Employee Experiences with an ERP Implementation – Practice Transparent Communication
In the fifth blog post installment on the topic of my research with employee experiences with ERP implementations, I’ll discuss the next recommendation made for company leadership who are undertaking these projects. As companies frequently see an increase in the amount of employee turnover during these projects, the objective of this research was to understand the employee experiences with ERP implementations and whether there are factors related to retention and satisfaction that companies should be mindful of during that process.
To recap, the four recommendations made in this series so far have included:
- Recommendation 1 - Recognize that ERP transformations re-design jobs, and proactively maintain or add elements to jobs that are intrinsically motivating.
- Recommendation 2 - Ensure that excellent project management skills are practiced throughout the implementation process.
- Recommendation 3 - Provide mechanisms for employees to participate with, and provide input on, the project and related decisions.
- Recommendation 4 - Ensure employees continue to have access to adequate personal, material, and social resources as the implementation process inevitably increases their workload. Closely monitor indicators of employee burn-out and disengagement.
With the five sets of employee experiences that were gathered, I continue on to the next recommendation:
Recommendation 5 - Regularly Practice Good, Honest, and Transparent Communication to and Interaction with Those Whose Jobs will be Affected
Communicate openly and frequently about project status, objectives, and milestones; and provide good explanations when objectives or milestones are revised.
Communication. This topic encompasses three themes that were common across the interviews: choice, voice, and involvement, information and decision transparency, and timelines and project delays.
Research has found that employees throughout an ERP implementation timeline viewed communication as having a high impact on system acceptance as it aided in minimizing user resistance.1 All of the participants addressed the extent to which their access to information, the quality and frequency of the communication, and transparency had an effect on their experiences throughout the implementation project. Kim, Chris, Jenny, and Miles had relatively poor experiences with this topic, while Sean indicated that he generally felt he was kept informed about the progress and milestones of the project. Chris provided an example of how his experiences with his company’s decision-making transparency affected him:
“If I had any input on things I would have completely changed how we did the whole thing. It was just so inconsistent; we never heard anything. We never got much word of why things were happening, or why the decisions that were made, were being made. It just seemed like this super-secret project at times and that was really hard to deal with.“
He described his management team as being inadequate and inconsistent with communication regarding the status of the project and milestones, and that this negatively affected people’s attitudes towards the project. This lack of communication leads people to question whether “something else was going on,” raising suspicions that perhaps the project was being put on hold or that the company was being acquired.
Kim shared she had feelings of anxiety as she frequently did not know what was going on with the project that related to her department. She also voiced frustration about not being able to communicate her team’s needs to her satisfaction. Miles voiced similar experiences with inconsistencies in his exposure to information during the project:
“We rarely had many conversations about specifics or how things [were] going to work, but then every once in a while I'd get pulled into conversations... “what do we need, what do we want,” specifics on what we want it to look like... deciding which avenue we want to take with it, with a pros/cons list… They're all gung-ho about for a week and then you never hear about it for a while... you wonder if anything was done with it...”
He shared that he often felt “out of touch” with the current status of the project, adding that people similarly viewed the project negatively due to a lack of communication.
The notion of “information adequacy” states that the availability of information about company policies, objectives, and strategies is a significant predictor of both employee job satisfaction and the perceptions of the work environment.2 All of the participants discussed ways in which the feelings of trust in management and job satisfaction were effected by expectations, access to information, communication, and transparency. They also expressed how project attitudes, challenges, and fatigue affected their (and their coworkers’) morale and engagement.
Leadership Needs to Reduce Questions of "Why?"
Because these are all exogenous reactions and are more difficult to control as a company, the key message for leadership is to reduce questions of “why.”
Implementation projects are a difficult, stressful, and important undertaking, and there is a clear need to ensure proper communication and transparency in order to create a level of shared understanding. The fifth recommendation for leadership, therefore, is to participate regularly in good, honest, and transparent communication and interaction with those whose jobs will be affected. Communicate openly and frequently about project status, objectives, and milestones; and provide good explanations when objectives or milestones are revised. Project delays and challenges are an unfortunate, unwelcome event, but it is important to be aware and mindful of the impact on employee attitudes and keep them informed and engaged. The less opportunity there is for employees to question why an event occurred or what the implications would be for them personally, the greater the opportunity there is to maintain engagement and momentum.
Represent the Project in a Positive Light
In particular, core team members should be encouraged to represent the project in a positive, optimistic light as research demonstrates people are likely to inherit the attitudes and behaviors of other group members.3 Employees will naturally turn to core team members for insights into what is going on, and whether they seem negative, frustrated, or stressed. This is not to suggest that leadership should be untruthful about what is going on; information can be presented in a positive, albeit honest, manner.
Company leadership should also understand that such transparency needs to be tailored one way for people who work primarily in the main office and another for those who work remotely or in satellite offices. Different groups of people in different sites do not have the same level of information at their fingertips, and while providing an abundance of content may seem to be a useful strategy for some, it could easily become overwhelming for others and subsequently ignored. The recommendation, therefore, emphasizes the need to tailor the message to the specific needs of the employee audience.
Communication should be conducted in a direct and understandable manner and communication events should solicit input and feedback from employees. As trust is central to the network of antecedent conditions for engagement4, engaged employees need to make the information presented to them personally meaningful. This can be accomplished through dialogue and feedback about that information.
References used in this research:
1Sternad, S., & Bobek, S. (2013). Impacts of TAM-based External Factors on ERP Acceptance. Procedia Technology, 9, 33-42.
2Woo, S. E., & Maertz, C. P. (2012). Assessment of Voluntary Turnover in Organizations: Answering the Questions of Why, Who, and How Much. (N. Schmitt, Ed.) The Oxford Handbook of Personnel Assessment and Selection, 1-42.
3Katzell, R. A., & Thompson, D. E. (1990, February). Work Motivation - Theory and Practice. American Psychologist, 45(2), 144-153.
4Macey, W. H., & Schneider, B. (2008). The Meaning of Employee Engagement. Industrial and Organizational Psychology, 1, 3-30.