Published in Project Times, Wednesday, 24 April
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Volatility is the new norm in today’s business environment. How often does your supplier decide to close up shop? Or, does your 20 year customer decide to go through a rigorous selection process? Or, does natural disaster cause a disruption in your supply chain? How about political strife? Are you planning a new ERP system implementation or upgrade? Undoubtedly, if you want to succeed in the new normal, you will learn to thrive amidst change!
Although change has always been around, it seems to be one of the most challenging roadblocks my clients face. How do you give your employees, customers and suppliers confidence to successfully navigate these ever-changing times? You must find out; otherwise, you’ll likely spend the next 20 years hoping to survive. Who wants that sort of existence? Thus, a few strategies for success should come in handy: 1) Leadership. 2) Exemplars. 3) Modeling. 3) Trials. & risk.
- Leadership – Success in change begins and ends with leadership! There is no way around it. If you do not have solid leadership, it’s best not to focus on change. Of course, it is nearly impossible to avoid change in the new normal; however, you can at least minimize change. You better as you won’t succeed without exceptional leadership!For example, I’ve seen clients with minimal resources navigate complex change and succeed with solid leadership, yet I’ve also seen robust clients fail miserably with simple change efforts with mediocre leadership. Solid leadership starts by giving folks the confidence to follow the leader through the change process. I’ve found that employees are not resistant to change. Instead, they are resistant to change if they don’t understand the destination and are concerned about getting lost along the way. Leadership resolves those issues.
- Exemplars – One of the best approaches to succeeding with a change management initiative is to find respected exemplars and get them on board with the change. People will follow those they trust and respect. It can be as simple as that.For example, in one client project, we had to dramatically increase the production output from the gating work center area in order to increase customer service levels. It was a constant battle until we found an exemplar to trial new approaches. Once folks saw that the exemplar was willing to try new methods to increase production rates, others followed. Suddenly, we reduced the past due in half as momentum took hold.
- Modeling – Modeling the change can be very helpful. Sometimes, employees are not resistant to change but do not understand the change or how their jobs will be affected by the change. Thus, if the leaders find a way to model or illustrate the change, it gives folks an opportunity to learn through observation. It is significantly less scary to try something new if you’ve seen it modeled successfully – you know you can try to repeat what you saw “work”.For example, in an organizational realignment project, the project leader modeled the new behavior expected of department leaders. Instead of viewing goals which would negatively affect her department but that would positively affect the company as a whole as negative, she modeled a new behavior of support for the company objectives.She talked about the value to the organization and how her department was key to the outcome as it was expected that they’d perform slightly worse in order to increase new sales (in support of company objectives). Instead of agreeing to the goal but not modeling true support which might result in giving free reign to perform poorly, she developed new metrics and aligned them with stretch goals assuming the negative effects took place. Everyone got on board with the change – and succeeded.
- Trials & Risk – Last but not least, it’s essential to create an environment where employees and leaders can trial a new idea, approach or organizational style. It is one of the reasons why leadership is essential – if leaders do not create the right type of environment, employees will never try new approaches which might cause them to fail and/or get in trouble.For example, in one client, in order to bring up service levels, we had to forecast demand and build inventory to forecast. This approach was previously taboo – no one even thought about increasing inventory! Thus, in order to make this change, we not only had to talk about why it was important but we had to create an environment conducive to the change. We had to celebrate employees’ taking a risk with the forecast (assuming it was a reasonable risk) even if the forecast didn’t come true. This is really challenging as it’s likely to negatively impact quarterly results initially; however if we beat employees up for changing as we’ve requested, we’ve guaranteed no change!
Since the only thing that is constant is change, we must become adept at managing change – even excelling at change. Those who are flexible and can readily adapt to change will thrive in the new normal. Will you be left in the dust?