Plan for the Human Part of ERP

September 3, 2002
H R professionals have asked me: “ERPs seem like a good idea, so why isreturn on investment so low?”

    Resistance kills many of these new systems. A proposedenterprise resource planning system may hold great promise, but the plannersoften fail to consider how the users are likely to view this “improvement.”ERPs take away the old tried-and-true ways of working. Even though some of thesecobbled-together systems aren’t all that good, people understand them. Whenthey are asked to give up what they know and what they can rely on, you oftenget resistance to using a new software system.

    ERPs also threaten the fragile balance of power andcontrol. The old system allows departments and some individuals to control thetype of information that gets out--and control the way data gets disseminated.The new system eliminates all of that and can be threatening.

    One manufacturing plant spent millions on an ERP, and keptthrowing money at the technical parts of project, with no success. What theyfailed to see was that the technical problems they faced were minor compared tothe human reactions against these changes.

Why people react to change
    Plan for the human part of the ERP. There are three major reasons why peopleresist a change. They don’t get it, they don’t like it, or they don’t likeyou. Any one of those can stop the ERP dead in its tracks. What you need is theopposite of all three: people need to get what it’s all about, they need tolike it and be willing to take part in making sure it is a success, and theyneed to have confidence in you.

    Create strategies that speak to people in their own language to help themunderstand why these changes are critical to your organization. Spend a lot oftime building the case for the change before you get into the often mind-numbingdetails of the ERP process itself. The attention to “they don’t get it” isnecessary but not sufficient for success. You must attend to the other twoissues as well.

    If people react against the change, find out why. Usually, it’s because offear. In some cases, people are afraid that the new ERP will cost them theirjobs. If that’s the case, why would they support it? You must find ways toengage people to help you address the downside of the change. If people areafraid, for example, that the new system will not allow them to customize and beas responsive to customers, invite them into the planning to ensure that the newsystem provides the features they need.

    If they don’t have confidence in you or your team, you must do everythingyou can to demonstrate that you are worthy of their trust. This probably won’thappen overnight. One meeting won’t do it. You’ll have to prove yourselftime and time again. It’s not easy, and working on these issues can beexhausting, but it may be the only game in town if you really want people tomake a commitment to you and the new system.

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