Professional Management of Resistance to Change (Part 1)

Multinational enterprises should not just think internationally, they must also act internationally. Basic prerequisites for this are business processes and IT architectures that meet ever higher demands. Regardless of whether this requires the implementation of new software or a global system enhancement, the execution of a project of this kind in the SAP environment is a significant challenge for management. Global implementation is complex, expensive, time-consuming, and never runs completely smoothly.


In addition to these “classical” problems of large-scale projects, practically every international SAP rollout initially struggles to win even slight acceptance on the part of those affected. While an SAP implementation within a subsidiary of a group may result in considerable changes, such as the political inclusion of previously independent “fiefdoms”, the problems are heightened in an international SAP rollout because of intercultural concerns. Thus changes require acceptance – and this is lacking in both the IT departments and among the specialist departments and various user groups.


As a rule, the success of any global SAP project is highly dependent on the willingness of subsidiary employees to become involved. They are generally confronted with significant organizational changes, such as the reorganization of the organizational and process structure. The change process requires them to alter the way they think and act. Resistance grows precisely because the direct contact between the central project and the globally dispersed people affected is lacking to a much greater degree than in national or regional projects, and the organizational opposition to change is also underestimated. As a result, many employees are worried that they may not be able to master the new software, and stubbornly try to avoid having to deal with it.

Change management is more than just a sideline task


The most important starting points for project change management are to eliminate resistance and create acceptance for the new working methods and SAP solutions, and then to ensure lasting change. Change management is therefore not a sideline task but one of the central tasks in an international project environment. In the context of a global SAP rollout, this means not just exchanging subject-related information and project details with the relevant decision-makers and user groups, but also providing convincing arguments in favor of the solution within the company, and in particular, specifically motivating and supporting local managers and users to ensure their acceptance of the changes. Without this goal, change management cannot be sufficiently effective.
The following are factors for success in every SAP rollout:

Create a common direction

The project should contain an appealing and understandable vision and should have the support of executive management. Both elements can be supported by a number of information and communication measures.

Win acceptance

One basic prerequisite for the success of a project is that the employees concerned are convinced of the effectiveness and purpose of the changes. This is achieved most easily by explaining clearly why the project is needed and how it will benefit their own areas.

Expand skills

The employees affected must be informed about the forthcoming changes, so that they can carry them through. Training is therefore a fundamental aspect of change management.

Ensure a uniform understanding of the project

The members of the central and local project organization teams have an important communication and multiplication function. A common direction and acceptance are easier to achieve if the project team communicates to the affected employees with “one voice”.

Make the results accessible

At the start of a project, the change is not yet real. It is often difficult for the employees to imagine the new situation, and as a result, it is important to make results visible and accessible as soon as possible.

Ensure lasting change

Changes will only last if the organizational framework is also modified and new ways of thinking and acting are actively strengthened. Employees must also be able to live the changes.


These factors for success are all the more applicable in international projects. The particular challenge of international change management is to ensure that all those involved are striving for the same things, by ensuring a common direction in the project. An understanding of the project and its effects across the group and therefore on a global scale is therefore the benchmark for successful multiplication of the change processes.


Change management must take account of the fact that, compared to national projects, international SAP rollouts also involve some different and additional problems of acceptance, because of their different structure. Project managers must recognize these problems and understand their effects, so that they can intervene in good time where necessary:

  • A mix of contrasting mentalities, different ways of thinking and working, and different roles.
  • The project language is not the mother tongue – a certain loss of information is inevitable.
  • International conditions: Specific geographical and infrastructure features such as distances, economic and political features, national legislation, country-specific markets, organizations, and business practices, and other culturally dependent factors.

Marcus Woehe

Martin Mitterer

Oliver Kohnke

Frank Rothenspieler