Switching from a manual procurement process or more antiquated system to SAP Ariba involves big, long-term changes. Because Ariba automates procurement, meaning you need fewer workers performing manual tasks, one of those changes often involves staff reductions or reassignments. That means tough decisions must be made. In this article we focus on how to plan for those staff reassignments and possible reductions in a way that’s fair, effective, and targeted, with as little disruption as possible.
As we’ve discussed in the previous articles in this series, switching from a manual procurement process or more antiquated system to SAP Ariba involves big, long-term changes.
Because Ariba automates procurement, meaning you need fewer workers performing manual tasks, one of those changes often involves staff reductions or reassignments.
That means tough decisions must be made. Some workers, in Accounts Payable for example, may be recategorized because now you need more support elsewhere, such as in procurement or compliance. Some may need to be laid off.
In this article we’re going to focus on how to plan for those staff reassignments and possible reductions in a way that’s fair, effective, and targeted, with as little disruption as possible.
Ariba is a solution that can take months or even years to put in place, depending upon the size of the organization and how many modules are deployed. In an ideal scenario, you will have a procurement roadmap that details your digital transformation from the beginning to the end as well as the type of Leadership Advocacy that guides the mission and vision.
That roadmap should include how the roles and processes of your workers are going to change once Ariba goes live.
For example, if you currently have 20 people in AP typing in invoices, once Ariba goes live, the suppliers are going to be typing in the invoices, so you may only need two.
Knowing where you are now, and what the roles of the people in these departments are now, and what they will look like after Go Live, is key to a successful transition.
But it’s not just AP and Procurement. Anything Ariba touches needs to be looked at to see how it’s going to affect anyone that touches Ariba. That may include Legal, Finance, Tax, Contracts, Treasury. All the processes must be reviewed, not just the core pieces. Then you can determine what it’s going to look like whenever you’re live, how it’s going to be different than it is today, and how you can take advantage of what the system offers.
Another plus to good, long-term planning is that you give the affected departments time to react to a downsizing. Whether it’s planning for reassignments, evaluating skill sets to see who can make this technological transition, or even figuring out who is willing to make the transition and who isn’t.
If people know what’s coming and understand that this is a months-long timeline, some will move on, some will learn new skills, and some will just sit and wait to see what happens.
This includes both the workers and the people who manage them and know their skill sets best. That manager can clearly communicate to their department that this change is coming and the benefits to the company of that change, whether it’s greater insight into spend, being able to negotiate better deals.
The downside is that there will be a reduction in workforce, but this is the managers opportunity to work with the affected people and figure out what their future role will be with the company and within the new, automated procurement system.
Skill sets must be considered as well. If you have a data entry person and that’s all they’re capable of doing, they might not be a good fit for Ariba. If someone else on the team has higher-level technology skills, you may want to target them for training in the new system.
A big part of this is also a willingness to change. Using projects I’ve headed up as an example, I would always ask, “Who wants to do this?” There were a few people who always raised their hands and attended training. Those are the people who are still there today.
Then there were those who just said, “Tell me when it’s over and I’ll do whatever.” They are the ones, often, who aren’t there anymore.
That’s the end state: identifying the people you feel can either make the transition, or already have the skills to make the transition. They’re the ones you want to keep on your team and continually encourage.
Finding out that your job might be eliminated in a year or so is scary for almost everyone. But for many people, finding out their role is going to change because a new technology is being implemented is also scary.
How to communicate that change is different for every company, which is why it’s great to have a dedicated change management team to guide the process.
My approach as a consultant specializing in change management is transparency. If people know what’s coming and how their job is going to change because of Ariba, it makes them more comfortable and more open to adapting.
The nurturing part comes into making people feel seen, particularly those who know their job well, or even have some experience with Ariba. Encourage them to talk about their experiences and even be the ones to train the other employees, so the next people down the line are more comfortable. You always want to show you’re engaging with them and that you’re asking for their opinion and that you’re asking for their feedback.
You are, in effect, creating the super user, or at least the super cheerleader.
I, personally, was an AP manager for many years. I always had a few super users/cheerleaders and when they knew this big change was coming, they would support me when I would gather my 20 people to explain to them that the company purchased this new system that’s going to benefit the company in this way. I’d be trying to drive the leadership message and the corporate mission and vision and encourage them to join me.
Once I was sure they understood the purpose, I would explain that it’s probably going to impact AP in this way and ask if anyone wanted to be part of the change. A few people will immediately raise their hand and a few more will if someone else does. Those are the people who usually make the transition to whatever their new role is.
There will also be those who won’t participate in any training or try to learn or adapt. They are the ones I would include in a layoff.
Obviously, that part isn’t nurturing, but it’s about two things: 1. A forewarning that something is imminent. 2. Giving them lots of opportunities and letting them make their own choices about how to proceed.
A lot of companies will just say, we have 20 employees, we picked three, you’re on the bottom, bye. I’ve been in that situation myself, where I’ve had to go into a company and say you have three AP people and four procurement people and only one procurement person gets to stay and everyone else must go.
Those messages are tough, but if you can be transparent and give them a lot of forewarning I think that is nurturing in a way. At the very least it’s caring and honest.
Having that forewarning is helpful in another way as well. There will be people who leave during the transition period, either to retire or to find another job where they can still do things the way they are doing them now.
As for those that are left, if there still are more than you need, you know that they’re eager to learn and participate, so take advantage of that enthusiasm and loyalty and reassign them.
I’ll close with a happy example of how that can work out.
One of the AP people at a company I consulted for was not a finance person, but she really took care of her customers and they loved her. When it came to layoff time she was not being considered for an ongoing position in AP, so I said to her, “Unfortunately, we don’t have the space for you on the team but there is an executive administrator position for our VP and we think you’d be perfect.”
She said, “Done, I love it. Bye.”
That happened in 2012 and she’s still there today.
The point is that there are plenty of places to move people around where they can contribute and even shine, which turns what seems like a negative into a positive.