Implementing ERP – Are you prepared to lead the transition?

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ERP systems integrate information from across the entire organization, leading the implementation of such requires transition planning with a focus on people.  ERP is not a magic tool; it is designed to empower your employees to make better decisions with accurate and timely information.  To ensure a successful implementation it is critical to not only involve employees but have the employees ready for the transition.   Strong leadership is critical to the success of the project and I will briefly explore the application of William Bridges seven step methodology to leading this transition.[1]

Describe the Change

The leadership in the organization must begin by taking the time to confirm whether the implementation of the ERP is poised to solve a real problem or if deeper issues exist which this layering of technology will only serve to accentuate.  Through this exploration, the organization will confirm why it is ready to embark on this extensive project.  Once identified, the leadership team is responsible for being capable of communicating what the change is and why it is occurring in a succinct fashion, similar to that of an “elevator pitch”.  Every leader in the organization should be prepared to communicate the changes.

Plan the Detail

Establish a communication plan, then the project plan.  The communication plan will set the parameters for interaction during the project. By setting the expectation of how the relationship between team members will be managed, this initial plan will form the foundation for the charter at a later stage.  Following, the project plan must be detailed, carefully ensuring that individuals are assigned to each responsibility and, using our communication strategy, informed of the obligation. 

Understand the Effect

The confirmation of the core issues in step one will serve as a foundation to understand which areas and people will be most affected by the change.  Employees will face a range of changes. As an example, organization departments may require restructuring as the previous effort to consolidate data is no longer required.  The leadership team must be diligent in recognizing and understanding the effect of these changes in preparation to support the employees through the transition.

Empower the Employees

Help them let go of the past.  Yes, that paper based field ticket did work for twenty years, and yes that beloved 28 tab spreadsheet was Operation’s lifeline since 1998.  It will be ok.  Continuing communication surrounding the benefits of the new system, modelling and simply time in some instances will allow employees to accept the change.  Education of the new process should serve to not just gain acceptance but empower employees to contribute and thereby create additional champions of the project.

Continuing the Communication

Why are we doing this? What’s it going to look like? How’s this happening again? What am “I” supposed to do?  These are just a few of the questions that the transition leaders need to continually communicate throughout the process.  Especially when the projects extend beyond six months, the organization will likely have changed. New employees will have joined the team midstream, new projects will have taken hold, new ventures may have launched, and keeping a focus on the transition is more easily held with constant communication.

Temporary Solutions

Temporary solutions need to be created for the high levels of uncertainty created by the transition.  As noted in step 3, it is possible for the implementation to lead to changes in responsibility. In this case high levels of uncertainty may be prevalent as employees worry about the future of their position with the organization. By taking a proactive approach to educate or reassign the employee in this example, the uncertainty and impact to the project could be minimized.  This serves as an example of one of many temporary issues that will be faced during the implementation,

Modeling the Behaviour

The new system must be used; fall back to old systems is not acceptable.  Adequate training and appropriate time allocation are required to create an environment where employees will adopt the new process.  Often organizations will make statements such as “We employ smart people, why don’t they understand?  Why won’t they use this?”  The issue could be attributed to a deficiency in the combination of training and the time to apply the training.  The systems and the process are complicated and individuals require time to adapt to the new environment. By focusing on what the new system does well and rewarding those who look to expand both their knowledge and the solution, leadership can create an environment where it is safe for the employees to stretch and adapt to the new system more readily.

Over the next few months I will continue to explore the process of implementing ERP, stay tuned!

 By Ryan Steil, BDO Solutions Consultant, Edmonton.


[1] William Bridges – Leading Transition: A New Model for Change

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