Change Management is Key for Business Process Improvement

By Julie Rogier • Updated on January 2nd, 2019
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Teams tend to prefer the familiar to the unfamiliar - especially when it comes to enterprise systems.

The reality is that in order to create significant, measurable improvements in business processes, managing change is critical.

Enterprise Technology Projects

Resistance to change is the norm, and when a legacy ERP system has been in place for a decade or two, that force can be a detriment to growth. However, there are tactics to help reduce the resistance and create an atmosphere where workers embrace change to improve business performance.

Even at the outset of an ERP project, the stakeholders must be informed, empowered and willing for changes to be made effectively. They need to understand the context of what they are being asked to do as it relates to the overall business and they need to be given the tools and skills required for the new way of doing things.

Replacing or upgrading an ERP system impacts many areas of an organization. It is natural for people to want to know what this change means to them as an individual. Change management tends to focus on the organization as a whole or on parts of the organization based on some definition (department, function, etc.). In failing to recognize that individuals need to make the change, issues or opportunities may be missed that affect the success of the effort.

Why the Resistance?

There are several reasons why organizations fail to successfully implement change:

  • Unclear or unrealistic expectations for what the change is trying to accomplish
  • Company culture is misjudged or ignored as it relates to how the change will be accepted
  • Change management is viewed as expendable
  • Company-wide communication is not done effectively or is introduced too late in the process
  • End users are neglected in the overall process
  • No action plans or meaningful metrics are developed to provide guidance or monitor progress

Common Questions

Here are some typical, “real-world” questions heard from today’s manufacturing and distribution project teams considering an ERP project:

1. What is the worst change management failure you have witnessed?

Technology-related change management is only successful with an understanding that the process is much more than just swapping out legacy software or tweaking a few IT solutions.

For lasting change, the emphasis must be on people and processes. Success follows from a structured, purposeful approach aimed to help transition people, teams, and organizations from their current state to the desired future state.

As an example, a $100 million global medical testing equipment manufacturer was looking to restart a failed ERP selection and implementation project. The company was grappling with this failed project for more than eight years.

The original software selection was performed without an agreed to future state which was a key misstep. Also lacking was a consistent direction to the project team about the goals of the project - was it to simply duplicate existing processes or drive best practices to a desired “future state?”

Multiple factors combined to slow down and eventually halt the ERP project, including lack of coordinated team activities which resulted in siloed decision making. Project staffing was also a contributing issue. The core project team did not have the proper allocation of time or resources to work effectively.

2. What is a “low hanging fruit” / easy win that companies often miss in change management?

Change management is not just a phase. Instead, change management must be woven into the fabric of methodology and built into the project plan and team culture throughout every phase of a technology project. It’s key to be continuously aware of change promoters, adopters, influencers, and resistors as they transition from current to the future state.

That said, one of the best and most effective strategies is to take the time to establish a project charter. A project charter is the ERP team’s concise statement of core goals, objectives and intent. A charter serves as the “map” for everything that comes next.

The charter outlines the compelling business case for change, and answers the question: “We are doing this project because of…” Everyone must be aligned and intimately familiar with the business case and the vision of the project. Unfortunately, this fundamental and foundational step is often missed.

3. In a typical project, what is the most significant blind spot/misunderstanding of change management?

A new technology selection and implementation usually involve some shifting of roles or reallocation of work. Some users will find they have more to do under the new ERP system. Others will find their responsibilities decreased. Both of those situations can be unsettling to staff.

Thus, a key “blind spot” is when leadership misdirects the project emphasis on technology, such as infrastructure, data, features/functions, and other technological considerations, without considering the full scope of change - people, process and technology.

To overcome this blind spot, it’s imperative to consistently communicate the “why” of the project with ongoing education to build the foundation to help manage change.

Final Thoughts

Change may be hard initially, but when the positive results are evident, everyone will share in the success and appreciate that without personal and organizational changes, improvement wouldn’t be possible.

Author Bio: This guest post is provided by Ultra Consultants, an independent enterprise technology researcher and consultant serving manufacturing and distribution organizations.