Why People and Business Processes Must Come Together for Change Initiative Success

By Erin Koss, an Andersen Business Consulting Alumni (1993 – 1999), CEO of Syte Consulting Group, Inc.

This article was inspired by a little disagreement about business process optimization.

I’ve guided Syte to be a people-centric consulting firm. I encourage team members to always lead with the heart. So, it was not surprising to me when one of our marketing team members showed me an article that talked about how changing business processes to meet the needs of ERP software can create resistance within the organization.

She said, “People should come before processes. We should write something in response to this article.”

While I admired her enthusiasm, I have a different opinion on the matter.

I don’t believe we should put people before processes. Rather, I believe we should strike a balance that honors both.

In my experience, the keys are being curious, asking good questions, and listening to what people are saying about what they need and why — then balancing that insight with the business’s needs and ERP capabilities. Usually, resistance comes from lack of being heard and understood.

Involving your people in the process of technology change can go a long way toward a successful initiative. In this article, we’re going to take a closer look at the psychology behind that.

The Psychology of Change

Make no mistake, an ERP project is a major change initiative, not just an IT project. And as a change initiative, the organization’s people are going to experience what experts call the change curve.

The change curve is a lot like the stages of grief. It is an emotional journey that each individual goes through as they are introduced to change and learn to adapt to it.

While many leading consulting firms (like McKinsey in this article) advise organizations to lead their people through change, I take a different approach.

In my experience, inviting people to co-create the business process changes is a more effective approach.

By bringing people and business processes together, we can capture expertise and knowledge and weave it into the processes. This results not only in more effective business processes, but also acceptance and buy-in from the people that will be directly affected.

Psychologists back me up on this one. In this white paper from IHI, psychologists suggest that stirring intrinsic motivation (doing something because it’s personally satisfying, not because it’s externally rewarded or punished) creates conditions for people to carry forward with a shared cause.

Hearing Your People Means Being Open to Disagreement

These days, disagreement can be scary. We live in a world with terms like “outrage addiction” and “cancel culture,” and many of us just want everyone to be nice and get along.

But there is value in disagreement.

When we listen to people who disagree with us, and we genuinely consider their viewpoints, we gain the opportunity for true cooperation. Listening to those who disagree with us requires vulnerability — and so does speaking up when we disagree. It is a two-way street to a better human connection. We set an example of collaboration and alignment that can help the entire organization work better together. Listening to others also helps us spot gaps we would not have otherwise noticed.

Not to mention, employees who feel heard are 4.6 time more likely to feel empowered to do their best work. Neuroscientists have found that feeling understood activates regions of the brain associated with reward and social connection — so this isn’t entirely surprising.

In the context of a change initiative like an ERP implementation, listening and understanding (and accepting the risk of disagreement) can take us much further toward business process optimization that not only improves the business, but is readily accepted and adopted by the people who use those processes every day.

Change Takes Courage

The root of the word “courage” is the Latin word for heart: cor. Any change you make to people’s day-to-day processes is going to have an emotional impact, and it takes courage to accept and adapt to it.

When you bring people together with processes, you get better results. People just want an opportunity to have a say in the work issues that directly impact them. Being involved in the process of change will give your people more courage to adapt, and your ERP implementation will go much smoother.

For more on business process mapping with a cross-functional team, check out this article.

Erin Koss, CPA is an Andersen Business Consulting Alumni (1993 – 1999), and CEO of Syte Consulting Group, Inc. She is known for helping family-owned manufacturing companies scale with vision and integrity. Taking a people-first, process and technology readiness approach, Erin and the team at Syte ensure companies are ready to take on big change initiatives like ERP before diving in headfirst. A native to the Pacific Northwest, she enjoys traveling, being outdoors, hiking, biking, rowing, and supporting the local culinary scene. Talk to Erin about preparing your company for sustainable growth.