Rapid Continuous Improvement : Speed the Competitive Edge
Change is a Political & Behavioural Process
In order to understand the process of change, we have to consider change as a sequence of events and, at the same time flows of energies and activities. We have to be particularly adept at ensuring that change is composed of a technical element and a cultural component. The technical element, a new system or structure or process that is to be installed is taken for granted. How people respond to the technical change is what we need to give special attention. This is where most change management methodology falls down. The five stage approach is outlined and integrates technology with culture, processes, people and politics.
Stage 1: Driving the Process
Change often fails because it is not led with passion and conviction. Sometimes change is not led at all!
Often, people do not commit to change because they fail to see a firm commitment from those in Leadership positions or key players to the change.
Without Leadership there is no Change
Because the major players in the business fail to consciously display positive enthusiasm to the change, those who witness this behavior will tend to adopt a “fence sitting” mentality.
For these reasons I firmly believe that "Without leadership there is no change”. I am of the opinion that those who sponsor a project or ‘change’ need to be displaying behaviors indicative of their full emotional support for that change.
Partnership in Enthusiasm for Change
The 'Client' really needs to exude enthusiasm for the project. If the Client cannot get excited by the project why should anyone else? This has to be matched by the internal Consultant, who also must express the same energy, commitment and motivation for working with the Client. This should be widely acknowledged whenever the project is discussed, especially in public.
Summoning up a high degree of ‘emotional energy' to support a project is something that the Client and Consultant need to work on jointly. This does not mean being committed to printing special ‘T shirts' and 'Coffee Mugs' emblazoned with the latest fad or flavour of the month.
Communication is what is Received not what is sent
It is giving careful consideration to the internal strategy of communication that will precede the change itself. Change effectiveness can be increased by a huge percentage if the message of the change is clearly well established in the people’s minds of before they formally receive any formal training or development.
There should be no confusion in their mind as to the actual need and rationale for the change itself.
During this phase, the Client and Consultant should realize that any plan they develop must not be written in stone. Systemic change would indicate having a degree of flexibility to adapt to changes as they occur.
This does not mean that things will go wrong. It could mean a positive improvement, something occurring faster than anticipated resulting in a milestone being achieved sooner than first assumed.
Flexibility is what makes change implementation work. We need this degree of adaptability to incorporate the ‘feedback’ discussed in the previous pages.
Does being spontaneous and flexible mean the absence of a plan for implementation? Of course not, we do need a plan indicating the key actions and milestones against deliverables. One great way to plan, taking into account possible adaptations is to 'start with the end in mind'.
Implementation Plans: Global & Local
Needless to say, the plan should include fairly detailed as it relates to the scope of the change as well as working out in advance the likely barriers to your proposed changes.
Stakeholder or Constituents Analysis
Focusing upon potential barriers energizes the mind to consider the preventative action you will need to take to anticipate and overcome any resistance.
At this stage, it is important to work out using 'Constituents Analysis' a technique to assess the core interests of the key constituents or stakeholders that will impinge on the ‘change’ itself.
By looking at the perspective of others key to the change, one can develop a plan to minimize conflict between all parties to the process.
It is important at this stage to list the ‘desired outcome’ for the project from the perspective of all constituents. By detailing the consequences of the ‘change’, people can understand the rationale behind why the company is committing resources to such an initiative.
Prevention Cultures & Risk Assesssment Guide Action
This warns people of what is to come and, more importantly, sets the outcomes clearly in their mind. Clarifying the expected outcomes can be central to winning a high degree of commitment to change, and help define the parameters of the project of ‘what it will do’ and ‘what it will not do’.
Stage 2: Creating a Desire for Change
I am constantly amazed by the number of times companies have launched an initiative and have failed to communicate their intentions to their workforce. This practice is a major reason why change fails.
Sell the Benefits – Sell the Sizzle not the Sausage
Before launching Quality Improvement, Customer Focus or a Cost Reduction exercise, organizations should think through the benefits of informing people in advance of any roll-out. People should not be summoned to training Workshops or a corporate launch and roll out of a new initiative without understanding why the change in operations is necessary, the tangible benefits that will accrue to the organization when the change is implemented, and understand the role and the responsibility they will adopt in supporting the initiative.
Beware - the Cynic’s Views on Change
Does this remind you of your business? A cynic would say what that happens in practice is, “Several people get enthusiastic about a project. They know intuitively it is the right thing to do. They fail to clearly map out all the benefits of a course of action. Then, because of their own impatience, and failure to bring everyone on board, they launch their ideas and the project far too early.”
What happens? The project fails. Their initial enthusiasm was not enough. They blame others for lacking foresight and vision. They blame others for resisting change. They do not give those the opportunity to clearly think through the corporate and personal implications of the change.
They say, “There was no direction, no plan - no roadmap or means of measuring progress. They failed to lead by example, and too much thinking was still in their heads. They had not tested for understanding nor did they win the support of others. They failed to create a positive vision for the change. They reinforced everyone’s belief who said the ‘project would never work’ and probably wasted a lot of resources.”
Does this remind you of anyone in your business?
The Role of Change Leadership
The role of Change Leadership is to inspire people to willingly commit their own time to organizational improvement. People need to be aware that the change is in the best interests of the company.
When you are devising any communications strategy, a good start used by any sales professional, is to assess likely objections to your communication in advance of its delivery.
Compile a list of objections to the changes you are trying to implement and then develop a counter argument for each of these. Turn these into positive benefits that will evolve from commitment to the program. That is the process of creating an effective communications strategy.
Preparing to Deal with Objections to the Change
A major element in this stage is focusing upon the benefits of the change, rather than merely the features. Those who have designed the change program can get so excited by it that they focus more upon communicating the 'features' rather than the 'benefits'.
The features by themselves are not particularly compelling. They include core activities such as launch dates, the timing and content of any training Workshops, the role of various players and the sequence of events categorizing the drive - the metrics of how changed will be measured.
Instead, they should sell 'the benefits' that the business is about to gain and how things will be better in the future. Remember to charge the benefits with positive feelings of emotional intensity. “What will you feel after the changes have been implemented?” “How will it change your world?”
Selling Change Magically
What change agents and their Clients need to remember is that all they are doing is publicizing a program and it is fundamentally a major selling exercise!
People will only accept the change as legitimate if its rationale, and resulting benefits, are clearly explained. We can learn much from sales people. Effective sales people work focus upon likely objections that buyers will have to a proposal and counter these in their presentations. '
Objection handling' is a very powerful process for selling a new initiative. Work out in advance likely key objections and develop credible responses that are founded in reality. Then deliver these with enthusiasm and gusto.
Without interest being stimulated in why change is about to happen, there will be little curiosity or interest in that change displayed by key players in the business.
Communication is the key. There are few companies that over communicate and truly get their messages across. Some devote great amounts of managerial time to talking at length – but the quality of communication must be measured by what people receive not what is sent.
Creating Curiosity for the Change
Stimulating a deep curiosity for the change, and selling the benefits, are key issues needing to be promoted at every opportunity. The 'communication' should create a compelling vision of what is to become and motivate people towards that future.
Shaping a vision that people can work towards is a core activity, and is not just the responsibility of the senior team. It is only through the interaction of all those involved in a structured process that specific visions can be defined.
Stage 3: Aligning Constituencies
Time should be devoted to ensuring that everybody involved in or affected by the change is aware of who does what, when, where and how. This requires a plan for action with specific measures and timeframes with milestones.
By examining how stakeholders and constituencies interact, it is possible to smooth the transition and prepare for objections in advance, which leads to the detail in the next stage.
Here it is important to work out the specific motivations and degrees of cooperation between various constituents or stakeholders. It is important to work through the core constituents which would include, your staff, staff representative groups, customers and user groups, suppliers, pressure groups, regulatory bodies and the media.
A 'communications strategy should be in place and regularly supported and updated to appeal to the interest of each of these groups. A blanket communication strategy and message does not work. Each interest group or constituent will have different needs and priorities and require specialist input on occasion.
Orchestrating and aligning these constituencies is critical in order to make the change work. At this stage, we mobilize all resources to make sure that the vision each stakeholder or constituent will formulate is consistent with the visions of others.
This is a massive communications exercise often not practiced by those of the ‘rational-technical’ school of change management. Here, we are focusing attention on the vision of what the business is to become and should make special cognizance of the style or mindset and behaviors that are reflected in that vision.
Remember Change is a Political Process
Aligning commitment means we have to gain sufficient support from all those who are core actors, constituents or stakeholders affected by the change.
Not everyone will be on your side all the time. We have to establish a critical mass of support and at the same time treat each of the constituents as individual groups with special and specific interests and needs.
We have to address these differing needs at the same time as ensuring the core message is not diluted or the direction misaligned.
What we are attempting to do is to win support to our overall vision and goals. At the same time, we are also seeking out any possible resistance and, finally, making every effort to persuade, cajole and negotiate when and where required to educate and inform.
At every stage in the Rapid Improvement process we have to emotionally engage the interest and motivations of others and this can only be achieved when we recognize we are operating possibly in a highly charged political arena with constituents with different goals and objectives.
Stage 4: Shaping an Implementation Plan
Change has, all to often been introduced into business without being project managed. There is frequently an over reliance on the training Workshops or the application of tools, rather than relating to the overall implementation and installation of the project.
People need to know where they and their team fit into the process. They need to know the leverage points for change and how one factor causes another to work – and they need to know just as much about the benefits of the change as the features of what is to happen.
Change should be a ‘strategic process’ that is managed from the top, but all to often the management of change is down to mysticism and accident rather than design.
We need to create and practice a solid methodology so people can see where they are going – understand the disadvantages of staying the same way – comprehension the direction the business is pursuing, and have a clear understanding of when the future desired state can be achieved.
This stage is when all the major drives for improvement are activated. It is often the time when Training Workshops are initiated, major launches are held to promote particular activity, problem-solving groups are trained and the drive for continuous improvement starts.
Relentless rather than Continuous Improvement
I use the word 'relentless' often because this is a characteristic of this stage. We are beginning a journey. We have planned sufficiently.
We have led the project. We have developed a credible and persuasive communication strategy and cascaded to all constituents.
We have identified where resistance may reside and taken action to win those doubters over to our way of thinking. Only when we have completed these vital actions in Stage 1-3 can we really focus upon this period of learning, education, development etc.
In too many instances, companies fail to commit to the first three stages and just launch themselves headlong into training. The result is predictable.
There is some heightening of activity and interest in a new initiative but because it has not been well planned, it will become 'flavour of the month' - yet another change initiative that failed, another fad that did not work!
Stage 5: Sustaining Change & Relentless Improvement
The proposition is that most change initiatives don't work or they do not achieve the synergies for which they were originally created. The reason is we fail to plan for change with an attention to detail especially within the wider 'political-behavioral' perspective. Change is not a 'rational-technical' process.
Experience shows that for change to work, it needs to be sustained and supported by key people in the business. It is not enough to run or launch an event and believe it will cascade along without further stimulus.
Effective change needs to be fueled by enthusiastic people, feeding back success stories of how the change has benefited the organization.
Change is not a single inoculation to the system. It should be a transfusion of positive energy injecting new life-blood at the right time into those areas of the business that need rapid revitalization.
We must also remember that as we are feeding one particular initiative, other projects may also be competing for attention and scarce resources, taking the attention of people away from your project.
Sustaining a drive will determine the effectiveness of the initiative, and will tell us how well we managed to institutionalize the change into the organization to become “business as usual”.
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