change in a business

When Change Is The Only Constant

When I set out to change the way we did business at Messer Truck Equipment, I knew it would be hard. (Anything worth doing usually is.) But I underestimated how difficult it would be to shift the direction of a 117-year-old company that had never experienced anything like it. 
 
Global leadership expert Robin Sharma is spot on when he says “Change is hard at first, messy in the middle and gorgeous in the end.” I think we have just entered the middle.
 

Changing Systems

Changing business software is never easy. You replace the old, comfortable system with something completely unknown and then expect everyone to carry on business as usual. But if you really want to make things painful, add a software change while a massive lean transformation is already in progress! I knew we needed to ditch our existing accounting software. The business had grown too complex and the need for real-time data forced the issue. In hopes of building a scalable lean business enterprise, I decided to search for a complete Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solution, instead of just replacing the accounting software. Quickly realizing there is no off-the-shelf solution for my niche industry, I adopted a “best-of-breed” mentality—sourcing different individual software that would work best for a truck equipment upfitter.
 
When we went live with Phase 1 of our ERP solution, which included new accounting and warehouse management software, we had more than a fair share of hiccups. We had our previous software operating in the background as a crutch, but this only helped with prior transactions and inventory pricing. All transactions were to be run in the new system and the learning curve was steep! 
 
A sampling of issues that showed on Day 1: Part numbers missing, sales tax not being calculated automatically on the invoices, chunks of accounts receivable data missing... Needless to say, but it was not business as usual. As the issues multiplied, the stress level of the staff also increased, culminating with two staff members walking off the job. After hearing their concerns and helping them realize the pain was only temporary, both individuals resumed their work.
 

Lessons Learned

Change is tough, but it’s even tougher when communication is lacking. People fear what they do not know.  I’m at fault for not fully explaining the impending changes to the entire team —telling the complete story of why we needed to make the upgrade, how the implementation would be done, and how much better life would be when the change was complete. Each individual also needed to know how they would be affected and what their role would look like on the other side. Much of the fear could be combated with knowledge. Proper communication would have helped prepare people for the coming change. I had one long time team member ask, “We recently got a new phone system, the flow in the shop is different, and now our software has changed. When will the changes end?” My response, “Never.”
 
Yes, change is messy in the middle, but change is also inevitable. The need for change will never go away, so instead, I need to focus on communicating with my team to limit the fear and resistance. I believe authors James Belasco and Ralph Stayer were spot on when they said “Change is hard because people overestimate the value of what they have and underestimate the value of what they may gain by giving that up.”