Lack of “Tone at the Top” Will Kill Your ERP Project

by | Sep 1, 2021 | ERP Services

As a Project Manager deploying systems for over seven years, I can confidently say that one of the top killers of ERP projects is lack of leadership. ERP projects cannot be treated simply as an “IT initiative” for which only a handful of select people are accountable. These projects should be considered a company-wide operation, led by executives with the goal to optimize your business and lead you into a more competitive future. To do this, what’s known as “tone at the top” is crucial to your ERP success.

So, what is it?

“Tone at the top,” commonly referred to in auditing, is used to define a company’s management and board of directors’ leadership and their commitment to being honest and ethical. The tone at the top sets forth a company’s cultural environment and corporate values. The tone leadership sets can lead the company toward learning, growth, and flexibility, or it can lead it toward stifled employees, shrinking margins and an uncompromising culture. It could make or break the success of your project. That means executives must be involved, and a positive tone needs to be felt by the project team.

Does this mean – as an executive – that you must be mired in the details of databases and settings? Absolutely not! That would be a horrible use of your time. However, you DO need to step in – state goals and rally the troops – at the right times. A good consulting partner will let you know when this needs to happen and work alongside you to inspire your team. More on that at the end…

Five years ago, I managed a project where, while reviewing the project goals, the plant manager sat back in his chair with a smug smile and grunts of distain at most of what was said. Arms crossed, he rocked back and forth like a teenager that was just asked to… well… stop rocking in his chair. This guy was what we would call a “blocker” to the project. We will call my friend, Dave.

When speaking to his staff, Dave continually mocked the change, but he would not raise his opinions in our meetings even when directly asked to join the conversation. Following each session, Dave would spread his Negative Nancy attitude about the new system to all his direct reports, the plant supervisors. Dave would tell his staff that the company could not do it without him and that if they all ignored the system long enough, it would simply go away and they could go back to doing what they used to do.

Dave was right. IF he had been given that power, that is absolutely what could have happened. However, that is not what happened. Enter our bravo CEO, Steve.

After I gave Steve the low down on Dave’s behavior, he decided it was time to step in. In the next project meeting, Steve made an appearance and said he wanted to make an announcement. Steve stated that this project was one of the number one initiatives of the company and was happening with or without blockers. He reminded everyone of the company’s goals for deploying the system – ease of connection to customers and suppliers, paperless production, heightened inventory control, traceability up and downstream, quality compliance and the agility to grow without having to add administrative headcount. Steve invited those who wanted to continue charging toward these goals to join him. He let them know he was also on that journey and their backing would be appreciated. He also let them know he was thankful for the extra time they were putting in and told them it would be worth it in the end.

Sandy, a quiet and young supervisor, was inspired. Her ears perked up as she was excited about the goals, wanted to see the company grow and had loved digging into the system so far. The CEO was paving the way for her to shine! Every week, as Dave would sit with arms crossed in defiance, Sandy would dazzle the room with what she learned that week and how she could “see” their plant running the system. As Sandy grew stronger and stronger, the CEO saw her in a different light. Her co-supervisors looked to her for solutions and for help. Post go-live, the plant manager Dave saw his staff running circles around him and he couldn’t keep up. Sandy, the once quiet supervisor, ended up taking Dave’s position, as his tribal knowledge (and bad attitude!) became irrelevant. The project was successful, and the company has grown three times its size.

If you are an executive about to embark on your ERP journey, here are a few things you can do to create the “tone at the top” and ensure a successful transition:

  1. Be present in the kickoff meeting and announce your goals and intentions.
  2. Make sure the staff understands that this project is a large company initiative and will be supported.
  3. Make it clear that we work as a team and not one person will make or break success.
  4. Keep regular meetings with your consulting and deployment team so you can be aware of any shifts that need to be corrected.

And finally:

Give people the license to learn more, expand, and really show what they’ve got. Sometimes, it will come from a place you least expect it.

If you would like to find out why Revolution Group has been a trusted Plex consulting partner for more than 20 years, call us at 614-212-1111 or reach us at We would love to discuss the benefits of “Tone at the Top” within your company.

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