ERP implementations are tough. They are long, drawn-out affairs with seemingly endless challenges. But as difficult as they can be stateside, they can be even more so overseas. Cultural signifiers, strategies for success and core values may be vastly different than they are in the “homeland.”
So how can an international ERP consultant successfully shepherd a project as complex as an enterprise software implementation? How can an organization implementing ERP software at multiple international sites learn from my experiences?
The first step (and this goes for international and domestic projects) is to recognize that your initiative is not just an ERP implementation but a change in fundamental habits that have been practiced for a very long time. The hardest part is to gain trust and confidence from the “locals” while keeping the program on track. All the ERP competence and knowledge (and even corporate backing) will not save you if your new colleagues think you are an insufferable jerk and “know-it-all” blowhard. My mentor always said, “People do business with people they like.” It is a universal truism that should guide your interactions at home and abroad.
I wrote the following checklist to remind myself of some important “rules” to not just achieve ERP success in a faraway land but to make the implementation (and life in general) smoother and more enjoyable:
Rule Number One: Keep your private life private. Your new colleagues don’t need to know how many bar fights you lost, your stormy relationship with your first wife or how your mother didn’t really like you. While folks can and will speculate about your private life, you are not under contract to supply them with any salacious details. Keeping your private life private gives you dignity and projects confidence in your own abilities. I am not saying that you should be cold or distant; I am saying you should strive to be dull yet competent.
Rule Number Two: If you must complain, whine or generally feel sorry for yourself for being so far from home, do so in the privacy of your room or with a trusted friend. A refusal to whine will substantially reduce the drama of your adventure, but the dignity you will earn will be impressive to the your colleagues and your parent company.
Rule Number Three: Deal with the fact that you will likely work alongside people who have incredibly different ideas about “requirements,” “success factors” or “accountability” than you do. The greatest figures in history have had coworkers that were like a little pebble in a tight pair of shoes. Empower yourself to rise above, seek out the positive traits in every troll, punch your pillow if you must and focus on the project. Remember, that every ERP implementation must eventually finish and strive to treat the whole experience as an exercise in self-discipline.
Rule Number Four: Find a way to rapidly shift from independence to deference to authority in the same conversation. In my career, I have often been a long way from the flagpole and, as such, have been forced to be fiercely independent and self-reliant. But that independence and self-reliance has been reigned in by the top of my corporate food chain, particularly in matters of style. The bottom line is this: the fact that you are positioned far away from your boss should not dissuade you from being bold and decisive. It should also not turn you into a tyrant. Strive for balance in all aspects.
Rule Number Five: If killing is necessary, then do so without remorse. A recent ERP vendor I worked with had a project manager who was just not making the grade. He failed to meet deadlines, would not answer phone calls or email and was generally not trustworthy. He was destroying the project. Firing him without passion or regret saved the project. Additionally, the mere mention of the previous project manager struck the proper chord with the new project manager and he was motivated to new levels.
Rule Number Six: Participate in local ceremonies and dinners happily. Wholeheartedly embrace the event, be in the moment, dance, sing, drink the beverages, eat the food and have a smile on your face. Rituals are important and your willing and cheerful participation is key to gaining trust and confidence. It gives you the chance to learn about your colleagues’ cultural drivers, and as long as it does not involve a human sacrifice, you will grow as a person as well.
Rule Number Seven: Do not get cheap when taking them out to dinner. A nice dinner with the wine flowing is an essential part of diplomacy. An expensive tab sends a clear message to the satellite office that they are valued by the parent company.
Rule Number Eight: Ask for input and use it to produce a product that exceeds expectations, answers problems they did not consider and accurately reflects their situation, needs and desires. I am not suggesting performing more work than is needed but rather encouraging you to provide a level of work that is deep, indulgent and, frankly, an unexpected and pleasant surprise.
Rule Number Nine: If you are an army of one, take advantage of the fact that you do not have the strength of numbers. A small footprint far away from the headquarters provides unparalleled flexibility, speed of decision and diplomatic effectiveness that is unheard of in larger operations.
Rule Number Ten: Remember the Golden Rule. People are for the most part the same wherever you go. If you treat them the way you would like to be treated, it is amazing how much you can accomplish every day. My mentor also said, “Respect, dignity and integrity are two way streets.” His words have helped me with Rule Number Ten every day.
Implementing an ERP system overseas, whether as a project manager, vendor, consultant or core team member, can provide some of the most memorable, enjoyable and rewarding moments of your professional life. Although the tap water tastes funny, I will have many fond memories of my adventures when I am rocking in my chair at the nursing home.
Written by Rich Farrell, Senior Manager of Client Services at Panorama Consulting Solutions.