avoiding those problems by clearly informing staff of pending changes and offering workers viable retraining options, according to industry experts.

Robertson agreed with that assessment. In particular, she praised the impact of initial meetings held by then-CTC director Charles Gerhards.

"He had individual meetings with all three shifts to explain how this came to be, and he assured us that if we all applied ourselves, he would see to it that we were retrained," she said. "That meeting he had with all of us was one of the best things that could have happened."

Gerhards, now director of the Pennsylvania Office for Information Technology, held weekly meetings throughout the 18 months it took to put the outsourcing plan in place. He said he attempted to take an open, balanced approach to communicating with the employees.

"Your message cant be extreme in either direction. You cant say, Dont worry; nothings going to happen, when theres a possibility that something will happen," Gerhards said. "On the other hand, you shouldnt say the sky is going to fall when that isnt the case either."

He took a similar tack with union officials. "Even before we talked with the staff, we had very high-level contact with the union to explain what we were doing, why we were doing it, and we committed to them that we were going to do everything within reason to try and mitigate a negative impact on employees."

Ultimately, the state made good on its promise. Of 180 employees displaced by the outsourcing plan, all but one were retrained and placed in new positions at the commonwealth, Gerhards said. The single staff member who is no longer in state service opted out of retraining.

"The union now points to this as the [standard] for labor/management relations when it comes to this type of situation," Gerhards said. "When you have the union saying this really worked well, to me thats the benchmark that it was done appropriately."

Applied Knowledge

The experience left Gerhards a firm believer in the importance of change management. He intends to employ similar techniques as Pennsylvania completes a statewide installation of ERP software.

The $40 million project will deploy an enterprise software package from SAP to handle accounting, budgeting, personnel, payroll and purchasing at state agencies under the governors supervision. State officials say it may be the most comprehensive ERP project attempted by a large state, and they are determined to build acceptance for the plan among Pennsylvanias workforce.

Currently, teams of workers are meeting with KPMG, the systems integrator for the project, to hammer out new business processes that will be used with the software. Gerhards said involving employees in the design process pays off when the system is up and running. "When they go back into the workplace, they become advocates," he said. "They say, We helped make this decision."

Pennsylvania also has kicked off an aggressive communications plan that includes a project Web site www.imaginepa.state.pa.us, newsletters and even mass voice-mail messages from the secretary of administration.

"Good communication with employees is very important with all of these projects," Gerhards said. "They may not like what theyre hearing, but theyd rather hear something than nothing. When they hear nothing, they assume the worst."

Although its too early to gauge exactly how the project will impact workers, said Gerhards, a newsletter distributed this summer told employees that many of them will see major job changes and promised to provide appropriate training. Furthermore, the newsletter acknowledged that the ERP installation could make some current positions unnecessary. The state is committed to placing those employees into other state government jobs, the newsletter said.

Steve Towns, Editor Steve Towns  | 

Steve Towns is the former editor of Government Technology, and former executive editor for e.Republic Inc., publisher of GOVERNING, Government TechnologyPublic CIO and Emergency Management magazines. He has more than 20 years of writing and editing experience at newspapers and magazines, including more than 15 years of covering technology in the state and local government market. Steve now serves as the Deputy Chief Content Officer for e.Republic.