Strategies for Successful ERP Software User Training and Adoption

Written By: Eric Kimberling
Date: June 9, 2023

Software training in employee adoption is one of the most common and important aspects of digital transformation and ERP implementation projects. However, many organizations tend to mishandle this critical work stream or overlook it altogether by not investing sufficient time or resources. So, what exactly is software training and adoption, and how can we optimize its impact?

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One of the primary focuses of our organization in assisting clients with their digital transformation journeys is the work stream of organizational change management. Within change management, a crucial subactivity is training and adoption in software deployments. However, when working with clients, there seems to be a lack of understanding regarding the importance and requirements for effective training and adoption. Insufficient time, energy, and resources are often allocated to this critical work stream. Adding to the problem, most software vendors and system integrators also struggle in handling this project work stream adequately.

Today, I aim to discuss what software training and adoption entail, how they should be approached, and the key considerations in defining your training and adoption strategy for digital transformation. Throughout this video, I will emphasize the importance of early planning when it comes to training. Defining your training strategy and understanding your training needs should commence during the planning phases of your project. This point is critical and will be reiterated throughout.

To begin, it is vital that the implementation planning process heavily focuses on your change strategy, as well as your training and adoption strategies.

Tailored Training Materials

One common misconception in software deployments is the assumption that software vendors provide comprehensive training materials that can be directly used for training purposes. While there is some truth to this, it is misleading to rely solely on off-the-shelf training materials provided by the vendor, as they may not adequately support the training and adoption needs of your organization.

For instance, the generic training materials offered by vendors can serve as a useful starting point, but they are not tailored to your specific industry, processes, or customized software configurations. Therefore, these materials may not be ideal or highly beneficial for your training and adoption strategies. Additionally, most organizations consider their ERP or digital transformation initiatives as comprehensive business transformations that encompass changes in technology, business processes, organizational roles, responsibilities, and other aspects. However, software vendor training materials primarily focus on transactional aspects, such as how to perform specific tasks within the software.

Considering these factors, it becomes evident that having customized training materials that align with your specific needs, business processes, software configurations, and ways of doing business is crucial for enabling effective training and adoption among your employees. Therefore, when developing your training needs assessment and defining a training strategy for your organization, it is vital to allocate sufficient time, resources, and focus to allow your team to create tailored and customized training materials that truly reflect your organizational identity and future state.

Beyond Classroom Training

Another critical consideration when developing your training strategy is the understanding that training should extend beyond the confines of classroom sessions. Oftentimes, organizations make the mistake of relying solely on a few weeks or days of classroom training just before the go-live date, assuming that it will be sufficient to teach employees how to use the new software. However, I can assure you that this approach is a recipe for disaster and inadequate for your organization.

The reason behind this is that implementing new software involves a significant change effort. If you wait until the training stage to introduce key process changes, role and responsibility adjustments, and technological advancements all at once, it will overwhelm your organization within a limited timeframe. It's crucial to acknowledge that employees may experience moments of panic, resistance, and a sense of loss when they realize their familiar spreadsheets will disappear or their business processes will undergo significant changes. Dealing with these challenges in a classroom setting is the last thing you want.

If your training strategy relies heavily on classroom training to introduce a multitude of changes and surprises to your employees regarding how they will conduct business going forward, it means you have waited far too long. The good news is that there are numerous other tactics and strategies you can employ alongside classroom-based training to enhance the success and effectiveness of your training efforts.

For example, change impact assessments are highly effective change management strategies that enable you to identify how employees' roles will change. This allows you to be targeted and deliberate in how you communicate these changes to individuals. User acceptance testing, while not a direct change management activity, can also be beneficial in providing continued training in an iterative process for key stakeholders and business users involved in the transformation. Additionally, there are various communication and adoption tools available to ensure that necessary changes are effectively conveyed to the organization without relying solely on classroom-based training.

Target Your Employee Training

Another crucial aspect to consider is targeting your training efforts to ensure that you provide relevant and timely training to individuals based on their specific needs. Taking a shotgun approach to train employees on various components of a system, when only a small percentage of that functionality is relevant to their roles, is ineffective. This is where a training needs assessment becomes essential. It helps define the training requirements for different work groups, departments, and business locations within the organization.

Additionally, it is crucial to determine when people need to acquire specific skills. For instance, if the go-live date coincides with the beginning of a fiscal year, it may not make sense to train employees on period-end or year-end close processes that they won't perform for several months. In such cases, it may be more prudent to defer that training until later stages post-implementation. However, for critical business processes that employees must understand from day one of go-live, it is essential to prioritize that training and ensure that individuals have a solid understanding of those processes and technologies. This is especially true for critical business functionality that, if not understood, could impede employees from effectively performing their jobs.

Furthermore, it's important to address the dynamic nature of training activities in digital transformations. Often, projects face delays in design, build, and testing, which can impact the training team's ability to work with a stable and functional system for training purposes. This issue not only causes project delays but also highlights the need to allocate sufficient buffer time in major milestones to allow the training team to create customized training materials and target the training appropriately. It is crucial to ensure that your training scope and timing align with your overall training strategy.

In the majority of cases, software vendors or system integrators propose a "train the trainer" approach when it comes to training. It's rare to see them suggest an alternative method. "Train the trainer" means that the vendor or consultants will train a core group of individuals within your organization on conducting specific business processes using the standard software. These trained individuals are then responsible for training the rest of the employees. On the surface, this approach has advantages as it involves business stakeholders and provides ownership of the training materials and program. However, it overlooks an important and challenging aspect.

Being knowledgeable about a business process or having a deep understanding of the system doesn't automatically make someone an effective trainer. Moreover, the trainers who have been trained on the software often struggle to find time to create customized training materials or conduct training sessions efficiently due to their involvement in other project activities such as user acceptance testing or requirements definition. As a result, training becomes an afterthought, and trainers lack the necessary time to deliver effective training.

To address this issue, a balanced approach that combines training with business support can be beneficial. In some cases, involving a professional trainer, who may be a third-party, to facilitate the training alongside the business owners can be effective. This approach leverages the business owners' knowledge while providing additional support and scalability. It adds credibility by having internal trainers, but also ensures they have the necessary assistance instead of being solely responsible for training.

Measure Employee Readiness

It is crucial to measure the readiness of employees to perform their business processes using the new technologies introduced in the transformation. Organizations often make the mistake of assuming that training alone ensures readiness, just because it has been completed according to the project plan. However, the reality is that the effectiveness of training varies, and not all employees may be fully prepared for the go-live date. Therefore, it is important to measure the organization's readiness and identify areas where refresher training may be needed or where significant organizational and training risks still exist.

There may be certain fundamental training aspects that require repetition to ensure readiness for go-live. Additionally, there might be lower-priority business processes or capabilities that can be postponed until after the go-live phase. Regardless, it is essential to have a formal and structured approach to measure employee readiness. This allows you to assess the effectiveness of the training and determine if any refresher training is necessary.

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Post Go-Live Support

Refresher training is a common necessity regardless of how well initial training is conducted. It is often found that lack of business value or sub-optimal processes after go-live can be attributed to improper technology usage or unfamiliarity with new processes. In such cases, a series of refresher training courses can be implemented to boost confidence and enhance familiarity with the technology.

It is important to view training as an ongoing process that extends beyond the pre-go-live phase, particularly in multi-phase deployments or even in a single go-live scenario. Post-go-live refresher training plays a crucial role in optimizing the business value derived from digital transformation initiatives. Therefore, it is vital to consider post-go-live training as part of your training strategy.

When developing your training strategy, it is recommended to begin during the planning phase of the project, ideally when you have selected the software and are preparing for deployment. By incorporating training plans and activities early on, you can ensure a realistic and comprehensive approach that accounts for this critical workstream. Unfortunately, organizations often overlook training and adoption while focusing solely on building technology in their work plans. It is crucial to insert key activities, resource requirements, and budgets dedicated to training and adoption within the overall program.

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I hope this information proves valuable as you develop your change, training, and adoption strategy.

I would enjoy brainstorming ideas with you if you are looking to strategize an upcoming transformation or are looking at selecting an ERP system, so please feel free to contact me at eric.kimberling@thirdstage-consulting.com. I am happy to be a sounding board as you continue your digital transformation journey.

Be sure to download the newly released 2023 Digital Transformation Report to garner additional industry insight and project best practices.

Author:
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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