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ERP change management: Five pillars of success

July 12, 2022 Article 5 min read
Mike Riffel
Change is a certainty when implementing any new ERP system. Use these suggestions to help you ensure, and your workforce embrace, a smooth and successful ERP implementation.
A photo of pillars of a government building.

Organizations often struggle with change, and change management in the public sector is no exception. But if you’re implementing a new ERP system, whether for the first time or upgrading an earlier version, change is a certainty. Preparing an organization and its people is critical, and the ERP change management process should begin with the development of purpose-driven communications and change management strategies, long before your software implementation actually takes place.

In our work assisting public sector organizations with software implementations and ERP change management, we see groups confront similar issues again and again as they execute their strategies. The following suggestions can help your organization take a proactive approach to change to help you ensure, and your workforce embrace, a smooth and successful implementation and ERP change management.

1. Communicate early, often, and consistently.

There’s no such thing as too much communication. Create a designated sponsor or steering committee to clarify for staff who’s accountable, making decisions, and leading the change. Determine who will be the voice of this committee and will communicate changes to the organization. Often, this role is assumed by the city or county manager, administrator, CFO, CIO, or other department heads.

Ensure messages conveyed by the steering committee are clear as well as consistent, since inconsistency breeds distress and distrust. Convey key messages in multiple ways and formats to reach and engage the broadest swath of your workforce, and use messages with both rational and emotional elements. Human beings tend to respond better to messages that not only make logical sense but also touch their hearts.

Convey key messages in multiple ways and formats to reach and engage the broadest swath of your workforce.

For change to be successful, project sponsors must be fully transparent about the current state of the organization. This includes the business needs driving the change, such as growth, technology advances that are enabling much-needed functionality, or the need to better serve constituents. Don’t address the future state at this point; rather, focus on the why.

2. Work to alleviate staff concerns.

Once it’s been made clear to staff that organizational change is inevitable, it’s time for managers to help staff envision the future state. A project kickoff meeting that includes everyone affected by the project, especially end users, is critical here. Be sure to give plenty of forethought to how you’ll help staff make the transition and understand their roles and responsibilities — and how the changes are going to affect them on an individual level.

Staff inevitably will wonder what their job will look like in this future state — will they even have a job and, if so, how will it be different than it is today?
Planning for these conversations helps ensure all managers are consistent in their messaging when individuals, despite understanding larger organizational changes, want to know, "At the end of the day, what does that mean to me?"

Where possible, focus on the idea of jobs and skill sets changing rather than reduction. When you encounter resistance, use one-on-one conversations to answer their questions and alleviate their concerns.

Where possible, focus on the idea of jobs and skill sets changing rather than reduction.

As with communications from the steering committee, messaging from managers also must be clear, consistent, and relay a similar message. People listen to organizational leaders, but they trust their supervisors. If supervisors aren’t on board, that pessimism will be absorbed by staff.

Although at this point, much of the communication falls on managers, that doesn’t mean communication from the sponsor or steering committee, i.e. the “voice from the top,” should stop. Hearing from senior management demonstrates to employees that there’s ongoing buy-in and support from the organization as a whole.

3. Begin knowledge transfer.

As part of your change management strategy, determine whether you have the talent within your organization that possess the knowledge required for your desired changes or whether you’ll need to look outside the organization.

When it comes to ERP software implementations, much of the knowledge comes from the software company, and it’s important for organizations to have a system in place (such as shadowing, etc.) to transfer that knowledge to your staff. It’s up to your organization to determine what type of training would be best suited to your workforce. Note that interactive and hands-on training tends to be more effective than lecture-based.

People learn at different paces, and this provides an opportunity for you to identify individuals who quickly master the new software and processes. Use these early adopters to coach and mentor others. Coaches can be responsible for working with individuals in small groups and one-on-one settings and, by doing so, they’ll help engrain the new standards within your organization.

User groups and forums can also be a great place for staff to discuss issues and hash out problems they might have with the new system or processes, but they shouldn’t replace a clear and formalized training and coaching plan. And be sure staff know who to approach when they have questions.

4. Don’t skimp on recognition.

Recognize team members’ success when they do things properly, the new way. In fact, recognize the progression and accomplishments your team makes even before changes are in place. Know that meaningful recognition varies by person — some prefer one-on-one recognition, whereas others appreciate public acknowledgement. Employees can be recognized in any number of ways — through project email updates, posters, lunches, happy hours, or the opportunity to dress casually on Fridays. Since everyone responds differently, try a range of creative ideas to convey appreciation.

If staff make mistakes during implementation, minimize the negative consequences. People will resist the very process or system you want them to adopt if they feel attacked when they inadvertently do something wrong. Develop a system by which staff can help each other learn and hold each other accountable rather than always being corrected by management. Train-the-trainer approaches that develop accessible subject-matter experts among staff can be useful. Even staff working together in the same functional area can help one another informally, reminding one another how to carry out a new process or transaction.

5. Consider continuous improvement

You may think your ERP change management work is complete following go-live. It’s not. Plan to conduct an audit approximately a year after implementation to assess additional items that may need to be addressed, including further training needs. Starting with go-live, management should routinely be asking employees for feedback on how their teams are employing the new system, including how additional efficiencies might be able to be gained.

The work of ERP change management is never really done. Follow the steps above on an ongoing basis, to ensure your ERP implementation takes root and brings about the successes you’ve set out to achieve.

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