, engaging with stakeholders, and preparing appropriate training. All of these things are necessary but not sufficient because they do not address the 4 primary reasons why people resist change.

The 4 reasons people resist change

  1. A lack of appropriate time to focus
  2. Fear of the unknown
  3. Mistrust of the change output
  4. A lack of timely information

Communication and engagement is vital - as is a thorough implementation plan created in conjunction with your vendor, your IT team, and your senior stakeholders. But it’s only the beginning of the process. 

Successful change management is about helping your people make change a part of your cultural DNA

“Change enablement” is the much more expanded set of competencies and practices that helps transcend typical change management practices. Achieving  a culture of change enablement requires a careful mix of communication, strategic partnerships, relationship building, and learning. It isn’t easy to separate these components, and striking the right balance is essential. But at a bare minimum, these will include:

Communication: this covers everything from articulating a case for change - not just in the context of your ERP project, but in the wider context of the organization’s continuing transformation. It also encompases employee and stakeholder engagement and a thorough analysis of what your people are experiencing and feeling before, during, and after the project.

Strategic partnerships: your implementation project team shouldn’t just exist to ensure that the appropriate boxes are ticked and Gantt charts are created. Their job - particularly at the level of leadership - will be to not just understand the challenges driving your implementation but working to create the conditions in which the whole organization can embrace the process that goes along with it.

Relationship building: ERP implementation projects are notoriously “cross-silo” affairs: they require input from multiple different departments and functions who might traditionally believe their purviews and responsibilities are mutually exclusive (most obviously the office of the CFO and the finance department, the IT department and the CIO, and the HR department and CHRO, but potentially also including others.) Individuals working within these functions - and particularly their C-level leaders - must be prepared to work together on a personal level to see the project through and to ensure their various different efforts are aligned.

Learning: This is more than dedicated vendor training on the functionalities of your new system (and more than explanations of the new architecture to your own IT teams.) “Learning” must encompass everything from understanding how your current systems support operational processes, how your new system will replace, augment, or obsolete these functionalities, and the various different people who will be affected by the process. It also involves the organization learning about itself by taking stock of the current workforce’s levels of skill, ability, experiences, and capabilities. You’ll need to document the impact that the new system and its onboarding will have on your people’s workflows, wellbeing, and personal engagement, and implement training strategies for both them and their managers and directors, and, where necessary, be willing to alter your planned implementation process to facilitate this learning and make their working lives easier.

 How can Unit4 help you?

Unit4 has over 40 years of experience designing ERP software for service and people-centric organizations. As such, our solutions are tailored to your specific needs and integrate with our FP&A, HCM, and PSA solutions to create an end-to-end system for managing your back office in a way that reduces the burden of administration on your teams and allows them to invest more time in processes and activities that add value for you and your customers. 

Our solution architects, consultants, and partners are also experts in the processes and philosophies behind change management and enablement and are here to help you at every step of the process of implementing your new system in a way that creates a harmonious and positive experience for your whole organization.

To learn more about what our solutions can provide for you and your people, check out our dedicated product pages here or click here to book a demo.

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