Confidence in chaos

We spent two years preparing and still found ourselves scrambling during the last week ahead of the event. As we shut down production with just three days left, tensions were high and people were panicking. I told everyone, “Don’t worry, this is nothing… Wait until we turn it on.”

The recent implementation of a new ERP system at Main Street Gourmet has been brutal. In retrospect, I wish we had taken inventory way more seriously. I wish we had trained our people earlier, started off with a much simpler version, done more real-world testing and assigned one or two people to do nothing but focus on the new system. I wish we had discussed the emotional intensity of the transition with our employees and put tools in place to help us deal with each other better. But even if we had done all that and more, I still think it would have been a living nightmare.

When I would talk to friends in the middle of the craziness, they wondered why I was so involved in the process. I was a programmer and software systems analyst in my early days, so I had a unique perspective on the language of business and the language of a software system. But had I not had that specific knowledge and background, as the CEO it would still be important that I make the implementation of the new software system my highest priority. I needed to lead the charge because I believed that what we were doing was critical. As a smaller company, the information and data that can be captured and analyzed through an ERP system is the lifeblood of the business, and one of the keys to our survival.

However difficult as it was, it also was invigorating. One day during the worst of it, as I was driving into work after getting very little sleep, I said out loud to myself, “Man, I hate this!” Immediately after, I said, “Man, I love this!”

As someone who started a company from scratch, the process reminded me of those crazy startup days where any day could be our last. Back then, there was so much that I couldn’t prepare for. But having persevered through those challenges to find success, I have the confidence that with forethought, I can put the company in a position to navigate the chaos that comes with any major change.

Any business leader getting ready to implement major change within their company should know that the business will likely suffer in the short term. Understand that you cannot wrap your head around everything at once. Be prepared for a long learning curve and always take the time to step back and look at the bigger picture. Be prepared to see the worst and the best in people. Be prepared for the tears, talking people off the ledge and telling people to go get a good night’s sleep and come back tomorrow ready to dive back in. And know that through whatever happens, you’ll be better and more prepared the next time.

Harvey Nelson is co-founder and co-CEO at Main Street Gourmet, a custom manufacturer of frozen bakery products with distribution throughout the U.S.