Explore the Levels of Change Management

ERP System Launches Enterprise Change Management at Sunflower Electric

Written by John Ross

6 Mins

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How can you get leaders to support enterprise change management in your organization? For Sunflower Electric, it started with one successful project. What project managers intended to be training and communications for an ERP system implementation in 2018 is now a widely supported, enterprise-wide initiative for bringing change management capabilities to Sunflower Electric.

About Sunflower Electric

Sunflower Electric Power Corporation is a Touchstone Energy® Cooperative formed in 1957 to provide low-cost, reliable power supply and transmission services to members. Comprising six member cooperatives and one wholly owned subsidiary, Sunflower maintains and operates nearly 26,000 miles of distribution lines across 58 counties in central and western Kansas. The cooperative is governed by a democratically elected board of directors, employs approximately 485 people, and serves 76,000+ member-owners and consumers.   


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Starting Change Management 
on an ERP System Implementation

As part of a multi-year, multi-project initiative to modernize the organization, Sunflower Electric began implementing a new, cloud-based enterprise resource planning (ERP) system in 2018. About two-and-a-half years into the project, my supervisor and I were asked to begin change management on the project. Usually, we want to start at the beginning of a project, but change management was not widely understood or accepted in our organization at that time and was still thought of as communications and training. The go-live date was set for later that year, so we needed to move quickly to deploy a change management strategy.

To get up to speed, we formed a change agent coalition comprised of the training department head, communications department head and project lead, as well as my supervisor and me.

Next, we scheduled stakeholder group meetings with impacted people from departments across the entire organization. We conducted surveys before each meeting to gauge satisfaction with the process and project, find the gaps, and understand how things were going for people. We learned quickly that things were not going very well. 

During the stakeholder meetings, we went through the survey results with the teams to provoke discussions. Some early conversations were difficult because people were unhappy. But as we allowed them to talk, and as we identified the root causes of resistance to the project, we started building engagement and ownership. At that point, we saw the resistance behaviors start to shift toward more collegial engagement. 

Root causes of resistance

We identified three major areas of resistance:

  • Ghost of projects past
    When the original ERP system was brought into the company nine years earlier, things did not go well. Many of our employees have 20+ years of tenure, so people remembered the old project and transferred those feelings to the new cloud-based ERP project.
  • Vendor presence
    The ERP vendor was working on site, and we needed to bring them along on the change management journey. Identifying the previous project failure as a root cause for current resistance also had to be handled delicately. The vendors worked closely with our employees and were essential contributors on the project team.
  • Internal issues
    We also needed to overcome the usual kinds of internal resistance that arise when people work together and must adopt changes to the way they do their daily work.  

To be clear, it’s not that people were difficult. We had good Desire for the project—everyone in the company wanted to improve the way we work. But we all knew it was going to be a tough eight or nine months to get everyone where they needed to be on their change journeys. 

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Resistance management and communications

The stakeholder group meetings were great for getting us past issues. Conversations were, thankfully, quite honest. And because I also to do process analyses for the organization, I already knew each impacted team well. I knew their processes and where the gaps were. That helped me tease out where the resistance was. 

Our communications director developed a unique communications program to let everyone in the company know what was going on with the project. Our intent was to have a lot of fun with it, even though there was this really serious undertone. We had contests using memes. Employees had to collect all the memes and show what they meant to earn prizes.

Sunflower Electric is geographically dispersed, so we used video to build Awareness. The CEO did a video supporting the project and sharing the business reasons for the change, and vice presidents supported us in making sure those went out locally. We also worked hard to ensure that people managers were communicating personal impacts of the change to employees, project leaders were talking to project teams, and so on.

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Integrating with project management

We brought change management into the project late in the lifecycle, so we couldn’t integrate with project management fully. The expectation was that we would simply do training, so we still needed to do a lot of prepping to gain acceptance of change management and ADKAR

Some people misunderstood what change management was, and others understood but had doubts. So, we used individual and small-group meetings to build Awareness and Desire by clarifying that we were not the project team, we were not going to slow the project down, and we were all working toward the same goal of achieving a successful project. 

As the IT team worked with the vendor to develop the solution, we were in close communication with the stakeholder groups to determine rates of user adoption, adapt the training to fit, and target additional actions needed. For example, the ERP software would change employee timecards across the company. We identified the need to support groups in different regions, so we had people who knew what to do when timecards changed and how to communicate that change to people in each location.

The stakeholder meetings also helped us manage resistance with the vendor team. During monthly meetings, vendors who often reported that employees were progressing well. But discussions with others indicated there were difficulties. To give the project team a complete picture, we packaged all the comments and different perspectives into a report for the project lead. That helped us reshape the landscape a bit and gain consensus on issues. 

Results and outcomes

Nearly all—if not all—participants agreed that the change management strategy provided substantial benefits. Most indicated a higher Awareness about the project purpose, deliverables and timeline. Survey results also revealed a greater Desire for the cloud-based ERP solution. In addition, most participants found the training materials helpful and timely. And a majority of survey respondents asked for a larger rollout of the Prosci Methodology and ADKAR Model for the application of change management to more projects.

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Sustainment approach

When folks finish a project, they’re eager to move on to the next thing, and we had multiple projects in the works. But we still had change management to do on this project. With support from the project sponsor, we kept the project live for another six months to continue developing Ability and Reinforcement.

To get the support for Sustainment activities, we compiled and shared lessons learned from the project and stakeholder meetings to demonstrate what still needed work. Today, we continue to conduct this level of sustainment on every project, checking in on projects periodically to see how things are going and make sure teams are supported. 

Building Holistic Change Management Capabilities at Sunflower Electric

Because the people side of change was managed well on this ERP project, change management has become highly valued at Sunflower Electric. People talk about ADKAR across the company and come to us to ask for change management on their projects. This success highlighted for our CEO that change management was a worthy investment in our organization’s people and future. When we proposed building organizational change capability, and presented our plan and budget, the leadership team was all in. 

Sunflower Electric's holistic "Project OCM"

Our Organizational Change Management (OCM) project enables everyone across the company to be involved in change management and develop change capabilities. To officially begin the journey, we followed a holistic approach:

  • Two colleagues and I attended Prosci’s Enterprise Change Management (ECM) Boot Camp to learn how to deploy change management across the organization as a project.
  • Working with our Prosci Account Executive, we brought Prosci Executive Instructors onsite to present day-long, onsite presentations (Change Management Sponsor Briefing and Strategic Alignment Workshop) to all our executives. This helped them understand how enterprise change capability drives successful changes. It also prepared them for sponsorship roles and ensured alignment with our organizational strategy.  
  • Once our budget was approved, two staff members became Prosci Certified Change Practitioners.
  • Prosci Advisory Services worked with our change management team to understand our current level of change management maturity at the time, which was about a 1.99, and help us build out our four-year, enterprise change management plan to reach a future-state goal of 3.92.
  • We acquired an Enterprise Change Management License from Prosci, so we have access to all the eLearning and training programs. Every Sunflower employee—from project managers and people managers to executives and front-line employees—goes through some type of change management training, whether virtual or on site.
  • I attended Prosci's Train-the-Trainer Program, so I can deliver training programs for project leads, managers and supervisors, and reduce training costs for the organization.
  • I recently completed Prosci's Advanced Deployment Leader Certification, which was an 18-month masterclass in deploying organizational change management. With coaching from a Program Advisor and other Prosci experts, I developed and deployed the OCM project to include building change management capability and change management maturity at Sunflower Electric. (Note: Although the Advanced Deployment Leader Certification program was retired last year, Prosci now offers coaching, guidance and hands-on support for enterprise change management deployments through Advisory Services for Enterprises.) 

This holistic approach enables us to expose every employee to change management and build the appropriate capabilities for their roles while making the most of our budget for building change management capabilities.

Enterprise Change Management
at Sunflower Electric

Bringing change management to Sunflower Electric was neither easy nor an overnight success. It took time and effort, and an organization of people who were willing to work for it. But it was and is the right way to help people transition through changes. Today, Project OCM is widely supported by executives, managers and employees across Sunflower Electric. And it all started by building Desire for change management using the Prosci ADKAR Model.

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John Ross

John Ross

John Ross is Strategic Change Administrator for Sunflower Electric Power Corporation, where he leads change management efforts, including deployment of enterprise change capabilities. He has led multiple complex changes, including an ERP system implementation, the enterprise-wide transition to Microsoft Teams, and department-level changes such as transmission asset management and safety culture. John holds a bachelor’s degree in English and a master’s degree in political science and public administration, along with multiple change-enabling credentials. In his free time, John teaches courses at the university level, and is a freelance writer with more than 500 publications and seven books to his credit.

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