It seems that ERP projects always have some type of employee resistance to change, especially in union environments or in companies that have employees with very long tenures with the company. The good news is that if you can recognize this early in the process, you can plan accordingly.

Cultural change should be a part of any effective ERP organizational change management plan. There are a few things that help address cultural obstacles, which are too often overlooked as part of SAP implementations.

Steps to Address Cultural Obstacles in ERP Projects

  1. Conduct a cultural and organizational readiness assessment across all of your departments and geographies that will be impacted by the implementation. This can be done through a combination of online surveys and focus groups, and it will help you identify pockets within the organization that are the most change adverse and will require the most organizational change management attention. This will allow you to build a change management, cultural change, and communications program that addresses the problem areas.
  2. Implement cultural change activities. Your company’s culture took a long time to get to where it is, so it will take a long time to change it. However, based on your findings in step #1, there are things you can do to have an immediate impact and start to remove cultural obstacles to change. For example, if there is historically an adversarial relationship between employees and management, it may be helpful to develop collaborative management and employee teams to help define “to-be” business processes during the early phases of the ERP project. Or, if you have found that employees do not feel empowered to make key business decisions, you may want to take key employees and put them in key positions with decision-making authority. Obviously, these activities are easier said than done, and how you change your culture depends on your unique situation, but the point is that there are ways to have an immediate impact on reducing cultural obstacles to change.
  3. Ensure that you have a solid organizational change management program in place. This is much more than just training. You should ensure that you are holding regular workshops with end users and management, involving them in process and organizational design workshops, and keep users informed of the purpose of the project, progress, why you are implementing SAP, etc. through formal and informal communications. I always tell clients that organizational change management is more important than the software you select. Many will argue with me on this, but no one can deny the importance of change management.
  4. Develop an implementation and roll-out strategy that fits your culture. I’ve seen too many clients try to “slam in” an ERP system in as little time as possible. What companies like this inevitably discover is that this type of unrealistic organizational pressure amplifies cultural obstacles that have always been in place. For example, if company employees feel like managers don’t value their contributions, they are most likely going to confirm that belief when they find out that they are suddenly going to have to start using a new IT system. But spending the time to address cultural obstacles and to develop an implementation plan that considers these needs helps minimize the obstacles.

An ERP or IT implementation isn’t going to change years and years of culture, but it should take cultural realities into consideration and find the best way to address them. The key is to assign adequate resources to address this important and often overlooked area of your ERP project.

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