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SAP Organizational Change Management – The Key to Sustainable Success

Effective SAP organizational change management is a key factor in driving successful business transformation, especially when considering how an SAP implementation typically impacts an organization outside of being a technology project installation. SAP systems are notable for being transformational in nature for most companies that deploy them. This kind of massive system implementation almost always has significant impacts to the ways people work, the way they use their data, how they operate, and how they collaborate. Therefore, when companies focus their investment purely on functionality at the expense of recognizing the people side of change, strong resistance can form that will be challenging to address. A wise leader won’t forget that individuals need to adopt and use the system to ensure the desired business benefits are achieved. After all, if no one uses the system, the chances of attaining a return on the substantial investment are virtually nonexistent.

Learn More About our SAP Change Management Practice

Smart companies balance the people side of change with technical requirements to arrive at a successful solution that not only is elegant in its design but also readily adopted by the end users.

Timing, Scaling, and Communicating 

Addressing change through a holistic approach from beginning to end will prove more successful than adding it as an afterthought while gearing up for end-user training. Change management planning needs to occur early on, during discovery sessions or even before. Understanding the implications of the people side of change can help you from the very beginning of the project, even as early as when you are shaping your vision of the future state.  Good change management techniques can help you craft and articulate that vision in a way that resonates with leadership and end users for early and successful engagement. From the beginning of the project throughout, change management can be leveraged to ensure successful outcomes.

Effective change management also recognizes that different categories of employees engage with the system differently than others, depending on their business role(s). Additionally, how change is addressed will depend on if the company is transitioning from one SAP platform to another, such as HANA to S/4HANA for example, or if the company is moving from a legacy system to SAP.  Companies moving from a variety of manual processes to an SAP platform for the first time may need to address even larger shifts to mindsets and business processes.

Super user networks made up of experienced users and enthusiastic early adopters along with change agent groups should have a key role in communicating to their peers. Rarely does the top-down approach alone succeed in reaching deep enough into the organization to assure an awareness and desire of the new system on the part of the intended end users.  Effective communication, interestingly enough, can affect the quality of questions during end-user training. Rather than individuals being in the dark about basic job functions in the future state, they can focus on “what if” scenarios and meaningful examples from real life and explore how they will look in the new system. While end user training is a vital component of a successful change management strategy, a more holistic strategy that includes stakeholder engagement and communications planning will result in end users being fully aware of what platform they are training on and why they’re training on it rather than feeling forced into an activity that makes no sense to them.

Frequent Reasons that SAP Organizational Change Management Efforts Fail in Implementations

SAP systems have been around for decades, and experience has shown a few common challenges when it comes to enabling users to adapt and adopt. Successful SAP implementations rely heavily on leadership alignment, sponsorship that is active and visible, effective stakeholder management and engagement, organizational readiness, learning opportunities, and post go-live support including the structures and systems to ensure the changes continue in the long term. Change managers must also keep an eye on the health of the project and its effect on team members.  While managing scope creep and project risk is the responsibility of project managers, users will grow skeptical of the success of an effort if they see a project that seems out of control. Missed deadlines and due dates, rushed requirements gathering, and unstable testing environments will chip away at the trust end users – and project team members – have that the initiative will end successfully. Lack of trust builds a fertile environment for resistance.

Here are 3 frequent reasons that hinder organizational change management efforts from being successful:

  1. Lack of, or weak, sponsorship support.
  2. Organizational change management is poorly understood and therefore viewed as a “nice to have”, and therefore the first to be eliminated for budgetary reasons.
  3. Bringing in organizational change management at the tail end of a project where it can only address the delivery of training.

Meeting and Overcoming the Frequent Challenges to Improve the Adoption of Your SAP Implementation

Despite the fact there are many challenges for the people side of change on SAP implementations, if you follow a few best practices, you can overcome the frequent challenges listed above:

  1. Help senior leaders and sponsors understand the significance of the role they play, especially in modeling the new behaviors they want end users to adopt. They might not realize the significant influence they possess and how closely they are watched for what they say and do, especially regarding the SAP implementation. Also keep in mind that some folks might be new to the sponsorship role and have their own “change journey” to go through to learn and master the techniques of effective leadership. Be clear on what you need them to do in the way of sponsorship activities and demonstration of support.
  2. Emphasize the degree to which success of the implementation relies on users adopting the new system and processes and how that affects the chances of attaining the desired business goals of the implementation.  Be clear that change management is more than training, that it aims to reach the hearts and minds of users with the result that the length and depth of any dip in performance is minimized.
  3. Start early – this will ensure the reach of stakeholder engagement and acceptance happens early enough to build strong foundations of trust. Adopting new mindsets, which usually accompanies business transformations, doesn’t happen overnight. Users need time to learn, process, and embrace the new ways of thinking and working. Starting early will provide sufficient runway so that by the time training rolls around, users will be exclaiming, “sign me up!”

Using a good change management approach – one that is scalable and addresses not only the size and complexity of the effort but also takes into consideration the existing culture and organizational readiness – is the foundation for adoption success.

Next Steps in Implementing Your SAP System

Clarkston Consulting helps companies approach SAP organizational change management through our Analyze-Design-Implement-Evaluate-Sustain methodology, tailored to your organization’s industry, nuances, objectives, and culture, tackling many of the challenges noted above. Contact our team of SAP experts to learn more about how we can help.

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Contributions by Rachel Ruth and Maggie Wong

Tags: SAP, Change Management