25 July 2019

Managing Change - Don't mess with Mr. In-between

When a company choses the Integrated Supply approach, it is buying into transformational change in the way it approaches a critical but often neglected area of business in the fields of MRO and BOM-tail. During my years at MAG45 I've experienced that managing change is a fundamental part of the Integrated Supply package and a critical success factor.

Implementing new business processes and physical alterations to warehouses is relatively straightforward. I have done this many times before and the spreadsheets, GANTT charts, critical path analyses are fairly standard and familiar. What cannot be overlooked is the fact that it is actually people that need to embrace the new processes and let the Integrated Supply approach succeed. Change management is various in every project due to people involved and company cultures.

The challenges of change
Change is unsettling, challenging, sometimes downright frightening, and this is true at every level in the company. From C-suite executives to shop-floor workers, the natural reaction to radical change is to feel "I've been giving my all to this job and now you are telling me I've been doing it wrong". Especially if it appears to come from outside the company.

That is the first stage where I always refer to the so-called 'Kubler-Ross change curve'. According to this model, reactions continue through denial, fear, frustration, and depression. "Will the skill and fun go from the job – because I get a real kick out of successful firefighting and knowing all the unofficial workarounds?" or "Will I even have a job at the end of the day?".

Kubler-Ross change curve

In a successful change project, there is a recovery through understanding, acceptance, enthusiasm and commitment. This leaves morale and performance permanently in a much better place than when the project was first mooted. If morale falls too far, the company will never reach that happy state and the whole project could fail. Staff will be resentful, resistant and may actively undermine the change programme, or even walk away.

Devising the right programme
Typically, I experience 10% of the workforce are really supportive of change, 10% more or less opposed, and a majority who will tend to follow those around them. These latter can certainly be convinced to join the 'supporters club' if managed in the right way. However, when there is the feeling not being informed, or listened to, people may well join the nay-sayers.

Therefore it is important to devise a programme to manage peoples' fears, expectations and experience of change. This has to be in place right at the start, at the initial proposal and planning stage, long before implementation gets under way.

The eight-step 'Kotter model' is the base of our programmes, which in simple terms is about deploying eight sets of tools across three phases. It creates the climate for change, engaging and enabling the organisation, and improving and sustaining the change. These map onto our project phases of on boarding and preparation, implementation, and continuing service delivery.

Targeting the right people...
The details of how this works will be different for every project, but there are some universals. The foundation is to identify the key stakeholder individuals and groups. That isn't quite as simple as it sounds.

Among the management tiers, obviously there is the CEO, COO, head of procurement and their senior line reports, whose visible and voluble endorsement will be vital. There are also relationships that need to be brought in too. Think about legal, financial and HR. Then there are the wider workforce groups – production, maintenance, warehousing, procurement, administration. Like their managers, these groups will have different – and sometimes conflicting – hopes, fears and priorities.

A thorough stakeholder analysis identifies these various stakeholders, although it is all too easy to miss out important individuals or groups. There may be part-timers, out-stationed workers, employees on maternity/paternity leave, and of course the nightshift. The various groups have different communication needs, not just in terms of what they need to know, but how they can be communicated with and, vitally, how they can communicate back.

A tailored communication plan needs to be in place. All involved need to be approached in their language, relating to a project vision why we are actually doing the project, and translate this to specific needs and requirements. All to get everybody in a state of "acceptance", "enthusiasm" and "commitment" as soon as possible.

...through the right channels
In terms of the Kotter change model, then, a sense of urgency needs to be created. Most likely through targeted presentations supported by key sponsors like the site manager, to explain the 'why' and vision of the program and how it supports the companies goals. A powerful change management coalition need to be built to support and drive the project, that brings together all the different interests and priorities into something that is easy to grasp.

The vision also has to be communicated: not once, but frequently and powerfully, using all available tools. A one-time corporate email or a paragraph in the company newsletter is great but does not make a sustainable difference for the long run. A pro-active approach is needed for all layers of the organization. For example through project communication boards close to the people involved, updated frequently by sharing wins in the project team and being transparent about the challenges. There could be regular or ad-hoc Q&A sessions with end-users near the workplace, perhaps around the project boards, to get input, ideas and allowing to voice concerns to the project team. Project representatives should be frequently attending relevant customer team meetings – to be seen to be listening as much as to speak. And so on. Note that all of this needs to be in place and humming before the implementation phase 'breaks ground'.

Embedding the changes
Once the Integrated Supply approach is ready for implementation, communication moves up a gear. It's about empowering action, removing obstacles, supporting those who are creating or are on the receiving end of change, noting and praising progress, and actively seeking out feedback. Create and celebrate quick wins or milestones reached early. There is nothing like an early taste of victory.

The momentum has to be maintained, even after implementation, if the change is really going to become embedded and irreversible. There are opportunities to engage people in building on what has gone right, and identifying how further improvements can be made. This may identify advocates who would be of great help in a roll-out to another part of manufacturing to explain how it supported them. Also engaging with staff to monitor continuing progress, and to document the new procedures and processes, especially in ways that will help train new staff.

Top down – bottom up
That is in my opinion how a company can implement real, sustained and rewarding change. Most or all of the fear and the depression phase on the change curve can be avoided by starting early with a two-way, top down and bottom up communication process. This ensures that you can rapidly move to understanding, enthusiasm and commitment.

In the immortal words of Johnny Mercer, we have to "Accentuate the positive - Eliminate the negative - Latch on to the affirmative and Don't mess with Mister In-Between".

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