Investing in a New ERP? Don’t Overlook This Step.

Lauren Parker and Kim Ratcliff share best practices for communicating before, during and after an ERP implementation.

Technology continues to transform the way organizations run. Many companies are investing in enterprise resource planning (ERP) software to improve efficiency and drive effectiveness across operations. ERP systems like SAP, Workday, PLEX, Oracle or Microsoft Dynamics integrate a variety of applications to automate functions like accounting and finance, IT, HR, product planning, manufacturing, supply chain management, sales and more.

While much investment and effort are spent on IT integration and employee training, often companies forget to effectively tell the story about the change with their employees. This oversight can lead to misuse of the system, frustration or confusion among the staff, loss of productivity and more. Here are best practices for communicating before, during and after an ERP implementation.

Explain the Why and Why Now

Just as every organization has a history, every ERP has a backstory. Why was the software selected?

As Simon Sinek highlights in “Start with Why,” it’s easy to make the mistake of explaining the “what” and the “how” first. Brain science tells us that when we hear the story about the reasons behind any change, from life shifts to new ERPs, we internalize the plot and see ourselves as a character—even the hero—in making the change.

Take for example a large technology manufacturer’s general manager. When his senior leadership team made the decision to transition from dozens of separate systems to a new ERP, they selected their choice grounded on the fundamentals. Of course, the team analyzed in depth what the system could do and how it would transform their business. But for the win, the strategic why was more important: Giving them the chance to operate effectively, at scale, at both its original location and a brand new facility. Telling this story, including how the change would benefit individual employees, became the key to the communications approach.

Recognize that Change is Hard

William Bridges’ transition model is based on years of research into the circumstance of change, shaped by each individual’s situation. While change happens on a regular basis, the human experience of transition is unique, creating a specific change reality for everyone involved. Put another way, the transition process from start to finish with a new ERP is different for everybody.

Newer employees, for example, are not as accustomed to using legacy systems and may perceive the change as more of a smooth ride and an upgrade. But for those who have gained expertise and earned recognition as experts in the legacy system, the change can look like a threat—making their transition from old to new look like an “American Ninja Warrior” course.

The communications solution to this challenge is understanding the many audiences and personas of those going through the change. What are their current and desired states of knowledge, sentiment and behavior around the ERP? Analyzing the gap can help with crafting messages and using channels that will best reach each audience and persona.

Show (don’t just tell) How the ERP Will Transform the Work

The manufacturing GM already mentioned brainstormed an approach to communicate the why and the how behind the change. He worked with FrazierHeiby as a communications partner to create an animated video with a fresh metaphor to bring the story to life.

Stepping outside the industry with an analogy that helps those deeply involved to “get on the balcony,” as reinforced by Ron Heifetz, helps staff to gain new perspective. To further strengthen this broader view, giving tangible benefits of how each day on the job will look different, and better, helps to win over even the toughest critics.

Eradicate the Jargon

New technology brings new language, and this can add layers of unnecessary complexity to daily work. How this overlays with existing organizational vernacular can be confusing. Take the opportunity of the ERP implementation to revisit overused terminology and replace it with words that have real meaning.

In school district ERP implementations, add to the confusion a dizzying array of abbreviations and acronyms. Alphabet soup doesn’t help with getting everyone moving forward together. One large Pennsylvania school district developed a unique approach to reset the conversation. They segmented its internal audiences by role and responsibility, creating a unique set of messages focused and optimized for each. Then, they used existing and new channels for having focused conversations with each group, including a fitness-oriented “bootcamp” approach to test messages, visualize success together, assess understanding and collaborate on next steps.

Repeat the Message Before, During and After Integration  

Tactical communications smartly executed through the best channels create a cohesive story over time. For example, in the manufacturing setting leaders can use collateral such as message maps for supervisors to during shift change meetings. Manager messages can then be reinforced through pocket guides and posters for employees not reachable on email due to shop floor responsibilities.

Whatever the situation for your ERP implementation, be sure to nurture the possibilities of internal communications and change leadership. Your employees, and your KPIs, will thank you.