15 July 2007

ERP projects and business process

Perhaps some folks who read this blog will be aware of the work of Dr. Thomas H. Holmes and Dr. Richard H. Rahe. I came across their research on life events and their effects for the first time in the early 1980’s. Holmes and Rahe created something called the Social Readjustment Rating Scale (SRRS). It is a list of 43 most universal events that may occur in a person’s life and can cause stress. Each event is assigned a numerical value called a Life Change Unit (LCU).

The feature that caught my attention with these events is that major business readjustment (i. e., reorganization), addition of a family member, and sexual difficulties all have the same LCU value, 39. Pregnancy has an LCU of 40, while a major change in responsibilities at work has a value of 29. Now Holmes and Rahe maintained that if, over 12 months’ duration, the total LCU value of events in an individual’s life exceeded a value of 150, there was a 51% increase in the possibility of stress related illness.

If one person in an organization experiences illness due to work-related stress, how will that affect productivity overall? The effect may be minimal. If several are affected, a definite drop in productivity can, and probably will, occur. A colleague on a mail list that I subscribe to made the following observations, which relates tangentially to the stress-illness discussion.

What I have experienced first hand, is that companies that stress a good life/work balance have employees that... in short, are in-love with their companies.

By in-love, I mean that they exude an enthusiasm for their work and their company that is infectious. Working with such employees is energizing, I walk away from such encounters as an advocate for the company.

On the flip side, I worked with other well-known companies in which the employees see themselves as victims of their [company’s] policies. The guilt of missing a baseball game or time with their families feeds a poison which also is infectious and permeates their work and culture. I walked away from these experiences with a bad taste in my mouth, which follows me when I encounter the company’s products or services.
While Jeff is talking in terms of life/work balance, I think that this is a significant component of the work-related stress discussion. In an ERP implementation (or migration or upgrade) there is no work-life balance! Teams, both the client’s and the consultants, are working incredible amounts of hours in a day, easily 10 to 14. This isn’t for one day or a week or a month. This schedule can last for several months, sometimes a year. I’ve watched project managers praise the efforts and accomplishments of these teams. What I haven’t observed is their recognition of the stress involved when a parent must bring a child into work at night because the team must make a deadline and there is no one at home.

In the last couple of days a several colleagues have sent e-mail reminding me that either “we change and grow or stagnate and die.” I am in complete agreement. As I mentioned in my earlier post, change is necessary. For companies to sustain their competitive advantage, business change and transformation are crucial.

What I am questioning is: Do we have a responsibility, as trusted advisers and consultants to companies that are embarking on programs designed to bring more change, and therefore stress, into their employees’ lives, to help management appreciate, plan for, and take action regarding mitigation of the more destructive effects of the stress that can arise from constant business change and process improvement?

As always, I am interested in knowing what you think of this discussion. Feel free to respond here or send me e-mail at faun@fmtsystems.com


Anonymous said...

Of course we have the responsibility to "...to help management appreciate, plan for, and take action .." but the key here is the word help. We can't make them do any of those things. How often have you encountered a client who refused to do serious change management training or refused to allow people the opportunity to express their opinions about the impact of the proposed changes? I have been told "We are all about change. We have always had to change to survive. My people understand this and practice it every day. They don't need any more training and if they have something to say, they know to speak up." It is ot uncommon to hear the team members of that manager say "They don't really want to tell us how it impacts us because they know we won't like it. If we speak up and ask for the training or make critical comments about the project, we'll be history. They really don't understand that we can't do our regular job and do this too. It's too much."

I have even worked for an IT executive who made certain that the users went through Change Management training, then spouted similar words to the manager above regarding his own team. As if IT was better prepared, by nature, to go through significant change.

Threats make change happen, but only communication and motivation make it effective.

Faun deHenry said...

I have no argument with anything that you have said here. We've all had encounters with "that kind of client."

Looking back on my experiences where a client opted for little or no change management activities, I can't help but wonder if there was something else I might have said or done to impress upon the senior managers that helping employees work effectively and productively with changes and transitions costs less than having them resist or leave.

Dot's comment in "Choice and Change" about employees leaving rather than endure an ERP system implementation or upgrade speaks indirectly to the cost of losing employees due to lack of preparation for changes and transitions. Also, business researchers have amassed sufficient data that tells us the cost of employee retention is lower than recruitment and replacement of employees.

Why do managers persist in believing that their company will be the one that ignores their employees change and transition issues without cost to the organization? It reminds me of the magical thinking that one sees in small children. -- Faun