Written by Laura Palulis
“Don’t take your love away from me
Don’t you leave my heart in misery
If you go, then I’ll be blue
‘Cause breaking up is hard to do.”
-“Breaking Up is Hard to Do” by Neil Sedaka
If you are a fan of oldies music, you probably know this song written and sung by Neil Sedaka in the 1970s. Breaking up is hard to do, even when you know it’s necessary. Relationships with mismatched personalities or relationships spanning changing seasons in life sometimes end with a breakup, but that doesn’t mean the split is easy. This is also true in the world of HCM implementations. In this world, “breaking up” refers to the point at which a client stops working with their trusted consulting partner and flies solo with their new system.
As an HCM consultant at HRchitect, the HCM implementation projects that I work on are a close collaboration between my fellow consultants, myself, and a team of HR leaders at our client organizations. I usually work with the core client team to cover all aspects of the implementation, including payroll, HR, benefits, banking, and many other items that need to be addressed when a new system is being implemented for a client. The system implementation process typically takes 6-9 months, from kick-off to go live. You can imagine that a very strong working relationship is established between the consultant and the entire client team working on one of these projects during that time.
One particularly close relationship that is formed is between the client’s project lead and the person on the consulting team acting as the System Consultant. As the System Consultant (SC) on a project, I am the day-to-day contact for the client to answer all of their questions, configure their system, teach them how to run it, and equip them to manage it. This requires communication on a daily basis, even multiple times a day at certain points. In fact, most of my clients program my cell phone number into their phone, so they can speed dial me at a moment’s notice if they need something.
Developing a strong working relationship with my clients is exactly what should happen if I’m doing my job well. The customer has developed trust in me. I provide solutions for all their system-related problems. I become intimately familiar with how my client’s companies operate, almost as if I am an employee of that organization.
However, doing a good job as an HCM Implementation Consultant naturally leads to having the customer go live with their new software and utilizing it independently, without the help of their consultant. That is the very definition of a successful implementation. This is a double-edged sword. I want my clients to be successful in their utilization of their new system, but to help them be successful, and no matter how much I enjoy working with them, at some point, we end up needing to “break up.”
While some clients are excited to take off and run with their new system after go-live, others have difficulty with this breakup transition. Some are downright scared to be on their own, without a consultant on speed dial. That is when Neil Sedaka’s song lyrics start running through my head.
Over time, I have developed several ways to help with the transition from leveraging a consulting partner to flying solo with their new systems. I have outlined some of my tips below.
- Make the transition process as gradual as possible. At first, I talk clients through every step of running payroll. Then I provide documentation and have them follow it when processing payroll, asking questions as needed. Next, I let them do it on their own, making myself available on standby if needed.
- Empower the client at every opportunity. Involve them in the setup of one or two business rules in a list of dozens, so they can visualize what needs to be done when they might want to change a rule in the future. When I do configuration work for the customer, I demo what I am doing so they can watch the process.
- Create customized guides that the client can follow on their own. Do not just hand over pre-written materials. Take the time to customize the documentation to encompass the particular needs and business processes of each client. This provides the tools they need to feel comfortable using the system on their own.
- Gently and gradually move toward having the customer perform their own tasks. When they continue to ask me to add new items to their system, I remind them that I will not be around forever. I offer to schedule a screen-sharing session for me to walk them through the process. I always have the customer drive the setup while I direct them on how to do it. This helps them develop a feel for the system’s functionality.
- Do not try to teach the customer everything about the system. Focus on teaching them the “Golden Rules” and show them where to go for additional details. As an example, I repeat key concepts throughout the implementation. I feel good when the customer repeats them back to others during the project. Once they grasp the concepts, the details will fall into place.
- If support options are included, I take the time to explain to them what their support options will be after go-live. Often, customers do not remember all that was said during the initial product demo. Knowing about support options, documentation libraries, and other services provided by the vendor can be reassuring. Many clients do opt into a support contract with HRchitect after they go live to help the transition to complete independence, making the “breakup” easier to handle when it finally does occur.
- Reassure them with the standard breakup line, “It’s not you, it’s me.” Although I do not discuss details of my work with other clients, I try to make it clear that I will move on to another client or another implementation at some point. I do not wait until the end of the project to make that point; I set the expectation from the beginning.
- Offer to hold a post-go-live session with the client to answer their questions about anything and everything. This helps to smooth the transition, so the customer does not feel like they were suddenly dumped. I give them ample time to address all the “what-if” questions in their mind.
- Mention the possibility of a future support contract if this is an option. This makes the statement that although we need to part ways, I will not necessarily disappear. We can still be friends.
Breaking up is never easy, whether ending a relationship, finding a new job opportunity, or finalizing your implementation and losing the consultant relationship that you have formed over many months. For consultants, recognizing the impact you can have on the client, building that trust and the connection from the beginning thoughtfully and deliberately will help to alleviate much of the pain involved when it comes time to “break up” and let your client fly solo.
If you are preparing for an implementation, in the middle of one, or just completed a project, reach out to HRchitect. Since 1997, we’ve been helping clients around the globe successfully implement, optimize, and support HCM and workforce management systems.
Learn more about Laura Palulis
Laura Palulis is a System Consultant with HRchitect, the leader in HCM systems strategic consulting. Laura has over 20 years of experience in the payroll and tax field and was an Ultimate Software customer for 18 years. When not working with customers, Laura can be found hiking, quilting, and traveling the world. She was recently highlighted in the March 2021 edition of PAYTECH Magazine recognized for her service as an ONLINE HOTLINE VOLUNTEER.
Read more of Laura’s blog posts