AP Automation: 5 Ways to Lead the Transformation
According to research from McKinsey and Co., 70% of all transformations fail. But it doesn’t have to be that way …
One of the biggest challenges facing a company that will be transitioning to AP automation is getting buy-in across the organization. Sure, management is happy because they are hopefully cutting costs and improving process efficiency, but what about the human aspect of change management? You can change the process, but how do you change minds to solidify that change?
We’ve put together a list of strategies to help you lead the way and make the transition easier.
Lead Employees Through Organizational Change
The biggest hurdle to overcome is fear. Fear of the unknown is something that can freeze employees in their tracks. But being able to quantify, qualify and explain the process of what is happening, why it’s happening and how it will happen creates the vision for automation. One way to approach this is Total Quality Management (TQM).
Total Quality Management is a management approach to long-term success through customer satisfaction. In a Total Quality Management effort, all members of an organization participate in improving processes, products, services and the culture in which they work.
AP automation is a part of this “whole company” approach to serving the customer. If the AP department is not quickly and efficiently paying its vendors, those delays may have a trickle-down effect on the company’s ability to perform for their customer. It’s important to lead employees through this perspective, showing them the big picture and their role in the grand scheme.
AP is an Important Cog in the TQM Machine
To embed a TQM approach in the AP department, the AP manager must make sure the process is smooth in order to keep performance consistent during the transition. Change management falls at the feet of the department manager, and that person must lead accordingly. Failure to properly garner support and buy-in from the main system users can significantly slow down implementation and derail AP automation projects all together.
Change is not an easy undertaking, but it can be a successful and even celebrated journey when done right. To help you along the way, here are five ways a manager can lead through the automation transition:
1. Quell fear over job loss:
- Explain how AP automation doesn’t necessarily mean job elimination — but instead will lead to greater job satisfaction through efficiency improvements and may present new opportunities for them to add more value through analysis and problem solving that they may not be able to undertake today — thus making the best use of their time.
- Make the unknown known. Give them the who, what, when, where and why.
- Demonstrate HOW they will benefit from automation. Buy-in is much easier when the benefits and direct value to the employee are properly communicated.
- “Sell” the change. According to Sirius Decisions, 71% of executives indicate that lost sales are due to unsuccessfully articulating value. As an AP manager, you are in charge of selling this new change to your employees and closing them on the benefits of doing so. Make it about THEM, not you and the company. They know it’s ultimately about the company, but they need to know they are an integral part of it and will benefit as well.
2. Make the staff feel heard:
- Ask for employee input and help during the process.
- Encourage personal ownership through inclusion.
- Have a Q&A meeting and ask employees to email their questions prior to the meeting. Record the meeting, collect and transcribe all questions and answers, and provide a document to employees that they can reference in the future.
- Continue to request feedback during the transition phase as well as after the implementation to create a continual dialogue.
3. Garner excitement for new technology:
- Position it as a blast so it’s not viewed as a doomsday. Project kick-off, implementation, training and launch should build up to an official celebration of transformation.
- Make a compelling case for new technology — it makes their lives easier and reduces frustration. Automation improves workflow, reduces administrative time waste and allows them to focus on their primary job function rather than spending time chasing around approvers and missing information.
- Articulate the professional benefits they can realize. If you’ve properly expressed how the change can benefit them, articulate how those benefits could translate into new skills, promotions, pay increases, bonuses when KPIs are met (or exceeded), and new strategic opportunities for the future.
4. Provide adequate training and show people how to embrace the shift:
- Gamify the change process to create a healthy inter-office competition and make it fun.
- Develop an awards program that rewards those who demonstrate the right behavior.
- Make training short, sweet and frequent — shorter training times or modules are more effective to keep employee engagement high.
- Make the training interactive — don’t just talk at people; make them accountable for their own learning.
- Foster comradery — you’re all in this together. This will make for a capable, cohesive team. Having the whole department being trained in the new process at once puts everyone on equal footing.
5. Keep the momentum going after the system is implemented:
- Remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day. Set KPIs that aren’t just aimed at the end goal but also at progress milestones. This helps keep people motivated and focused on continuous improvement — after all it’s a journey, not a destination.
- Keep the lines of communication open. Continue to send updates on the project and facilitate the feedback loop with users. Get everyone together for follow-up Q&As to hear what’s working and what’s not.
- Extend gamification and rewards past go-live and acknowledge the best performers.
- Discuss the project in phases, so employees become comfortable with the idea of on-going change and optimization.
Change management is all about positioning. When the management team can effectively position the need for automation, the potential results, and provide a positive vision for it, resistance to change reduces and support for transformation increases. Replace fear with trust by leading the way.
We Can Help Make Change Easier
Our team of business consultants has been helping AP teams transform for years and they are always excited to take on new challenges. Reach out and download our whitepaper: Change Management for P2P — Best Practices to Apply Now.
Andrea Garson is a business consultant for Basware.