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Communication Is Key for ERP

September 3, 2002
Related Topics: Human Resources Management Systems (HRMS/HRIS), Featured Article
Small Company
Name:SI Corporation
Location:Chattanooga, Tennessee
Business:Manufacturer of industrial textiles

When SI decided to implement SAP three and a half years ago, management wasso concerned about the cultural impact it would have onemployees that it created a new position for a “change management leader,”whose sole responsibility would be to manage the human element of the effort.“People needed to understand what we were doing and how it would impact them,”says Patrick Keebler, who landed the job. “When you focus on managing thechange and on building strong executive leadership, you can succeed atimplementing an ERP.”

    He began by assessing users and the environment for risk factors that couldaffect system performance, such as lack of basic PC or Web skills, hiringfluctuations, or a history of resistance to change. Then he built achange-management strategy that included an extensive communication plan tosupport performance-based training.

    “Communicating a project’s purpose and goals as well the impact that itwill have on the organization and its employees is the best way to minimizeresistance,” he says. “If you show up one day and announce you’ve launcheda new system, you’ll get a lot of push back, but if you share your strategyand why it’s important early on, people will embrace it.”

    His communication techniques included a constant flow of written materialscombined with frequent face-to-face presentations with departments and shifts todiscuss the system and offer tool demos. He tailored his messages on the basisof feedback he gathered through focus-group studies and employee surveys. Forexample, an early survey regarding employees’ opinions about the impending ERProllout showed that users were afraid they wouldn’t understand the technologyand their new roles within the system. They were also confused about why thecompany invested so much money in an ERP when there were other importantprojects going unfunded.

    In response to that information, he launched several communicationinitiatives, including a monthly ERP newsletter with stories about the project’sdevelopment, expectations, and training plans. To addressspecific concerns about role changes, he published a special double issuedescribing the alterations that were being made to various business processesand profiling role changes for specific job titles. For example, after the SAProllout, sales reps became responsible for managing customer credit debts, atask previously done by the accounting team. The salespeople were annoyed at theextra work and the accountants felt threatened, Keebler says. He managed theproblem by showing both groups the process stream map and pointing out that itmade more sense for reps, who are the single point of contact for clients, tohandle their debt information. This flow of communication reduced the amount ofstress associated with the change and prepared users for training, he says.

    Keebler delivers all of his ERP training in the month leading up to thatphase of the rollout. For the most recent phase, which was completed in October2001, that meant he and his team of four trainers conducted 120 classes in 19days. “It’s important that training be close to the rollout date so peopledon’t forget what they’ve learned,” he says. “And you don’t want totrain before the system is completely configured; otherwise, you may be teachingpeople to do things incorrectly.”

    To make training as relevant as possible, each course that Keebler offeredwas role-based so that the functional groups—accountspayable clerks, service reps, manufacturing, and supervisors—received specificguidance on their particular role changes. They got overviews of the workprocesses that affected their jobs and looked at the impact of their actions onpeople upstream and downstream from them. “If people make a mistake recordingdata, the results can be exponential,” he says. “We want people toappreciate how serious their responsibilities are to the business.” Forexample, if a service rep records incorrect contact information for a customer,product shipping will be wrong, billing will be wrong, and the customer’scredit rating will be damaged.

    Once the system phase goes live, Keebler offers refresher courses and watchesfor system errors that might reflect a need for retraining. He also offersself-paced tutorials at the Web site and context-sensitive help options withinthe application that let users practice transactions in a simulated environmentso that they can make mistakes without affecting the whole system. “Peoplewill embrace a new system if you give them the skills and support to use it,”he says. “Otherwise, you are just leaving it to chance.”

Workforce, September 2002, p. 90-92 -- Subscribe Now!

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