One of the primary reasons why change management initiatives fail is that most are not integrated into the organisation’s overall practices and culture. Successful management initiatives align with, and embed themselves within, the DNA of the company, leveraging off existing role models, processes and communication platforms as far as possible. Here are some management lessons we learned from an organisation-wide enterprise resource planning (ERP) implementation in the mining and manufacturing sectors. The objective of the implementation process was to replace the existing ERP system, which had become outdated and was posing a business risk.

The process covered the following functional areas:

·         Financial accounting,

·         Controlling,

·         Sales and distribution,

·         Materials management,

·         Production planning, and

·         Project systems.

The project spanned 6 000 employees, five legal entities and 14 operating sites. The project team comprised 32 people and was a mix of company and vendor resources. It took two years to design, build and implement. Here are seven lessons that we learned from a change management perspective:

1.       Leverage off what works

The organisation had embarked on a culture-transformation journey in the late 1990s with the main objective of turning around its declining share price.   This journey had established new organisational practices and channels for communicating with employees, and - as these new practices were fully adopted by management and employees alike – these practices were the obvious communication platform for the ERP change team to use.

2.       The project management must be mature and understand the benefit of adopting a structured change management approach

The project team was experienced in implementing ERP systems. They had already worked on projects in which change management was an integral part, as well as projects which had left it up to business to figure out. There was therefore very little sensitisation that had to be done with this team from a change management perspective. However, it remained important for the team to understand the approach that was to be adopted, so that this could be integrated with the overall project plan.

3.       Dedicated change management must be made up of the right people

The change management team consisted of full-time resources:  A mix of external change specialists, and Organisation change practitioners. Company resources were critical from a buy-in perspective and in ensuring that the methodology and tools being applied were fit-for-purpose. The external change specialists brought best practice and lessons of what had worked on other ERP implementations. On-boarding sessions were held with the team during the planning phases of the project to agree roles and responsibilities, and to ensure alignment among the internal and external resources. All change resources had had some exposure to projects before so the combined level of expertise across the team was high. There was a mix of generalists as well as specialists in the communications and training capabilities.

4.       There needs to be change management representation at steering committee level

The lead change manager was a member of the steering committee, and there was a dedicated agenda slot for change management. Change management progress and barriers were given appropriate airtime, and any obstacles were raised and resolved in these meetings. The change team had direct access to the executive project sponsor so that pressing issues would not need to wait for the next steering committee meeting.

5.       Have a dedicated budget for change management

The change management team had its own dedicated budget which was approximately 10% of the overall project cost. This ensured that spend was never taken away from the team for channelling to other project activities. Budget was controlled by the lead change manager, and overseen and governed by the project manager.

6.       The executive level must sponsor the entire process

The sponsor for the project was an executive within the organisation. He had the mandate to make most decisions independently, but consulted the group executive when necessary. He played a key stakeholder management role with senior executives in the organisation, and was frequently called upon by the project team to resolve obstacles preventing progress.

7.       Have change ambassadors at all operating sites

Each operating site had its own unique subculture which was dependant on its location, nature and local leadership. Respected individuals at each site were identified and asked to champion the ERP implementation locally. All were provided with necessary training, communication and tools to assist. These ambassadors were extremely effective platforms when it came to overcoming resistance at an individual level, and speeded up understanding and buy-in at the local level. An informal reporting line into the central change management team was established, and all issues were flagged centrally and dealt with appropriately. The ambassadors were rewarded for their efforts as part of their reward and recognition system.

We urge you to consider and implement the points discussed in this article. If you are uncertain about how to get started or how to apply it to the specific challenges in your own organisation, please contact us (info@changesystems.co) and we will be happy to provide some further guidance.