Change Management: Reducing Resistance to ERP

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Among all the unknowns surrounding a new ERP system deployment, one thing is certain: change.

A new ERP system can mean long-term structural transformation, a permanent and significant impact on virtually every business function, process and department across the enterprise. Previously manual processes may be automated; steps within a department’s long-established processes could be eliminated, and a department’s or employee’s day-to-day role within the organization could be altered.

Though organizational needs drive ERP deployments, individual employees largely determine its success or failure. And the reality is that where there is change there is often resistance to change.

Typically, a company’s senior leadership team participates in mapping and analyzing processes and roles in pre-implementation working sessions with the ERP provider. Through their participation they’re tacitly agreeing to any changes that might result; however, there is no guarantee of such “buy-in” for those working on the front lines of the operation – those who will need to adapt their daily activity to align with the changes.

As preparations for deployment get underway, department heads and affected staff may begin to recognize areas of potential resistance and take steps to mitigate or eliminate individual resistance through more training, by making any justifiable compromises and by emphasizing the strategic value of the change to the overall organization. One has to be alert, however, for an employee who might display a willingness to buy-in during training sessions with the ERP provider, but who may, in reality, resist implementing the change at every opportunity, or even engage in outright sabotage after implementation.

This can happen in any department at any level, from a member of the accounting team to an employee on the loading dock. As management grapples with the big picture, it is the front-line personnel who actually experience the difficulties of implementing the change and working with its consequences on a daily basis. And, again, it is the front-line personnel who ultimately have the greatest impact on success or failure.

There is no proven process for managing change; we are dealing with human nature, after all. But there are a few basic guidelines that may help an organization create an environment more conducive to the changes that typically result from a new enterprise-level system deployment.

  • Change starts at the top, and the leadership team, speaking with a single voice, must embrace and effectively advocate the transformation – and clearly articulate its strategic importance.
  • Key leaders in each department should be identified and adequately trained and motivated, so that change cascades through the company rather than flows down from a single source.
  • Ownership trumps a passive agreement. Employees must accept responsibility in their areas of influence and accept a high level of ownership. That sense of ownership is best created by involving affected employees in identifying problems and crafting solutions, and by reinforcing that ownership through incentives and rewards.
  • Remember that change is both an institutional and personal journey. Individuals (or teams of individuals) need to know how their work will change, what is expected of them during and after the change, how they will be measured, and what success or failure will mean for them and those around them.

It should be noted that rarely will a new ERP system fail outright due to resistance. In the long run it will be successful, either through a slow erosion of the initial opposition to the changes or through personnel moves. That said, resistance leads to compromises, often in the form of a reduced project scope, of modifications to how particular workflows will be implemented or of changes in the expected level of automation. These compromises, however, may ultimately reduce the ROI achieved or yield sub-par results in certain parts of the business.

Effective change management remains a key, sometimes overlooked ingredient to preempting resistance and reducing the time it takes to realize the full value of an ERP investment. An ERP provider should be able to provide guidance throughout the process, but ultimately the responsibility for instituting effective change management policies falls to the organization itself.

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