Managing and Motivating a Remote ERP Team

Written By: Bob Blanchette
Date: August 21, 2020

One of the skills of humans is our adaptability. Over the last five months or so most of our lives have seen change – and for some, it’s been a significant change. For our ERP consultancy, it’s meant increased business for a variety of reasons. Some companies are experiencing dramatic upswings in business and need a strategy to handle it, while others need help with technology in hopes of survival. The common thread is the perseverance of individuals and companies determined to keep moving ahead.

After the “period of disbelief” which occurred in March and April of this year, many companies realized that updating or enhancing their technology took on a new importance, urgency, and relevancy. Let’s talk about a few of the dynamics when managing ERP teams remotely:

Your ERP Project Plan Better be Comprehensive (really)

Think of the idiom “to sing from the same hymnbook.” It’s always been necessary to have a comprehensive well thought out ERP project plan, but working remotely could mean a couple of things:

  1. Your team will depend on this documentation as an ongoing guideline for the project. Chances are they will read it more carefully while remote trying to determine their marching orders. Working remotely means spelling out the details because the typical hallway conversations and impromptu lunch meetings probably won’t be happening. This can be a good thing as it forces companies to construct a more comprehensive plan. To not do so will mean your Zoom meetings will be consumed with clarification questions vs. moving the plan forward.
  1. Get help from an independent ERP consultant to build stage gates and milestone measurements into your plan. Tasks and assignments need to be more measurable or your status updates will begin to waffle. An independent resource can also be a lifeline to a team member struggling with an assignment. A remote team member is less likely to bring up a personal challenge they’re struggling with on a group video chat but may welcome the help of an independent ERP resource. We recently ran into a situation like this. A team member became “stuck” while documenting a business process because they didn’t know how to describe the manual spreadsheets they kept in their desk to perform their current job.

Whether it’s discussing the project plan or other parts of the ERP project, remote team members should be encouraged to communicate with each other in whatever fashion works best. This is not always intuitive to team members once they become separated. I recently had a team member say, “I don’t want to bother people since they may be working on other things.” The new normal means forging new ways to communicate with the team, and yes that can be done via email, text, phone, etc. Empower and encourage key players to figure out what works best for them.

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Executive Sponsorship Needs to Transform

There is a consistent theme when dissecting executive sponsorship – the intent is always good but all too often the execution falls flat. This can really muck things up when tackling the challenges of executive sponsorship when working with a remote team. The root cause is typically an executive not “fully assigned” to the initiative. We find that about 80% of executive sponsors that we consult for have significant day-to-day duties other than the company’s ERP initiative. This doesn’t work out well when employees are collocated, and it could spell disaster for an initiative staffed by remote employees.

So, what’s the solution? For success in a remote environment, you need someone at the helm fulltime. This can also be achieved by deploying cosponsors (more than one executive sponsor). The tone, the cadence, the communication, etc. need to be different when dealing with remote teams. A sponsor’s accessibility should be high, and they should be working with your project manager to make concrete decisions and give ongoing guidance. We recently helped on an ERP initiative after receiving a distress call when things started to go sideways. The executive sponsor was holding daily Zoom calls with the team but was somewhat uniformed and viewed their role as purely supportive rather than helping make decisions. One remote team member summed it up by saying, “these daily proof of life calls are a waste of time.” The perception was the sponsor was checking up on the team via the daily call vs. contributing.

The importance, accountability, and credibility of executive sponsors becomes even more important when working with remote teams. This is another area where an independent ERP consultant can assist an executive sponsor when resources are lean.

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Reward Results

Some leaders are naturals at this but even the good ones need to think more creatively when working with remote teams. Make sure your ERP budget includes money for recognition (small number, big impact). You want to reward team members or groups for accomplishments along the way. If you wait until implementation you’ve waited too long. Before Covid it was normal to see 30% or greater attrition of an ERP project team before go-live. We’re not sure what the pandemic and remote participation will do to this percentage, but your odds of keeping more of your valued team members increases if you’re actively practicing a behavior of recognition and reward. Here are a few tips:

  • Get your HR professionals involved. Many have extensive training and can help with suggestions or help with the implementation of rewards and recognition. Hint: while HR is a valuable resource the reward/recognition needs to clearly come from you to have the greatest impact. Make it personal. Also empower different levels of leaders to do this (project managers, sponsors, SMEs, etc.). Gift cards can be a great idea – especially those designed to access goods and services online
  • It’s hard to replace the human smile or head nod that face-to-face interaction affords. Consider penning a handwritten note instead. A card that arrives with a stack of bills in the mail to an employee will not only show your appreciation to the team member but also to the employee’s family. Other ways of doing this could be via text, email, or a phone. All have an impact with very little cost
  • Increase responsibility in relation to interest and skills where possible. Let’s say you have a team member that’s very detail-oriented and has been perceptive about issues that have or will come up in testing. Elevating that employee’s responsibility in specific areas will not only make them feel good about their role but recognizes their skills and capabilities

In Conclusion:

Managing positive momentum remotely can and does work with some of the tweaks mentioned in this blog. The team should understand the importance of the initiative and its relation to your company’s long-term success. If it would help to have Third Stage Consulting as part of your bench, that a challenge we’re more than up to. Please contact us with any questions or feedback.

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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