Combating Nonprofit Staff Burnout During a CRM Implementation

It is not unusual for organizations to undergo some level of staff turnover during – and in correlation with – a significant CRM implementation. The process of clarifying organizational goals and examining business processes can prompt some people to question whether they still feel aligned with or valuable to the organization. The project will become one factor in their decision to make a change and that’s usually okay.

Cost of Nonprofit Staff Burnout

It’s rarely helpful to hold on to people who are ready to move on. The problem is when things go so awry that valuable staff members start to leave out of frustration with the project. Often, smart, hardworking staff members who understand systems and process are selected to be on project teams for CRM implementations. Too often, they are not supported with appropriate change management techniques or resources, which sets them up to fail.

When a project launches without adequate stakeholder participation, planned productivity reduction and org-wide commitment to adoption, those who worked on the project team find themselves fielding crisis calls as staff across the organization panic about issues they see in the data or a task they are struggling to complete. As the team gets spread thin, end users they are supporting become agitated as they wait for assistance. Work stalls. Morale goes sour and frustration is levied toward the project team. The project team members, who have spent months (possibly years) working hard on something they believed was going to make things better, become deflated and feel underappreciated. At some point, they realize that they can take the skills they learned during the project and offer them to another organization. If they leave, they take valuable subject matter expertise with them.

Sometimes, they are the only ones who have deep understanding of why certain decisions were made during the project, and without that knowledge, the organization can end up having to re-work parts of the implementation.

Turnover does not only cost the organization in terms of lost institutional knowledge, but in time spent recruiting, hiring and onboarding new staff members. While the leaders of many organizations will make it a point to publicly recognize the contributions of core project team members around the time the system launches, that is often too little, too late. If the organization struggles to adapt to the new system due to a lack of support and leadership earlier in the process, it can be difficult to recover.

Keeping Your Star Employees

So, what to do about this? While the core project team can and should carry out most of the day-to-day work of a CRM implementation project, they must be supported at several levels in order to be successful. The most effective way to do this is through executive and management sponsorship of the project. Prosci research indicates that employees accept information differently from different people within an organization. They prefer to hear communications about the organization as a whole from executive leadership and messages about their personal role or responsibilities from their direct supervisor.

This means that for end users to embrace the idea that the new CRM system will help them be more effective in their jobs, they need to hear regularly from executive leadership and direct supervisors throughout the project. Communications about the project left solely to the project team are more likely to be disregarded. It is appropriate for the project team to convey details and updates directly, but employees must also hear from leadership on a regular basis to internalize the importance of their participation.

Executive communications should focus on connecting the vision of the project to the mission of the organization and articulate the ways that a new CRM system will allow the organization to better reach its goals. Too often, executives think that to keep their project team happy, they just need to give them public recognition for the work they’re doing on the project. While that is important, that recognition will feel hollow or even undeserved if the project itself struggles to make an impact. For that reason, executives must take responsibility for ensuring that the whole organization understands the importance of adopting the new technology.

How Can Supervisors Help?

There are three key change management roles for supervisors in a CRM implementation project: listening for signs of staff burnout, making the vision specific and setting performance expectations. Employees are more likely to share their opinions, concerns and ideas with a supervisor than a project team, because they are more familiar with that person. For this reason, it is important that supervisors be the eyes and ears for the project team and bring signs of resistance to the team’s attention so that the person’s concerns can be addressed.

Second, it is important for supervisors to reinforce the executive communications by helping their employees envision the specific ways that the new system will help them achieve their goals. In doing so, they are helping the employee move toward change proactively.

Finally, they should make it clear to their direct reports that using the new system upon launch is an expectation for everyone and is part of their performance measurement. By supporting the project team in these ways, executives and supervisors can help ensure the success of the project and show respect for the work of the project team. The project team members – and all of the institutional knowledge they hold – are much more likely to stay at an organization at which they feel accomplished and supported.

Looking for other ways to save money during a CRM Implementation? Download our free guide: Preventing Unexpected Costs in CRM Implementations for more tips we’ve learned in our decades of experience.

About the Author

Kaia Swift
Kaia first started working with nonprofits at an internship at an organization that served military families. Since then, she has worked for C-SPAN and with organizations focused on education and politics. She brings her knowledge of marketing and nonprofit operations... Read More

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