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Technology Infrastructure Project Not Fulfilling Promise? Look to Misalignment and Leadership

CRM implementation. ERP system change. Collaboration tool initiative. All these are examples of large technology and operational projects that companies initiate to streamline their business, enhance processes and serve customers more effectively. Why does it seem as though these projects have a hard time realizing their potential?

Poor alignment and a lack of leadership commitment and communication are primary factors.

Let me give you a personal example of separate ERP projects done by two sister companies I was connected with, one in the US and one in the UK.

The US story

The US company was much larger than the UK, but their operational workflows were similar. They were both migrating from old legacy systems that managed the business. Old data on customers and orders were put in various fields with no consistency. Phone numbers and email addresses were held in free form notes fields.

The US company took great pains to prepare each impacted function for what this ERP migration meant to them, what the benefit would be and how they may have to adjust how they conducted their business. One of the most impacted areas was the order-to-cash function. The order processing and customer service areas knew they would have a really hard time being successful at their jobs in the new environment if they didn’t take care of the garbage they put into the system over the years. Leadership worked with every level to map out what needed to be done and to get input on how processes could be modified to make things smooth in the new world. These conversations were coordinated with the technology teams involved to make certain what the ERP was going to be able to do after implementation and the functions knew what they needed to accomplish to fit within the technology.

A communication committee was created with all impacted areas to discuss how things would be changing and to set up how internal and external communications could be initiated to make the launch successful.

Obviously, the implemetation wasn’t perfect and the ERP was regularly updated to meet the needs of the business, but disruptions were kept to a minimum (including having management in the fulfillment area to make certain product got shipped). Customers weren’t greatly impacted.

The UK Story

The UK story was different. The first difference was that the UK chose to not use the same version of the ERP system the US did, rejecting all the experience and modifications that occurred.

The UK company also chose not to modify their processes to fit the system, nor did they work to clean up their data to keep garbage out of the new system. Leadership was involved in committee meetings, but there was little interest in committing to the process as the ERP change was placed upon them by the parent company.

In fact, as the ERP was ready to launch with known issues, a go-no go meeting was called for the top leadership involved to discuss what the potential ramifications would be. Half of the leadership made the meeting. And, even though the ones that were there understood the business-critical issues that would likely result from turning on the ERP, they chose to move forward.

Product didn’t ship out for 6 weeks because the system didn’t have enough address lines available to populate the entire address on a label. The system refused to print out packing slips and address labels and move the order out the door. For several months, shipping problems continued as the company tried to clean out some garbage in the system.

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Conclusion

There were interesting leadership components with each scenario. In the US example, the desire to implement the ERP was internal as opposed to coming fron the parent company. For the UK, the parent demanded it, but they didn’t work to understand the UK’s potential motivations for making such a change, nor did they support them in their efforts to manage the process with help from them or the US company. The US company understood the likely impact of the change and made conscious efforts to get in front of the situation. The UK team didn’t want any part of it and made decisions in accordance with that attitude.

The bottom line…The US company knew how they couldn’t fulfill their mission the way they were going and made the commitment to engage in the process with their mission in mind. Leadership was engaged and they took that down to all levels. The UK didn’t embrace how the new ERP could enhance the mission and actively pushed against it, to their – and their customers’ – deep detriment.

As you look to make a, potentially, business changing decision, make certain you understand how such a decision supports and aligns to your mission and how everyone will work together to implement the solution on time, on budget, without a great deal of customer distruption and set to take the organization to the next level. If you don’t….well.

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