Secrets of senior management buy-in

by 16 Sep 2008

HR professionals often face an uphill battle when it comes to securing management support for HR management systems. In the last of a two-part article, Asta Developments Michael McCullen looks at the steps to success in gaining senior management support

When considering the implementation of a HR management system, the topic of senior management buy-in often raises its head. This is common not only in situations where a company is changing a software system but also where any fundamental change in company practice is involved.

As such, the theories and explanations below can equally apply to HR initiatives such as change to company processes, initiatives to ensure staff retention and effective recruitment. Drawing on the experience of companies that have successfully implemented a new project and resource management system, a number of important steps have been identified in securing senior management support for HR initiatives.

Steps to success

Problem recognition. Management must recognise that resistance to change is a potential problem. There needs to be an acceptance that some management time,budget and internal resources will be needed to deal with this. If the problem is ignored it will cost more to fix later or will result in failure of the implementation.

Clear objectives. Management must have a clearly defined statement of objectives for the system detailing the expected benefits. Without this it will be impossible to determine whether the implementation is a success from a business perspective.

It is useful to include in this statement any reference to existing systems and why they are inadequate for the task. This will help to head off objections from those attached to older systems. Management will have all of this information to hand since it will have been part of the decision making process to acquire the new system but it must be distilled into a format that can be easily understood by staff.

Implementation manager. An internal project manager should be appointed to manage the implementation and this person should be given the necessary authority to enforce any new procedures. In most cases this project manager should work with or indeed be the HR manager of the organisation. Someone who has experience working will all individuals in the company and understanding the various character types, motivations and ambitions of these people.

Review procedures. Existing procedures must be understood and documented and any proposed changes to these procedures not hidden but highlighted and the benefits explained. Work should be done with the vendor or external consultant to understand which processes will be enforced by the new system and which can be adapted and mapped to the existing organisational structure and processes. It is particularly important to document and explain why changes to authority structures or approvals processes are needed. New procedures must be communicated to all personal involved in the planning process.

Involve experts. Highly respected and influential individuals involved in the planning process should be consulted early on in the process and any valid points factored into the final solution.

Communication. All of those whose work is affected by the new system should be briefed about the objectives for the system, the expected outcomes and the timeline for implementation. It should be made clear at this stage that old systems will be removed at a specific time in the future, thereby encouraging everyone to be involved rather than sitting back and thinking they do not have to change. There should be a feedback loop to ensure that everyone involved is given the opportunity to comment if they wish to.

Training. All of those involved in using the new system should be provided with appropriate training for the new system in the context of any new procedures that are to be adopted. A professional vendor will offer role-based training courses to different staff groups and will tailor these to accommodate the organisation’s procedures.

Training should not be a one-off event. Staff turnover often results in new starters attempting to figure out how a system works and learn on the job. Inevitably some expertise is lost with a change of staff and over time this can degrade the performance of the team. In the long run it is simpler and more cost-effective to have new starters properly trained,possibly combining this with a refresher course for existing staff. Management will be aware of average staff turnover levels and should be able to budget for an ongoing training program.

Implementation review team. An internal implementation review team should be established comprising key personnel who will be involved with the new system e.g. project managers, resource/line managers as well as the HR team. Weekly meetings chaired by the implementation manager should be held during the implementation process. The aim of the meetings should be to highlight any perceived problems with the implementation and discuss resolutions. There will be tendency for people to grumble about any new system or procedures so meetings should be kept short and to the point. A list of issues should be maintained and prioritised by the implementation manager, with progress reported at each meeting. There should be an escalation procedure to ensure the system vendor is notified of the most important issues.

Old system shut-down. On a pre-designated date,the old system should be shut down and removed from company hardware, after giving staff reminders in the run up to the date. It is vital that the implementation manager is given backing from senior management for this step. Without it the new system will be undermined and management will fail to realise the benefits they sought for the business.

Vendor clinics. Building on the work done by the implementation review team a good system vendor will offer clinics to review and resolve teething issues. These should be held more frequently just after implementation say monthly for three months and thereafter one or twice per year.

Periodic system review. As the organisation becomes more familiar with the system, the focus switches away from vendor clinics to system review meetings, which are broader in scope and involve senior stakeholders as well as the system vendor. System review meetings provide an opportunity to explore new ways of extracting additional returns from the initial investment.

They also allow important issues to be captured which, if left unaddressed, could gradually degrade system performance. For example, the organisation’s internal procedures or management structure might have changed resulting in a sub-optimal match between the organisation and the system. If this is picked up it can be dealt with and addressed in discussion with the system vendor. The system vendor might be planning to introduce a new software version with features that could be of great benefit to the organisation. Having prior knowledge of this will allow management to evaluate how it will use those new features and to properly plan for the system upgrade.

Help is at hand. Vendors and outside consultants can help with simple and complex change management issues like those mentioned briefly in this article. The soft issues they address can sometimes not be dealt with as easily or quickly by people who are closer to the problem and an outsider can often be a good facilitator of change. The costs are often insignificant when compared with the costs of the failure of the implementation or a protracted and fragmented implementation.

This fact is not always recognised because a daily consulting fee is there for all to see in black and white but the cost to the business of failing implementation is often hidden even though it can cost a business many thousands of dollars in project, resource and process inefficiencies and the delayed realisation of benefits.

Michael McCullen is managing director of Asta Development, a UK-based project management software firm. Additional editing and reviewing by Graham Dix, business manager: resource and project management, AEC Systems.