06 March 2006

Is It Really Just A Matter of Learning the Software?

Since I work in an enterprise application training and consulting firm, many discussions that I have with clients revolve around training questions and issues about improving employees' productivity.

Last week I was chatting with a company's training director. He freely admitted that, with a predominantly soft skills training background, he felt somewhat out of his realm of expertise when the topic of ERP training arose. Yet, he asked a question that no one has ever asked me before.

"What makes ERP training different from other kinds of computer or technical training?" It was a great question and one that deserves serious discussion.

My answer at the time centered on two areas. The first difference related to the breadth and depth of change that can occur in people's work when an ERP system is implemented. The second difference had to do with the skill mix of a successful ERP trainer.

The entire fabric of an organization is rewoven at the point that a company implements an ERP application. This “reconstruction” to accommodate a software application can change the company’s organizational structure, business processes, as well as the daily tasks of its employees. I know of no other undertaking that can so profoundly alter a workplace as an ERP application. I’ve heard various accounts of people who have left jobs they loved to avoid the disruption of an implementation or upgrade.

I recall working with an organization several years ago that was implementing a purchasing solution from a major ERP software vendor. As a result of automating many of the procurement-related tasks and having the ability to incorporate business rules into the processing and workflow, the buyers in the Purchasing department were told that they would no longer be responsible for creating requisitions or purchase orders under a certain amount. That would be handled by the Purchasing system. Instead, they would be more involved with analyzing purchases and reporting on spending trends, reviewing supplier contracts, and monitoring blanket PO compliance. Needless to say, the buyers in that department had stunned expressions after that news was delivered. Despite the fact that some of them had worked 10 years or more as clerks, now they were expected to function as analysts.

A skilled ERP trainer can make a tremendous difference in how well a company’s employees embrace a new system. What makes a skilled ERP trainer? The answer can be summed up in three phrases — multiple domains of knowledge, working comprehension of adult learning issues, and a good sense of humor and humility.

Let’s look at the first phrase, “multiple domains of knowledge.” It is easy to find an organization that has a horror story about an ERP trainer who knew nothing about the domain, say it was accounting, or knew everything about accounting and was clueless about the software. There is also the situation where a client will say, “You know, he was OK. His knowledge of accounting was fine. He seemed to know the software, but he wouldn’t take the time to understand how we do business.” If an ERP trainer cannot wrap his mind around your company’s ways of doing business as well as have a solid understanding of the subject matter and demonstrate the software application comfortably, he will not train effectively.

Trainers who are working with adults need to have a thorough understanding of various adult learning theories, learning styles, and motivations for learning. Without this comprehension, a trainer can easily deliver instruction that is perceived as irrelevant, unrealistic, or worse, insulting. Furthermore, the deep understanding of adult learning issues coupled with the capability of taking that knowledge and using it to train a company’s employees effectively is one of the chief reasons that many ERP consultants do not make good trainers.

A good sense of humor is essential for any trainer. Humility is vital for an ERP trainer. Why? It is impossible to know everything. ERP and its impact on an organization is so complex and pervasive, there is no way to know in advance all the particular ways that it might affect a company’s operations. An ERP trainer must be capable of saying, “That’s a terrific question and I don’t have the answer at the moment. I shall, however, find the answer and get back to you.” The trainer with a good sense of humor who can laugh at himself is someone who can work productively with a company’s employees and help overcome the hurdle of ERP.

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