For our latest Blog, I talked with KCS Executive Vice President-North America Alan Cross and Houston Director of Operations Jonathan Lindle about one of the most critical concerns among distributors considering a new business software solution. Implementation.
They encourage distributors to take a different approach when it comes to tackling such a major decision and project. Rather than looking at it as a software adoption project, Cross suggests distributors consider the process from a change management perspective.
“When a company’s leaders decide to introduce a new ERP solution to drive their business,” he said, “it is because they know their business needs to change, needs to grow, and needs to be more competitive with the use of technology.”
Lindle added, “In reality, it doesn’t matter if a distributor is making an acquisition, building a warehouse, remodeling their showroom or implementing a new ERP system. Most of us are creatures of habit. And let’s be honest, there are a lot of people who get uncomfortable at just the thought of change — especially when it comes to using new technology. The biggest concern I hear from distribution executives is whether they’ll be able to maintain the same volume of business and level of service — or if it will bring them to their knees.”
However, there is a big leap between wanting to change and executing change. Nearly everyone has heard at least one story about a software implementation gone wrong. So, understandably, business owners and investors may be reluctant to embark on a path to introduce new technologies. They often have the fear of having a similar experience that could have serious financial consequences.
Distributors who can overcome that fear have a better chance of capitalizing on opportunities to achieve long-term growth and profitability by giving their team the strategic tools they need to perform at their full potential.
A new mindset
Cross believes there are key driving factors to achieving a successful implementation that go beyond simply having a project plan. Much of that involves communication. Distributors also need to be mindful that they still have a business to run and customers to serve while implementing the new ERP system. Drive, determination and optimism must go hand-in-hand with realism. With that in mind, following is the blueprint that Cross & Lindle believe is essential to achieve a successful result.
• Executive support — Most companies don’t have a bottomless pit of resources, and a software implementation will undoubtedly put an additional burden on the project team to do more than their ‘day job.’ They will have to work harder, and probably longer hours, to accomplish their everyday duties while learning a new system that likely will change some of the methods of accomplishing their responsibilities.
A staff is motivated by a strong leadership they can believe in. They need to see that the people running the company want this change, and are backing this change — and them. “Leaders need to take a visible, hands-on role during the process,” explained Lindle. “That visible executive leadership and communication is one of the fundamental make-or-break factors that will determine if staff will embrace the new solution.”
Cross agreed, adding “The process flows so much more smoothly when there is regular communication with and among staff. When leadership is transparent and engaged, the team will react accordingly. Everyone needs to be on board during the implementation and training process. There shouldn’t be any mystery among the team when it comes to what the company is trying to accomplish and the positive impact this transition will have throughout the organization.”
• Adopt a realistic timeline — Project leaders need to be realistic when planning the implementation timeline. There is a danger if it is too aggressive, is continuously pushing back the go-live date, or if the process is so drawn out that staff becomes frustrated and disengaged.
“Management needs to have an honest reflection of both the capability and capacity of their team,” suggested Cross. Lindle added, “The business must continue operating successfully and profitably through the project. So staff has to have adequate time for project-related tasks — especially during testing and the go-live. It’s absolutely essential for the project leaders to consider staff availability and plan accordingly. It’s all about maintaining the momentum and excitement for the go-live.”
• Embrace the new stuff! - One of the key barriers to adopting a new ERP is the “We-have-always-done-it this-way syndrome.” There can be some resistance to go in a new direction when staff have been so used to working a certain way.
“But in truth,” said Lindle, “much of that is brought on because the staff doesn’t want to let the company down. Most employees want to be part of something exciting, fresh and new, as well as demonstrate a real ambition to embrace change and help the company be successful.”
He went on to say, “Typically, business processes are designed, built and evolve over time, but they are heavily impacted by individuals’ preferences — and often shortcomings in their current software. In effect, staff has found ways to work around poor processes, and over time this has become custom and normal practice. It may take some adjustment, but staff will appreciate the opportunities they’ll have to improve their efficiency and productivity — not to mention the overall effect the software will offer across the business.”
Distributors may have recognized the inefficiencies or shortcomings of the existing processes and want to address this with the new software.
“That’s great in the board room,” noted Cross, “but the success of the project rests with how the new software is adopted by the employees who use the technology day in and day out. This means taking the time to review the processes and ask ‘why do we do them this way?’ And it’s critical that those staff members are included in the process. They may well be the biggest advocates for change, so distributors want them to be able to quickly identify with the advantages of the new system.
“I have a saying that sums up this point bluntly” Cross added. “Don’t put lipstick on a pig. If you put new ‘shiny’ software on an inefficient process, you will still be left with an inefficient process.”
• Communicate — Staff surveys typically reveal that communication is among the top three things they want the company to improve upon. An ERP conversion project is a prime example of how important communication and transparency are for successful results.
As Lindle described, “You want your team to feel that they’re making an important contribution and that they are part of the solution. This is the ideal opportunity to let them know about any changes that are going to be made — and why.”
Business owners should have a horizon beyond the core project team and consider the staff who, in the long-term, will be responsible for using the software.
“I always say the success of the project does not rest in the board room but at the branches, in the warehouse and with the staff whose everyday job is serving the customer,” Cross advised. “When you ignore these people, it is at your company’s peril.”
• Engage and value the team — The additional workload imposed on employees should not be overlooked or understated. Cross noted that distributors often uncover a hidden gem during this process.
“It’s a time that employees can step up to show the company and leadership what they’re capable of,” Cross described. “Like the old saying goes, ‘the cream rises to the top.’ Many distributors have been surprised at the depth of talent they’ve already got within their organization. This process can help identify the additional strengths that members of their team may possess, and find better ways to make use of those talents within the organization.”
You cannot and should not hide from the fact that implementing a new ERP solution is hard work, time consuming and often stressful. It’s the glue that holds all operational areas and functions together. The process should not be underestimated, but also should not be feared. ERP implementations can successfully achieve their objectives when distributors select the right service provider to partner with, build a blueprint like that suggested above, and be committed to the project. When presented correctly, an engaged workforce all striving to grow the company and streamline their functions will embrace the changes brought by the new software.
“We want distributors to be able to flip the switch at go-live, not have any unexpected glitches, and ensure that customers are comfortable performing their functions with the new solution,” described Cross. “If they’re not, we’ll do any additional training they need to get there. We take a personal approach in walking our customers through every step of the implementation. And that type of service does not end with the sale. We’re a true business partner and believe that their success is our success.”
Lindle concluded by saying, “It is extremely rewarding when customers come back later and tell us that everything we promised was true — that the process really was seamless and not at all what they were expecting. In fact, one of our most recent customers told us they recorded their biggest-ever month of sales the same month they went live, and that even with that high volume of transactions, it all went smoothly. That is a credit to our entire team, and the emphasis that we all place on service.”
BY MARY JO MARTIN
Note: Click here to read an interview with one of Mincron’s newest customers, who describes his pleasant surprise at the smooth experience of his company’s implementation.