By Sashirekha Ramachandran & Caroline Roberts
According to the Boston Consulting Group, 75% of organisational change efforts don’t deliver the anticipated results. A similar failure rate also applies to software implementations, regardless of the capabilities of the software or the experience of the solution provider.
Why? Because firms often under-estimate the change management (people work) required for a successful software deployment. Effective transformation requires alignment and collaboration among people, processes, and technology.
Not just a finance project
Accounts payable automation is not just a finance project as deployment impacts related business units – such as procurement, logistics, IT and more – as well as end users organisation-wide. Therefore, a cross-functional team should work on the business requirements, solution design and vendor selection, so all key stakeholders are engaged in the process.
Other departments may also need to get involved with the implementation as technology should be just one component of a broader change program. For example, human resources and internal communications may also have a role to play in driving culture change, addressing spending practices, and encouraging user adoption.
Make the case for change
An automation solution will typically require a business case, identifying the need for change and providing the financials to support it. It should position the current cost of processing against the price of an automation solution so firms can then calculate their pay-back period and return on investment.
While cost reduction makes the case for change compelling, it’s not the only reason to automate accounts payable. Other benefits to highlight include better spend control and financial management, business continuity, and doing the right thing by employees, suppliers, and customers.
Specifically, how an automation product relieves specific pain points for a business needs to be well defined. With this positioning, end users can be confident that the solution will not replace them, but rather enable them to add greater value and achieve more in their roles.
Communicate to allay fears
With AP automation, resistance to change may be because of:
- Fear of job loss,
- Lack of confidence learning a new system,
- Negative prior experience with a software deployment.
Communication is key to alleviating concerns and supporting employees through the change. This should take different forms to achieve cut through, with key messages reiterated across various channels – one on ones, team meetings, email newsletters, intranet and more, as applicable.
Most vital, though, are open and honest discussions between managers and their employees. Agile methods like daily stand-ups allow for ongoing conversation and review of new variables as they emerge. This more casual approach brings greater authenticity, allows for two-way contact, and helps employees move forward with the change.
A communication strategy should also be written, providing a timeline for change messages, detailing how the change will be communicated, identifying which channels or mediums to use, and including how feedback will be managed.
Training, upskilling and career development
In addition to regular communication, staff need training on how to use the product and service. Even with a highly intuitive off-the-shelf solution, it’s important to make sure everyone knows how to use the product correctly and to full effect. Many software vendors adopt a ‘train the trainer’ approach to help embed system expertise and ownership within the company.
It’s critical that employees understand they’ll receive structured or informal training to teach them the skills and information they’ll need to operate effectively. A suite of micro-learning online courses, or a blended learning method including face-to-face training sessions or on-the-job coaching and mentoring, can be used for training too.
Upskilling and setting career development plans is another important part of the change process. With automation lightening the load for accounts payable staff, the scope of some roles may change, or it may be appropriate to redeploy some employees. Creating career development pathways for staff may lead to ready acceptance of the software, heightened employee engagement, and ultimately increased business value.
With all change initiatives it’s important to celebrate wins. This generates positivity and goodwill while encouraging more people to get behind the project. Quick wins demonstrate that change is possible, no matter how mundane. People who say ‘that’s how it’s always been’ now understand that it doesn’t have to be that way. There has been a transformation. Why can’t another thing change now that one has?
Certainly, significant project milestones and, of course, go-live should be celebrated. A simple gesture to acknowledge that everyone on the team contributed to this success – and that their continued dedication is needed to achieve organisational goals – goes a long way.
Results should also be showcased as these successes demonstrate the value of the automation solution and everyone’s efforts to support it. However, these figures can also typically be improved upon over time; many products and services measure performance across the accounts payable function, recording metrics such as:
- Cost to process a single invoice,
- Invoice exception rate,
- Percentage of documents linked to a purchase order, and more
With this data, accounts payable can set key performance indicator targets and measure their success against them. With visibility into the AP process, staff can take action to lower the rate of invoice exceptions, increase touchless processing, speed approval times, and lower costs. Promoting these wins motivates other staff and helps to embed culture change around spending practices.
Tips for change management success:
- Adopt a ‘test-and-learn’ strategy to achieving alignment and buy-in; the vision will rarely be the same from the start to the end of a change project.
- Accept changing requirements and adjust change efforts or even the change vision itself, if necessary, to ensure that the work remains relevant and valuable.
- Encourage teams to address problems and opportunities as they arise, particularly those that are not apparent to leadership but are crucial to the change agenda’s success.
Change management has a vital role to play in a successful software deployment. This starts with engaging the right people from the very beginning and recognising that automating accounts payable needs to be a cross-functional project as it impacts all areas of the business.
Clear, consistent, and ongoing communication is key to successful change. This entails writing the business case and articulating the benefits of automation, presenting the vision for the organisation, and managing employee push back and concerns. It also involves active people management in terms of helping employees upskill to utilise the product, or potentially transition into new roles.
Finally, it’s important to celebrate success, especially at go live but also as performance targets are reached and exceeded. These wins demonstrate that integrating people, process and technology pays dividends and enable real organisational transformation.