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Change Management in SAP Projects: How Employees Drive Transformation

Unfamiliar systems, new processes, completely different ways of working: an SAP implementation may unsettle users. That’s why change management is crucial for the success of any IT project, especially in the course of a business transformation. However, if you involve employees correctly and from the start, you turn them into allies and drivers of change. And that’s when opportunity pays off.

Entire industries are repositioning themselves on their intelligent enterprise journey to meet the demand for different approaches to business that did not exist before. Technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) are also fundamentally and increasingly changing the processes. The software for business transformation is being implemented under the leadership of the CIO, sometimes at a rapid pace.

However, the software is ultimately and primarily used by employees who were not involved in the selection process. Many of these employees and managers initially stick to their usual processes and are concerned about what changes an implementation of something such as SAP S/4HANA will concretely mean for their everyday lives. It’s a human reaction, of course, but one whose consequences are often underestimated because work runs less efficiently, more errors can occur, and sometimes even shadow IT is created.

The Human Factor in Change Management

Oliver Kohnke emphasizes the importance of the human component in the change process. As Global Director of Organizational Change Management at SAP Learning Services, he also recommends supporting change management digitally – through virtual workshops or semi-automated surveys and evaluations. He shares two lessons: in IT change projects, especially in the cloud world, we see less degrees of freedom than in other change projects. Efficiency and humanity should not be mutually exclusive.

It’s not just the IT experts who need to understand the new applications – it’s the entire management team and employees, according to Dr. Torben Mauch, head of Change Management at SAP partner Nagarro ES. He knows from experience that a business transformation is only an IT project at first glance. “Thinking in terms of departments and old processes is often a major obstacle,” says Mauch in the EducationNewscast podcast. Change management, he says, needs to do much more than just explain the purpose of an SAP implementation. It should get employees excited about the shared journey, actively involve them in shaping the new processes, and take concerns seriously as well as work to resolve them.

Change affects an organization’s people as well as the organization itself. SAP calls this organizational change management. Ideally, it begins with a change assessment. In the planning phase of the implementation project, interviews and workshops with the most important project participants determine how the organizational structures, roles, and responsibilities within the company already fit with the vision. The next step is evaluating the people affected by the transformation and to what extent change management processes and competencies are in place.

Crisp Communication and a Shared Future

Change agents are then called upon to realize the change management concept. They represent their respective areas in the company, come together in a change network, and exchange and reflect on information about the necessary changes at regular intervals. At least that’s how it went at Evonik, where the chemical company’s SAP S/4HANA migration affected about 15,000 users. “Because of this, we appointed coordinators from various business units and brought them to the table alongside representatives from communications,” explains Vali Maria Bluma, transformation office lead for Operations Excellence at Evonik. “With such a large undertaking, it is important to create clarity on the topic.”

Bluma’s recommendation from this experience is to communicate all important innovations concisely and precisely using figures, data, and facts. This includes how many employees in which regions will be affected. The change agents become liaisons between the management level and the respective departments and are available as contacts and multipliers for both parties.

Division managers often take on the role of a change agent. Anne Charlotte Luchtenveld, head of Talent and Development at Schülke & Mayr, is a case in point. She manages the HR transformation of the disinfectant manufacturer. She sees herself as a strategist, coach, and project manager all in one. “The most important component of a successful IT project is a well-positioned interdisciplinary team that is intrinsically motivated and given the necessary decision-making power and creative freedom,” says Luchtenveld. This clear structure leads to long-term success, she adds.

“If the employer empowers the team and trusts them to work independently, employees are shown enormous appreciation. This has a positive effect on the working atmosphere and encourages employees,” explains Luchtenveld.

Connect Training with Digital Transformation

Anyone who manages people is familiar with the “can-may-will” model. Employees can only fully exploit their potential if they have the necessary skills, if the use of their competencies is actually welcomed and encouraged, and if they are motivated. Change management aims to ensure that employees are able and willing to do so. The ability requires a flexible training strategy. SAP Training and Adoption has developed a holistic approach that works to involve and empower employees equally.

Furthermore, it is important that a transformation is seen as more than just a one-off activity, but as a continuous learning journey. Guido Schlief, head of SAP Services Middle and Eastern Europe, agrees that employees should always have access to information on software updates, new learning material, and background information in order to best meet the latest requirements.

Employees embrace the new software because they recognize not only the benefits for the company, but also for their own work, resulting in adoption and acceptance. They transform from mere users and become “allies,” drivers of change.

And that, in turn, increases the added value of the implementation.

To gain knowledge from industry thought leaders and SAP customers on why focusing on transformation, training, and how to manage them both are key, register now for the Learning Transformation Insights webinar series.

The EducationNewscast podcast provides more inspiration and best practices around change management and training. The above quotes were originally in German. However, you can find English-only channels including all episodes here.


Thomas Jenewein is business development manager for SAP Training and Adoption.