Boosting Employee Engagement in Your ERP Project

Written By: Bob Blanchette
Date: January 30, 2021

Few would argue the importance and benefits of having employees at all levels of your organization involved in your ERP initiative. But what if we told you that employees dedicated to these initiatives have a 30% greater turnover than employees not involved in an ERP project? This would suggest that in some cases the expectations of the employees may be unrealistic. Something may also be out of balance in the risk vs. reward spectrum, and in an ERP initiative, quick wins can be slow to surface. A team yearning for satisfaction and feedback that must wait until go-live is rarely an enthusiastic team.

An ERP initiative is something most employees haven’t experienced before

Chances are you may have some good project managers and SMEs within your organization but recognize that an ERP initiative or digital transformation is different. You probably have resources that will help train employees on how to use a new system, but who trains the internal ERP team on how to execute a myriad of decisions that will need to be made while building it?

As projects run over on time and budget (and most do) frustrations grow. You want the team to be enthusiastic but is this realistic? Identifying and recruiting your highest performing employees is a good start – the challenge will be backfilling their positions. One of the biggest mistakes we see all too often is companies asking employees to do double duty. It just doesn’t work or end well.

You’ll also want to build rewards into the budget and into the project plan. Rewards can come in the form of compensation as well as recognition. Often breaking up and assigning duties can help create ownership. Let employees play to their strengths. If you’re looking to identify the 10 greatest pain points on the shop floor – a high performer from the shop floor might be your best option to secure credible info – this means using your SMEs is logical ways that help them (and the project) win.

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Leadership is crucial

While this blog talks about fostering employee engagement, it will not happen without the right leaders in your company getting and staying involved. We mentioned the importance of picking the right employees for the initiative but choosing the right “empowered” leaders is a must. Depending on the complexity and size of your company there should be one or more full-time executives dedicated solely to the initiative. They will perform a variety of duties and provide guidance and feedback that helps make the team feel valued.

You also want to encourage leadership from every team member – although it’s okay if they show it in different ways. The success of the project depends on the varied opinions and knowledge of the team. Watch out for influencers that could emerge. It's not uncommon for an internal IT member to take the lead or begin influencing decision making - knowledge being power. If team members just start going along with decisions vs. carefully debating and analyzing - things can start to go sideways.

Let’s face it, it’s complicated to make decisions on actions like configuration vs. customization of software – this is one of the many areas where an independent ERP consultant can be a resource for the team. Bottom line – it’s rare that an internal team will have all the knowledge they need without accessing credible “independent” outside resources. You might be headed for trouble if you don’t get them the training and support they need early on. Symptoms of not doing so can range from low confidence or insecurities (which many will attempt to hide) to frustration, to indifference, to letting others make the decisions. Some will quit their jobs to avoid what they may perceive as a nebulous assignment that is giving them little satisfaction while working longer hours.

Talk to us at Third Stage Consulting about how we train teams to navigate everything from politics to the Organizational Change Management (OCM) challenges of ERP initiatives. We also have some great ideas on how to incentivize and reward internal teams.

Process changes haven’t been fully ironed out

One of the areas employees can add value to is in discussing and explaining current processes whether they’re good, bad, or nonexistent. Process mapping sessions also capture ideas and concerns. It would be inconceivable to implement a new system and not have significant process changes. Process change can come about for a variety of reasons but anticipate these:

  • The new software will have preconfigured routines that are proven. They may not look like your current routines, but they work and should be seriously considered. The team must accept and adopt routines that may look and feel different while sharing this information in a positive way with other employees of the company. Open communication throughout the initiative will benefit everyone. Employees often believe other employees before they believe management announcements
  • If employees are not given a vision of what your company’s future state will look like, some of the process changes won’t make any sense to them (think confusion or possible intimidation)
  • Employees may describe processes that are working well, only to see them changed in the new system design. This is often because it is not being looked at it from a global view. What do you mean management will be able to see real-time updates of how many items I process per hour?

OCM is an extremely important success factor in ERP initiatives. Some internal team members could feel deceived when you’ve asked their opinions about processes but decide to go in another direction. Setting realistic expectations and keeping open and crisp communication is equally important. You want to turn down the volume of the rumor mill. Keep in mind that while you’re asking employees their opinions about functionality and tasks, their minds could be focusing on different things:

1) How will this impact my job; or will I still have a job?
2) If I ignore this project, it too will go away as other projects at the company have in the past
3) Will I be able to navigate and learn the new technology?

An effective OCM plan needs to be multi-pronged, detailed, and should morph with the initiative. It’s not an easy environment to manage when you’re asking for employees’ involvement and input but may or may not use their recommendations. There are ways to have productive conversations around and about what’s changing, but many organizations skip this step because the project is running behind, and OCM can seem less important than keeping the project moving. Nothing could be further from the truth. To do so will only manifest itself in not so pretty ways down the line. Let Third Stage share some of our expertise with your team about constructing OCM plans that keep teams working cohesively while harnessing new technology.

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Management interest appears to be waning

It’s not uncommon for our consultants to observe differences in perception (and happiness) from a company’s internal team members. Engagement can be influenced by employees’ relationships with their direct supervisors. Employees are perceptive and will detect how management “in their part of the company” is reacting to the prospect of new technology. Everyone is a stakeholder in an ERP project and employees take notice of the demeanor and attitudes of the people in charge. Something as simple as the roll of the eyes can be viewed as negative or unsupportive.

We see examples of senior management retrenching to attend to the daily priorities of the business. While they “support” the project they often delegate all if not most of the decision making. They may become less available or “hallway conversations” begin to take the place of effective meetings. This can impact morale or confidence and make team members question their roles or value. For most internal team members this may be their first involvement in an ERP project, and there’s a good chance they may have not fully understood the difficulties they would encounter.

Some management teams may have not learned the important lesson that internal project teams will have turnover and how to deal with it. This becomes easier to manage if specific duties (and the accountability that goes with them) have been assigned to individuals from the beginning. A project team is not static and preparing the team to embrace the change of all types will help morale.

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In Conclusion

This blog talks about the important role team members play within an ERP initiative. Educating and coaching them on how best to be effective and happy team members is the challenge. Their responsibilities are great. In addition to technical and process decisions, they must represent the culture of the organization. This means placing importance on intuitive interfaces and routines for their fellow constituents when designing the new system. To not do so will hamper adoption in a variety of different ways. Yes, we’ve seen companies launch expensive new tech only to have employees refuse to use it or resist by using workarounds.

ERP project teams can begin to feel alienation or isolation for many of the reasons mentioned in this blog. Talk to us about how to form and maintain productive and satisfied ERP teams. That’s a conversation we’d love to have – feel free to reach out.

Blanchette, Bob
Bob Blanchette

Bob brings a creative blend of understanding operational benefit and navigating employee resistance to change, ultimately helping organization realize success and benefit through maximizing the effectiveness of people. He holds a successful track record of HR leadership and promoting fair and unbiased outcomes.

Bob Blanchette
Bob brings a creative blend of understanding operational benefit and navigating employee resistance to change, ultimately helping organization realize success and benefit through maximizing the effectiveness of people. He holds a successful track record of HR leadership and promoting fair and unbiased outcomes.
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