Let’s face it; change is neither easy nor fun. It is work and work takes energy and commitment. While many leaders couch change impacts from an ERP implementation as “it’s just business,” to the end-user it is personal. Most ERP initiatives impact the entire organization and take people way outside of their comfort zone.

Effective change management leadership guides teams through the process while encouraging them to go to their “discomfort zone,” where innovation, stimulation and personal growth can thrive. It is important for leadership to understand and recognize that some people will move past this space into the “panic zone,” where they shut down, become disruptive or undermine the success of the project.

Beyond the myriad of system and process changes that come with a new ERP implementation, there are impacts to how people perceive their self-worth within their functional area and the organization as a whole. Job functions, tasks and responsibilities change. Employees need new and specialized training; they can feel inadequate and fear that their “old” skills will render them obsolete. In fact, the vast majority of ERP implementation failures are due to companies not taking into account the impacts of change on their staff.

So let’s say you have taken the necessary steps to engage team members from the onset. You have solicited their feedback relative to issues, opportunities and threats that may come with the new system and you have provided comprehensive communications and initial training; yet despite your best efforts and investments, you still have pockets of resistance. There are people who still want things to stay the same and question the value of change – “If it ain’t broke, why fix it?”

What do you do?  There are five key steps that leadership and ERP project teams can take to address these issues.

1. Provide leadership. Understand that leading change is core to a leader’s role and responsibility with a new ERP project. It is mandatory to provide clear, consistent and repeated articulation of the vision and goals of the project. Make sure to link them to the overall corporate vision and goals. In many cases, the leadership team fails to realize and understand the importance of this role. Most leadership teams have been planning for the new system for months, if not years but forget that end-users are just now finding out about it. If leadership does not lead change, people won’t understand why a new ERP system is being implemented. Instead of understanding that the system will help the company grow, be more competitive, better serve customers and become more efficient, they will assume it is a cost-cutting measure and a way to eliminate staff.

2. Communicate early and often. Let your teams know what is coming and when by being honest and clear in your communications. Let them know what is expected of them and the channels of communication they have available for feedback and for asking questions. Use face-to-face forums like “town halls” and department meetings to give team members a chance to ask questions. Make use of other communication channels like newsletters, emails and unique collateral to provide updates. Create a group of key influencers and peers and make them Change Agents. Train them on what their roles and responsibilities are and how they can be a conduit to leadership for team members to share their concerns, address rumors and provide factual updates about the project.

3. Address the naysayers. An ERP project is a big deal. It costs a lot of money, impacts the organization over an extended period of time and has significant long-term business implications. It is important for the leadership and project team members to be clear about the need for change. If you have change-resistant employees, make sure to speak openly and honestly with them. You could employ the Steven Covey idiom of “Seek first to understand and then be understood,” by giving them a chance to express themselves and then taking the time to communicate the importance of the changes. They must understand any consequences to both themselves and the project as a whole if they continue to resist.

4. Assign accountability. In the majority of cases, if you assign accountability and responsibility then you will get ownership, not just for the ERP project but overall. Most professionals do not want to be micromanaged and most managers and leaders fail to get the most out of their teams for that exact reason. While you want to make sure you take into account feelings and concerns about change, each person has to take personal responsibility for accepting the changes or getting out of the way.

5. Look for signs of resistance. While the vast majority of your team will embrace the changes – assuming you have articulated the need – there will be some that will quietly not be happy. Be on the lookout for telltale signs such as reduced productivity, absenteeism and conflict that if left unaddressed. This will slow the adoption of change and could negatively impact the expected benefits.

To be a viable competitor, a company must embrace and manage the changes that come with a new ERP system. Instilling a culture of continuous improvement and change is a driving force to ongoing success. As noted earlier, it is a core competency of leadership. Ultimately the success of your project will fall on your ability to effectively lead and manage change. It will take time and effort, but if managed effectively, it will be worth it when productivity, morale and profits begin to grow.

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