Common ERP Implementation Organizational Change Management Mistakes

Written By: Eric Kimberling
Date: March 16, 2021

When helping our clients through their digital transformations, we inevitably talk about organizational change management. Now, one of the most common things we hear when we're talking about organizational change management, is our people are ready for change and we don't need to worry about change management.

In any given month, I probably talked to anywhere between 15 and 20 different organizations that are either existing clients, or clients, they're talking to us about potentially becoming clients, and change management always comes up as a talking point. What's really interesting is when I'm meeting with an executive team, or people that have been with the organization for a long time, a thought comes to mind.

I'll ask one of the common questions of how do you think people are going to respond to this change? How do you think people will respond to this digital transformation? And I would say, 70, to 80% of the time, I get a response somewhere along the lines of all they're going to love it, everyone's excited about it. They hate outdated / legacy systems, they don't like the green screens, or the processes are broken.

There are manual processes that they don't like and so, it creates this perception that organizational change management is going to be easy. Today, I want to talk about today is some of the challenges that we commonly see and some of the common mistakes that we commonly see with organizations going through their transformations.

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Executive Alignment

So, there's a number of challenges and mistakes that we see when it comes to change management, and number one, on that list is executive misalignment. What I mean by that is, the executive team doesn't know what they want this project to be, or in some cases, they don't even know what they as an organization want to be when they grow up.

If we don't have those answers, clearly defined, and articulated, and agreed upon by the executive team, we're going to work our way down to the digital transformation and change management is going to be extremely difficult because if executives aren't on the same page, chances are employees aren't on the same page.

I'll give you an example of how executive misalignment can negatively affect a transformation from a change management perspective.

Let's just say that the goal of your organization is to scale for growth, and to create some common business processes across the organization. Perhaps you've gone out and acquired different companies and now you're trying to integrate those operations into your core operations. So, you want to use this digital transformation as an opportunity to drive that commonality and that standardization that harmonization of business processes across your operations, across the world.

That sounds great in theory, and it could very well be a solid strategy for your organization… But if you don’t manage your digital transformation and invest in organizational change management planning, that suggesting that you don't want this project to support the aligned vision because you’re running the project as though we're going to let people operate the way they've always operated. And we're simply going to automate the processes as they are today.

In order for us to get that sort of alignment, we need to ensure that the goals and objectives and the vision of the executive team translate into the goals and objectives and the actions of the digital transformation team. So, we need to get that alignment defined upfront with the executives and we need to make sure we articulate that alignment and let it cascade down into what the digital transformation needs to be and what it looks like.

We need to make sure we have the right implementation strategy and approach. The right focus on business process definition for example. We need to make sure that everything we're doing in the digital transformation supports that level of executive alignment. One other note I'll make about executive misalignment is oftentimes executives don't understand what their vision means in terms of what the digital transformation looks like.

They may think that this is like a Windows Upgrade, we're just going to slam in new technology and how hard can it be. Part of it is educating the executive team of what this means to the digital transformation, how hard it will be and what effort we need to put into defining these new business processes and getting harmonization across the globe.


A second common mistake and challenge from an organizational change perspective is the hidden resistance to change. Now at the beginning of this blog, I talked about how employees will often say that they're excited about the change and they can't wait to get rid of the old system. On the surface, they are excited about the change. They buy into the idea of a new ERP system or a digital transformation.

Change and resistance to change, in particular, is much like an iceberg. On the surface, everything looks normal – even beautiful. People are excited about the change, they want it to happen but when we get below the surface, and we start to drive into our organizational changes, and we start to define what our new processes are going to be, and how new spreadsheets or old spreadsheets that employees are used to using are now going to go away. New jobs are going to be imposed on employees or jobs are going to be taken away from employees, all those things are the things that drive anxiety and fear. This is the stuff that we'll call the unintentional resistance to change - two different things because, on the surface, they still want the change, they still are okay with digital transformation and ERP.

However, now that you're talking about changing their jobs taking away something from them, creating a certain amount of insecurity in their jobs.

Now, this is where we start to dig in our heels and resist the change not because we still aren't on board, but because now you're talking about us personally, and we have reason to fear the change. There are so many different ways that this unintentional resistance manifests itself.

All this may not be blatant sabotaging of the transformation – but more often it's resisting any sort of process changes or throwing up the red flag anytime there's a new business process that's going to be defined, or if a job or role or responsibility needs to be changed, oftentimes, that will be resisted as well. So that unintentional resistance is something we really need to be aware of and we have to recognize that this is always there.

I've never had a client where we didn't have unintentional resistance, even though the executives are looking up here and saying, okay, everything looks alright, on the surface. What they don't understand is we are going to get below the surface here and we are going to hit this unintentional resistance iceberg, at some point is probably going to be a lot quicker and a lot more severe than you think. So, what do we do about it?

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We help our clients do an organizational readiness assessment to identify these red flags before we kick off a project. This ensures that we can start to mitigate risks and address those risks head-on and start to address that resistance head-on before we ever get there. That's a great way to get ahead of the whole organizational change management curve by assuming or ensuring that we address those needs.

Now, another challenge we see when working with clients on their organizational change initiatives is the change impacts are not well understood or articulated. What I mean by that is, as we define what our new system is going to look like or how a new business process will be structured. We too often view that myopically from the perspective of how are we going to design the software? What does the software need to do to work?

Well, we're not thinking about what that means to people that are going to be using the system. So, it could be things as simple as we're using a new system, and the interface is going to look different - but the bigger challenge is around things that are totally changing a person's job.

An example would be with some of the machine learning capabilities that RRP vendors are rolling out with functions like accounts payable and processing invoices. Thus automating what some organizations have multiple FTS or full-time equivalents focusing on every day. The question becomes, what are we going to do with five or 10, full-time account payable clerks, that their job is 70 or 80% going to be automated by a system now?

This is the type of thing we have to figure out and really think through and it has nothing to do necessarily with the technology itself. However, it has a lot to do with our people and our overall business processes, and even the overall success of the project. These are issues we need to proactively identify through a series of change impact assessments.

We then address those change impacts and understand how different individuals / workgroups / departments / locations within your organization are going to be affected by your transformation.

Software Needs

In addition to understanding the change impacts, the next thing that we need to look at and understand when software doesn't fit our needs. This is really important nowadays, especially because your ERP system is a lot less mature nowadays than they were five or 10 years ago simply because so many vendors are shifting to the cloud as we speak, and those systems are still being developed in many cases.

It’s pivotal to identify where the software doesn't fit your needs because that's where you're going to see the most resistance to change and the most people problems within an implementation. Now, if you're a large organization multinational, with a whole breadth of capability that you're trying to address with your digital transformation, you have a higher risk of having this challenge permeate within your organization. This is true even if you're implementing S/4HANA or Oracle ERP Cloud or Microsoft Dynamics 365.

I'm just mentioning those as the leading three systems in terms of market share, and the ones that are most likely to be adopted by larger organizations. When we're helping clients through all three of those types of business transformations, there are some pretty significant gaps in the software that you would assume the vendors would have already addressed, but they haven't yet.

We need to understand what those missing capabilities are partly because we need to understand what we're going to do about it, how are we going to fix it? How are we going to run our operations day to day without having that capability in the system, even if it means we have to integrate with another system or create some kind of manual workaround, or, god forbid, create another spreadsheet.

Whatever it is, we need to define what that process and what the related jobs are going to look like. And so, the first thing is to understand to get there, what areas the software does not quite fit, what our capabilities and what our needs are. And that will help us define what our change management needs are. So, this is something that we need to do to avoid some of the change management mistakes that we commonly see with clients.

Change Management is NOT Training

A common problem is that organizations think of change management as training. That is a big problem because change management is a lot more than a simple training module. In fact, I would say training is probably less than 5% - 10% of your total change management program. I always like to view end-user training as a sort of an afterthought.

It's not an afterthought, in that it's not important, but it should be more of a formality and that we've already conveyed to people how their jobs are changing.

We've already worked through the freak-out moments that people are going to have when they realize that their jobs are changing. We've already helped them understand what the new roles and responsibilities are. We've defined what the organization is going to look like. We've mapped out all the kinks and worked through the kinks of the business processes. And now people just need that formal training to understand how exactly am I going to do my job in the new system.

Change Management is NOT a Nice-to-Have

When we look at why projects fail, and why change management initiatives fail, it's oftentimes because we went straight into training shortly before go-live, but we didn't do all the prework that needed to be done from an organizational change perspective to make sure that the organization is prepared for the change. Best practice is to pull forward as much of that change management activity as we can as we get into our digital transformation.

Another similar challenge is organizations that think of OCM as a “nice to have”. Leadership is under the impression that change management is just one of those things that are going to be something we do if we have the time if we have the budget if we have the luxury of getting to it. This is a huge mistake because I've never seen a project succeed that hasn't invested heavily in organizational change management.

I cannot stress enough the importance for executives, project team members, and others involved in digital transformations to understand and realize that organizational change is not a nice to have - it is a critical success factor.

A data point I'll share is with all the expert witness testimony that my team and I have done over the years, change management has been the number one commonality between every single lawsuit and failure that we've had to either testify for or in some cases, we also go in and recover failed projects and help the clients get those projects back on track.

Every case that we've been involved with either as an expert witness or project recovery consultant has been a severe shortage of organizational change management. So, keep that in mind as you're developing your change management strategies, implementation strategy, and overall budget for your digital transformation.

Organizational Design

The final thing I'll share as it relates to change management and the final mistake I'll share is - organizational design is often overlooked. I often get blank stares when people hear the word “organizational design” unless you're a change management practitioner like myself and our team members.

If you're not, this can be overwhelming or intimidating – however, it’s very important because we can do all the systems work, we want to finding the perfect technology solution, we can even map out the business processes perfectly, and have everything worked out perfectly to where we have a very finely tuned machine on paper as it relates to business processes in the technology.

If we haven't defined what people's jobs are going to look like and what the new organization is going to look like there's going to be a complete mismatch. It’s going to be like putting sand in the gas tank, and it's just going to cause things to be severely disrupted.

We need to understand what the organization is designed to look like, especially with how much technology is changing today and how big of a jump it is to go from, say, a mainframe-based, green screen legacy system to a S/4HANA and Oracle ERP Cloud or a cloud-based D365. That's a large undertaking for any organization to make, not just from a technology perspective, but just the impact it has on people and full organizational identity.

There's also artificial intelligence and data analytics and all these capabilities that are great to have, but if we don't define the organization in a way that takes full advantage of them, were at best going to over-invest in shelfware, and technology that we'd never use and at worst, we're going to fail because we haven't figured out how to align the software and processes with the people side of the equation.

It’s extremely important to ask for help and recruit support in helping to define what your organizational design is going to be and what the impact of your business.

In Conclusion

To help make your digital transformation more successful, I encourage you to reach out to me if you have questions or make your way over to our Third Stage YouTube channel for more content. I'm happy to be an informal sounding board for your regarding positioning your change management strategies, or how can we ensure that we're successful in your change management initiatives. Please feel free to reach out to me directly.

Kimberling Eric Blue Backgroundv2
Eric Kimberling

Eric is known globally as a thought leader in the ERP consulting space. He has helped hundreds of high-profile enterprises worldwide with their technology initiatives, including Nucor Steel, Fisher and Paykel Healthcare, Kodak, Coors, Boeing, and Duke Energy. He has helped manage ERP implementations and reengineer global supply chains across the world.

Eric Kimberling
Eric is known globally as a thought leader in the ERP consulting space. He has helped hundreds of high-profile enterprises worldwide with their technology initiatives, including Nucor Steel, Fisher and Paykel Healthcare, Kodak, Coors, Boeing, and Duke Energy. He has helped manage ERP implementations and reengineer global supply chains across the world.
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