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Successful ERP Transition and the 5 Stages of Grief

Amy Psaris
By Amy Psaris, PE, MBA, SSBB Continuous Improvement Director, Brunswick Boat Group

Even in the best circumstances, change is difficult for companies. I experienced this at a previous employer when we were transitioning to a new global Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system. Project leaders recognized the need for change management, and I was assigned to the challenging role of “change agent.”

As with any major change, people were affected as the status quo changed, and I recognized that there was an analogy to the “five stages of grief.” If you’ve ever lost someone near to you, you will recognize this process. But how did it manifest in a corporate environment and what did it mean for managing change at our company? The five stages of grief are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Here’s how our team experienced them in our ERP transition.

First was denial. We did exhaustive training to prepare people for the new system. However, during the training and up to the day before we went live, many people felt the rollout wasn’t going to happen. I can’t say I blame them: The roll-out schedule had changed several times. When the day did come, though, many were shocked! Their attitudes showed they didn’t really believe we were going to stick with it. We still made it through the first few days, getting system logons working and setting up printers. It didn’t go too badly, and most people started getting on board.

Then we came to the second stage: anger. In our corporate environment, I saw this more as frustration. Many folks in the organization had been using the legacy 1990s ERP system for their entire careers and knew their way around it like typing on a QWERTY keyboard. The inability to immediately get the information they desired and perform transactions created frustration. As the deployment lead, I often let people vent and talked them through the steps to build their confidence. We pulled out training materials, tried things and sometimes had to ask our technical team questions to get things worked out.

In this environment, the third stage—bargaining—was a continuation of the frustration. Some of our strongest performers tried to design shortcuts and workarounds to make the new system act like the old one. This was a threat to the health and functionality of the new system. Some of the reporting and new IIoT functionality required using the new ERP as designednot trying to make it work like the old one.

Moving On to the Next Stage

Fortunately, the bargaining staged waned, but many people then moved into a “giving up” mentality in the fourth stage, depression. This was a critical juncture to move the team to success with the new system. Workarounds developed in the bargaining stage can persist if leadership does not support the team through this difficult step. In our experience, the leadership team had been through a lot of planning before the rollout, had seen the rollout implemented, and were starting the rollout process at the next implementation site. However, diligence and support were needed to move the team through this stage.

We pushed through this stage with continued training and support and arrived at acceptance. Team members became comfortable with the new system and started using it productively. Growth and learning were still needed to use the new system to its full advantage, and team members were finally ready to do that. To support this, we highlighted continuous improvement and excellent results to encourage team members.

Transitions like this one emulate loss to employees who are comfortable with existing systems. Recognizing that this loss can follow the five stages of grief associated with any loss can support a successful transition.

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