He haunts my dreams. I see the old white-bearded guy in many places. No, not Santa Claus. That was last month. It’s Bob — the guy who has been here forever and knows how to do the things you “can’t do” with the legacy system. “What About Bob” is the first of three installments on organizing for success in SAP implementations. The next two posts will focus on “Us and Them – Implementation Teams and IS” and “After You Go Live – Maybe There Should be a Plan?”.
If you read my Off the Cow Path, you know that we’re new at this – four months into our implementation. As part of our RFP preparation and evaluation process we imposed on the generosity of at least a dozen SAP sites. During these visits, I kept running into Bob.
In some cases, he had made the transition well. Bob was now the basis guy. In other instances, he was still holding up the pillars of the legacy system. At two sites, I heard people bemoan the fact that “old Bob” had decided to retire early, rather than learn to swim in the SAP sea.
We learned three things from Bob – or people’s fond memories of him.
Retrain and Retain
Golden Villas calls. The baby boomers in IT are being tempted to cash in on those retirement plans and they’ll be more likely to scoot out the door if you overlook them in your training plans. “But, is it really a good idea to retrain Old Bob?”, I hear a twenty-something say? Having learned more than a few OS’s and programming languages over the years, I can assure that the third and fourth systems are easier than the first. Experience matters. Besides, Bob couldn’t have stuck with it this long, if he wasn’t good at it.
At one of our site visits, I was talking to Bob about a new technology and suggested a publication I thought might help. He agreed, but said that his manager – twenty-five years his junior – had vetoed it.
Is there a place in the world where experience and knowledge is given credibility over just having a big desk? Yes and not where you might think. It’s the military.
Our armed services have a personnel category known as “Warrant Officer”. Not a general purpose manager, but a technical expert who is given a career path parallel to, rather than in competition with the people who want to be generals (or CEO’s). The warrant officer concept has proven an effective method of retaining talent which might have otherwise gone to private sector. Maybe a civilian equivalent of a warrant officer program could help you keep talent away from your competitor or Golden Villas.
Plan for Transition
No matter how wonderful your organization is, someday Bob will decide that it’s time to pass the joy on to another generation. If you done your best to retrain and retain him and empower his experience, he’ll probably give you more than two weeks notice. Pray for several months at least. Find his replacement before he goes and set up a mentoring/training program to insure a smooth transition.
Sounds easy, but, here’s where you may need to take the hatchet to bureaucratic red-tape. I’ve been in organizations where I’ve heard, “We’re not allowed to even recruit for a position till it’s empty, much less double fill it!” Be creative; ruthlessly creative, if necessary. Hire someone as a temp. Hire them as anything. Don’t let “the rules of the cow-path” leave you exposed. Don’t let the cows kick over your servers.