If you’re running a business, a lot of your time is inevitably spent thinking about how to increase your efficiency, operational capacity, or profitability. You may well sit awake at night contemplating ways to advance your services, reduce expenditure, or increase customer satisfaction level. But while you’ve sat in quiet contemplation, have you taken the time to consider what you could potentially be doing to improve the state of your employees? While that may seem out of the previous line of shrewd business thought, improving the condition of your employees is a far throw from pure altruism. Herein we will explore employee engagement and how it relates to ERP adoption.

Adopting a new business platform like an ERP system is far greater an undertaking than picking one off a shelf and installing it on your incumbent system. Indeed, for many people, the process of implementing an ERP system is a tremendous challenge; facing hundreds of options, thousands of lines of data, and some tens of thousands of articles on the subject. So, with considerations of configuration, implementation, customization, and integration weighing on your mind during the ERP implementation process, it's understandable that the engagement of your employees with the system was expected to be automatic, or otherwise slipped the mind.

Unfortunately for those who neglected to ensure the engagement of their employees during this process, the success of the new ERP platform largely falls upon your employees to embrace the new system and accompanying processes. This has proven to be the case for many businesses, who, heeding the importance of employee engagement, have seen a direct improvement to customer satisfaction levels and employee efficiency when they were engaged with their work. To put it more simply, an engaged employee is a more productive employee—willing to go the extra mile to improve the experience of the customer and the reputation of the organization. While that’s all well and good, what exactly is "engagement?"

Defining Engagement

You can find several definitions of engagement, describing it as a psychological process, going on about personal or emotional connection levels, but the characteristics are consistent; engagement is about effort, attitude, and willingness to act. In his article in the Harvard Business Review, John Baldoni (an internationally recognized leadership educator and executive coach) put it deftly: “While people define engagement in various ways, I prefer a plain and simple definition: People want to come to work, understand their jobs, and know how their work contributes to the success of the organization.” So how do you go about creating a foundation of employee engagement, and what exactly does an engaged employee look like?

What it Means to Have Engaged Employees

Without extensive training in organizational change management, the idea of employee engagement can be a vague term, inspiring more questions than answers. It goes further than the morale of your staff, affecting critical aspects of your organization—especially when your company is undergoing any substantial change, like the adoption of an ERP platform. Ultimately, your goal should be to have your team excited about the new ERP platform, and open to embrace the changes that come with it. Because of this, employee engagement should be considered a key factor in the implementation of a new platform for business operations. Through improved engagement between your employees and your systems, stronger connections between team members can be forged, and a collective vision for the future of the company can be realized.

Jim Harter, PhD, and one of the chief scientists with Gallup, explained that engaged employees are more attentive to instruction, more vigilant for areas of improvement, and work to support their coworkers and the enterprise because in his words, “They personally ‘own’ the result of their work and that of the organization’s.” He further explains that engaged employees ensure that each person has the chance to do what they do best, listening to the opinions of their co-workers and helping them to see the value of their work to the overall larger purpose and mission of the company. In addition, Gallup’s findings have it that a strong level of engagement in your employees also promotes benefits for customers and the company itself. The study found that companies with highly engage employees have double the success of companies with poorer engagement. It additionally found that engagement improves the focus and safety of your staff and workplace, with businesses benefiting from engaged employees suffering 41% fewer safety incidents, and 41% fewer defects in products produced.

What Perpetuates the Struggle to Engage?

So, with all these potential benefits to be realized, how is it that your company has either not tried, or is still struggling to foster engagement with your employees? While this is understandably the case due to engagement being something you feel, rather than something that can be measured, viewed, or touched, it is crucial not to be undone by this challenge. This can be a challenge, with problems stemming from engagement representing one of the predominant challenges faced by new system implementations. Unfortunately, many companies neglect the engagement of their employees when contemplating their overall business and ERP implementation strategy. Perhaps the importance of employee engagement has been made unclear to them, or perhaps it seems like too much work; whatever the cause of this lack of engagement, it runs deep. Shockingly, a study conducted by Gallup revealed that some 42% of the workforce studied felt unengaged from their work. This represents significant untapped potential.

When you’re going through a tumultuous time of organizational change, like the type that is experienced when implementing an ERP, your staff may find they feel like their control over their situation and workplace has been diminished, often undermining the leadership of management. These unengaged employees, despite being physically at the office, are often mentally absent from their work. This mental absence could bring them into confrontation with more engaged, hard-working employees, or reflect poorly on your company should this mental absence be applied to customer facing service work. This can begin to cost your company money big time, with confrontation between employees and disengaged employees in general dramatically increasing the likelihood of employee turnover and potentially costing you sales through a diminished reputation in the eyes of the customer. Fortunately, there is one simple area of improvement to escape this arduous position: communication.

The Pivotal Role of Communication

When your employees are resisting the adoption of the new ERP system, or opt only to use it for some of their work, the success of your business can be compromised. Sure, the issue may begin with only a few members of your staff being less than committed to the new system, but this disengagement can easily spread like wildfire if the seeds of doubt are allowed to take root in your workforce. Fortunately, with some experience under your belt, and the right tools in hand, you have the opportunity to reengage these employees with your business, using this buy-in for the successful implementation of your ERP. By ensuring that, your employees not only have the tools they need to do their job well, but also have the training and understanding of how the work they are doing contributes to the continued prosperity of your company. This can be easily achieved by communicating with your employees early and often during a period of organizational change.

Among the first things considered by your employees is likely to be something along the lines of, ‘what does the new system mean for me?’ In order to ensure that valid questions of this nature are answered for your staff, you need to develop not only an ERP implementation strategy, but also a strategy for communicating with staff regarding how the ERP platform will be changing the company, and their role in it more specifically. Your staff will be able to tell from this that the company is serious about keeping them in the loop about the changes the company is undergoing, making them feel like a part of the process, and helping to make them feel more comfortable asking questions about the system and their future in it.

This can be used as an opportunity to get your staff excited about the new system, outlining both why it's important that the company take steps in this direction, and how the new system will ultimately make their work lives easier. Paint a vivid picture of the soon-to-be realized benefits for your employees, highlighting how it will allow teams to interact more effectively, how warehouse employees will be able to find items faster, or how sales teams will be able to connect more effectively with clients. Whatever the department harbouring doubts about the new system, when employees are confident in their tasks and value to the team, they are more enthusiastic workers, going the extra mile because of the personal pride factor enabled by engagement with both their work and organization.

Reaping the Benefits of Employee Engagement

While managing organizational change can be a daunting undertaking for any business, it’s necessary to understand its importance, and the visible impact employee engagement can have on your ERP implementation project. Sure, it can be a stressful undertaking, but overlooking engagement prevents you from making the most of your new ERP, an is ultimately to the business’ detriment. With Gallup reporting that in a meta-analysis of 1.4 million people, employees experiencing high levels of engagement are 22% more productive, it's easy to see that keeping employees in the loop and sharing a common vision with them can go a long way towards benefiting your business. By ensuring that you offer continued support, communication, and the necessary training, employees feel more 'in the know' about the goals of the company and their roles in achieving them.