Reflections on Change Management and ERP – Part 1

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I have friends who were forced to move out of a house that they’d occupied for 15 years as a result of a business change. Economic conditions had closed the local mine, but some key managers, my friend included, had been offered a position at Head Office. He accepted the new job with relief. That evening over supper he told his family that he had some bad news…and some good news.

His announcement didn’t go over very well. His wife was happy that he still had a job but devastated at the thought of leaving their home. The children, two boys and a girl, turned into evil little “resistance-gnomes”. Let’s refer to them as Weepy, Grumpy, and Angry. Weepy wept, and for eight weeks blew her nose like an elephant with hay fever. Grumpy got up from the table, disappeared, and did his best to become invisible. Angry let everyone know how he felt – loudly and often.

At the time, I thought of this as the temporary dynamic of a family in stress. Now, after years of working with ERP customers, I see it as a universal pattern. There is a spectrum of human response to change – the more employees in your office, the more likely it is that you’ll encounter a variety of resistance-gnomes. You might meet Weepy (scared, resentful, passive aggressive), Grumpy (in denial – hoping that change will forget he’s there), Angry (hiding his fear behind rage), or any number of other resentful, intransigent characters.

This is the human cost of change, but don’t be fooled – there’s a business cost attached to their behavior. In the absence of a coherent change management plan, productivity can plummet, robbing your business of vital activity, and stripping your ERP investment of value.

Every expected advantage and projected positive outcome for the project can be over ridden with this creeping feeling that change has caused so much unhappiness already that it might not be worth it in the long run. Managerial failure to direct the focus to the expected benefits, get the needed resources in place, stick to the implementation plan, keep communication lines open and deal with any issues quickly and fairly as they arise as well as be aware that additional training and handholding might be required during this transition period.

With a little forethought and awareness, even Weepy, Grumpy and Angry will become accepting of change, and, even if they don’t become fans of ERP, they’ll understand the business reasons for its implementation.

We hear the phrase “change management” and it sounds fairly intuitive, until we try to write down the steps we’re going to take in order to prepare people for change. That’s when we realize that we don’t have a clue what change management is – or how to accomplish it.

The good news – and the most critical thing to remember – is that the way people come to believe things and form opinions is both consistent and predictable. By catering to those predictabilities in terms of timing and content, the normal discomfort associated with change on the scale of an ERP project (or moving, for that matter) can be reduced to manageable levels.

Above all, try to remember, even when certain adults are acting like Weepy, Grumpy and Angry, that the realization of ERP benefits depends more on your organizations’ culture than on the ERP system itself.

In my next blog I will take a look at drafting an effective change management plan.

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