When it comes to improving processes like accounts payable vendor invoice management, the promise of automation and new technologies can be extremely compelling. As implementation costs and timelines for new AP automation technologies continue to shrink, solutions become more flexible and user friendly and require less support from IT, getting up and running and achieving a substantial ROI is a real possibility for companies of virtually any size, in any industry.
That doesn’t mean that there aren’t pitfalls or challenges to overcome. In fact, according to a recent Mckinsey and Co study, more than 70% of business transformation initiatives fail. Often, according to the study, the problem doesn’t lie with the technology or the complexity of implementation. The real problem is an age-old one: getting companies and their employees to embrace change and challenge themselves to think and act differently.
The challenge can lie at any level of the organization, and any weak link, at the top of the chain of command, down to the individual AP clerk, or anywhere in between, can doom the best laid plans for the latest in AI, machine learning, intelligent process automation or [fill in the latest buzzword here], can go awry.
To address the cultural challenges that go hand in hand with optimizing any process, including AP or other back office processes, companies can tackle the problem head on by acting on a few simple tips, including:
Ease the fear of job loss: While process automation promises to make the lives easier for every stakeholder and process owner, there remains a very persistent fear that automation will put someone’s job at risk. Our experience shows that the opposite is true; typically, AP staff members who spend less time shuffle paper or re-keying data get to spend more time on analysis, budgeting and other higher-level tasks. Rather than just focusing on the work that an employee is going to “lose” in the process, emphasize the new skills and new responsibilities they’ll have an opportunity to step up to.
Get buy-in from every stakeholder and make them feel heard: Make everyone involve take ownership of the new process and make sure to get their input and communicate back to them how the process will change and how they have had an impact on the process to affect change. That process doesn’t end once the new process is in place—the feedback loop should remain constant and continuous.
Build excitement: Transforming fear into the positive energy of excitement and anticipation is truly the biggest challenge when it comes to change management. It isn’t difficult—but it DOES require more attention and effort that companies typically anticipate. Helping executives and employees to understand the benefits of business transformation and automation is key to securing budget approval, ensuring user adoption and acceptance and most importantly, creating a culture of continuous process improvement.