“Everyone knows that not all change is good or even necessary. But in a world that is constantly changing, it is to our advantage to learn how to adapt and enjoy something better.” -Ken Blanchard, Who Moved My Cheese?
Change is inevitable in life and in business, but that doesn’t mean it has to be scary. For big changes to business software, however, the switch can be intimidating.
According to CIO, onboarding a new ERP can take 12-14 months for large companies and up to three years for federal government agencies. That’s a long time spent migrating data from the old system, training employees on the new one, and, of course, clearing the unexpected roadblocks that will surely arise.
I don’t say all this to change your mind if you’re planning to implement a new ERP anytime soon. Rather, I’m suggesting that if you’re scared, you might be approaching the onboarding process the wrong way.
What’s the right way then, smartass? I’m glad you asked. Let me introduce you to a handy little practice called change management. Simply defined, this is the practice of managing any kind of planned change, and it can be deployed in a variety of situations. Here’s a look at how it can help you implement a new ERP.
Applying change management principles to onboarding your ERP
I wish I could give you a “one size fits all” approach to onboarding an ERP, but alas, this process looks different depending on your industry, business size, company structure, and more. You didn’t expect this to be easy, did you?
That being said, I can provide you with a sort of template you can tailor to your own business. The most important thing to remember while doing so is that change management is centered around (wait for it) change.
Therefore, don’t expect whatever plan you come up with to remain static—anticipate from the beginning that it will need to change, and that’s okay. So without any further ado, here are some practical change management tactics for onboarding your ERP.
People first, starting at the top
The biggest asset to any organization is its people, so why not start here when implementing a new ERP? I’m assuming by now that you already have approval for the ERP you want, so this step is focused more on engaging the appropriate executives and leaders to get them on board with the plan.
Your CEO needs to know exactly which business functions will be affected by the ERP (hint: most of them) and how long it will take for them to adopt it. Talk to your company’s:
- Customer experience director
- HR director
- Supply chain management director
It’s crucial for everyone to be on the same page during this process, not only for the sake of staying organized but for morale’s sake as well. Managers need to be able to answer questions for those they manage, have a plan for getting their team where it needs to be, and report to other leads within the company regarding progress.
Keep calm and carry on
Your employees will eventually ask the legitimate question, “What’s wrong with our current ERP?” Touché.
Usually businesses will need to adopt an ERP once it’s no longer practical to manage all of their operations in Excel spreadsheets, but there are many other reasons why you might be in the market for an ERP:
- You might be downsizing and need something more affordable.
- You might be shifting your business operations from retail to ecommerce.
- You might require cloud access for a new office on the other side of the country.
Whatever the reason, you should clearly communicate it across the company so that employees can rationalize why their jobs are going to get more hectic. But even if you do spell this out during a monthly all-hands meeting, people are going to forget.
This is where a vision statement can be useful. Instead of rambling through the same old elevator pitch like a broken record, come up with something catchy to lend meaning to your collective suffering. Like:
- For greater functionality
- More visibility for our growing supply chain
- Greater savings, better profits
They don’t all have to sound like political campaign slogans, but hey, those do stick with people, don’t they? The key is to keep it short and communicate the main reasoning behind the switch.
Foster a culture of accountability
When it comes to onboarding a new ERP, everyone really is in it together. But to the average employee, it’s easy to hold upper management entirely accountable for the success of the new ERP when everyone is responsible to some degree.
This is a tough one, but it’s not impossible. The most important thing is to encourage employee buy-in from the beginning. You can do this in a number of ways:
- Open up questions from the company.
- Invite employee feedback and take it seriously.
- Give employees certain tasks to assist with the move.
- Hold regular town hall meetings with employees to hear how they’re feeling.
- Set clear expectations for every stakeholder’s responsibilities.
Let’s be real—when it comes to a huge decision like getting a new ERP, the average employee will likely have little to no say in how it’s done or how long it will take. Practically speaking, big moves like this have to be made by upper management, even though they do impact everyone.
For this reason, employees must feel included and heard throughout the transition. They may not have contributed to the decision, but they still run the company on a daily basis. You owe it to them as an executive to work with them instead of imposing the change on them.
I may joke about change being scary, but it really can be, especially if the change is one as big as adopting a new ERP. By taking some inspiration from change management, however, change becomes much more of a group effort, and that’s always better than going at it alone.
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Author’s Note: While no paraphrases, summaries, or direct quotations are referenced in this article, the ideas presented here were inspired by “10 Principles of Change Management” by John Jones, DeAnne Aguirre, and Matthew Calderone, published in strategy+business.