Way too often, ERP implementation teams suffer for months because the client and the consultants are not using the same language. The consultants are talking their ERP language while the client keeps communicating with its specific jargon.

When communicating with children, adults usually try to be understood therefore adapt their language.

At the workplace, too often the need for protection is higher than the need to be understood.

This article aims at explaining why we act like that, the consequences of our behavior and how we can avoid the problem to fasten project success.

Why we are bad translators

At the start of every project, besides the performance measurement baseline (scope, schedule and budget) a lot of variables are unknown: the impact of the project result on the staff, the work location, the company culture and…the language spoken by the user company.

By language, I don’t refer to differentiating English from French or Spanish. What I mean is that the usual definition of common terms like: a service request, a purchase order, a sales contract and even the way we name positions such as a manager or a business analyst are all terms that may gain a whole new meaning further to an ERP implementation.

Good consultants keep that dual focus throughout every project: providing the optimal solution for the client and ensure that the client can use it.

Your ability to properly translate the client language into the ERP one is critical for project success

At the start of the project, good consultants speak both languages at the same time whenever they interact with the client. They talk the customer language but make sure that the client reads in subtitles the ERP language whenever required. This turns them into great translators.

The main reason why they tend to be bad translators is a lack of empathy (not doing enough to be understood) and a desire to validate their position (fulfilling their need for protection).

Their lack of empathy leads them sometimes to the contradiction where they brag about the number of years of experience it took them to master the ERP XYZ and in the meantime expect clients to understand their solution in a short period of time (3 to 6 months for example).

Not teaching the use of a new ERP like one would teach a new language can be detrimental to the project.

The consultants’need to validate why they, today, are lead-to-cash process leads or procurement managers is based on the constant use of a specific glossary that led them to be appointed to that prestigious position. 

How can we become great translators

As consultants, we have to put ourselves in our clients’ shoes. Listening and identifying how deep the client’s knowledge is in the new ERP should force us to adapt our language of communication.

Our first goal is not to be right all the time, but to be understood. Once we are understood, it is much easier to be right in our client’s eyes.

The second action to take is to let go of the vocabulary that make us sound so smart. There is no problem with talking exclusively the client’s language at the beginning as long as a translation plan is put in place.

If in your ERP, a sales contract is the equivalent of a sales order for the client, don’t push that vocabulary down your client’s throat too quickly. Talk in your client language with your ERP subtitles. Gradually, the subtitles combined with increasingly deep client business knowledge will become the unique language spoken by the whole project team.

Successful closing of projects should require that the project team ensures that ERP and customer languages are now one and the same language.

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