Change Management Street Smarts: Interview with Jeff Cole

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How can you get a group of people, who don’t report to you, to change their behavior?

Ron Crabtree:

Have you ever wondered why it seems so difficult to make changes in an organization? Well, one of the secrets to success in any Operational Excellence initiative that gets results and makes them stick in the long run is really wrapped up by one of my favorite questions to ask when I make live presentations. It revolve around this question:

“Which is harder? (A) learning the tools of process improvement, or (B) getting people to actually do it?” Almost universally, people will answer B. Learning tools is easy but getting people to change, to actually do things differently, is much harder.

Well, you’re in for a real treat as one of the co-authors of the new book Driving Operational Excellence, by Jeff Cole, is going to provide some great insights and tips that I think you will find incredibly helpful. I would like to tell you a little bit about what is in his chapter; it includes some really important gems of wisdom that I have been trying to tell people for years. For example, which do you prefer of these statements: A) having something done to you?; B) having something done with you? Invariably, folks would prefer we do it with them than to them. The other great insight that Jeff provides is this: there are hundreds of books out there about the tools of Operational Excellence and Six Sigma Lean, but very few with a step-by-step process for actually managing change within that context. I agree with Jeff that 80% of success in major process improvement efforts is actually a change management problem. Not just learning the tools of Operational Excellence but actually implementing them.

So, with that, Jeff, I’m glad you could join us. Let’s hear a bit more about your background.

Jeff Cole:

Sure, Ron, you know how your listeners may feel pain in their companies because of processes that are too slow, maybe they have low-quality output, things are inefficient, or maybe they are just trying to do more with what limited resources they have. I help them eliminate that pain. I have a consulting practice based in Dayton Ohio, of all places, specializing in improvement strategies like Lean, Six Sigma, and organizational change. Personally, I am a Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt, I hold several ASQ and industry certifications, and I have had the pleasure of helping clients across a variety of industries and have coached around 4,000 people at this point. I am a former quality executive at a Fortune 500 company. I’ve got over 25 years of experience. I’ve served two terms as a National Malcolm Baldridge Awards examiner, and I’m proud to be a co-author, with you, of the new book Driving Operational Excellence.


Until just this moment I didn’t recognize that you have been involved with the Malcolm Baldridge Awards. That is quite an achievement. So, what was it that led you to write that chapter, and why change management, and why street smarts?


About 20 years ago, I was a quality manager in a large global firm. We found ourselves very adept at finding problems and fixing our processes. But we were also very frustrated because we weren’t getting the results we should. One day, I got out of bed, went to work and stumbled across this profound life lesson that has allowed me to be extremely successful ever since. Here’s the secret for your listeners: It doesn’t matter which method you use. I don’t care whether you’re following Lean Six Sigma, Red X, Deming, Juran, Crosby or the Ron Crabtree method, you and I can have the best technical process in the world but if the people who have to use it, don’t, we’ve lost our investment. And, unfortunately, there is no button in Excel or option in Minitab you can click on to make somebody follow your new process. So that was the magical day I discovered this thing called change management. It is a body of knowledge as broad and deep as Six Sigma. It basically addresses how you get a group of people, who don’t report to you, to change their behavior. Basically, stop doing things the old way and start doing them the new way. I’ve got to tell you, Ron, once I discovered this, it was a whole new world. So, that is the change management piece. I am passionate about it and feel it is very critical.

Then there is the street smarts piece. Each of your listeners, Ron, would tell you in their gut they know there’s a difference between textbooks and reality. In fact, people tune into your talks because they want real results. Heck, if you want theory, there are many ivy-covered buildings full of guys in tweed jackets who will talk theory until your ears bleed. I think your listeners want results. What may look good on paper often varies in actual conditions. Especially in these economic times, where Plan A doesn’t work, and we burn through back-up Plans B and C. I passionately believe that only those folks who are willing to take a nimble and street-smart approach have any chance of improving in the future, let alone surviving.


One of the things I picked up on … I can’t remember where I picked it up … you probably agree with this … is the old term, “No plan survives first contact with the enemy.”

So, in your chapter, you’ve really cranked out some interesting stuff around these nine smart tips, if you will, for driving process change. So, what are some of the things that our listeners … mind you; I’ve spoiled them; they want to know what they can do now. So, what are some things they can do right now based on just listening to this to immediately help them be more effective both in small and large-scale change management efforts?


Absolutely, you’re right. It’s all about execution. I would say the number one thing is for your listeners to recognize the need. You probably recall the old joke about the factory of the future being staffed with one dog and one man. And the dog’s job is to make sure that the man doesn’t touch any switches and the man’s job is to feed the dog. Unfortunately, we’re not there. If any of your listeners are interacting in any way with other human beings, this becomes a very critical, critical thing to know. In fact, one irrevocable truth, every listener out there has probably been impacted in some way by changes over the past couple of years. There are two sides to this coin – either you are a recipient of a change or changes happen to you. What we have there are tools for you to adapt to change very quickly and become productive again. Or you are a driver of change. For those folks out there who are driving change, you have to understand that whether it’s a good change or bad change, when you invoke a change, productivity drops and productivity stays down at a lower level until the dust settles on this change, and people have adapted to the change, when they’ve absorbed it, then productivity rises to a higher level. That is an amazing hidden cost inside a lot of organizations.

I just want them to know that you can consciously create a nimble, adaptable, resilient organization but you have to recognize the need for this. We have tools that help you, number one, make sure the productivity drop is not too great and, number two, to make sure that you’re not down in that trough with low productivity too long. So, you bounce back quicker. So, step one recognizes the need.

Step two, select a method. If the listeners out there are familiar with Operational Excellence; you’ve likely heard of Six Sigma. I read an interesting fact a couple of years ago. Did you know that there are over 400 books on Six Sigma? So, I invite everybody listening to this to go out and do an experiment. Go to your local library, pull a half dozen books off the shelf regarding Six Sigma and look at them. I’ve made it my business to go out and track down most of these books and look at them, so I can tell you from experience that you will find 80-90% overlap and that all the authors are saying pretty much the same thing. If you do Six Sigma, the methodology is DMAIC: Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control. So, it is nice to have this structured, well-proven methodology that everyone can follow.

Change management is not like that. If you go pull six change management books off the shelf and flip through them, you’re going to find it’s like looking at diet books. Everybody tells you to do something different. Back in 2007, there was a company named Prosci that did the best practices report, and they had very interesting findings. They found a positive correlation between having effective change management programs in place and that an organization’s ability to meet project objectives and stay on schedule. But, check this out. They had 436 participants in this survey of theirs. They cited over 70 different change management methods.

What we do in our practice is we go in, and we study the corporate culture of the organization. We align them with the right process improvement methodology for excellence, but then, we weave into that seamlessly the appropriate change management methodologies.

What I invite the listeners to do right now, and you can do it immediately, and you can do it for free, go out and look at several books on change management. Just know that the first book you pick up, you may like, but it may not be the best methodology for you. Despite what any author says, the evidence shows there is no one standard practice for change management, no one best method. But, I would rather have you go out, look at a couple books, pick your favorite, and do one. It is better to do something than to do nothing, short-term.

Another one that I want to cover, and I know we don’t have a lot of time, and I’m not going to cover all nine points here, but, culture eats process for lunch. Ron, like you, I’ve been through a lot of training in my day. I could fill a backyard swimming pool with all the binders I’ve received. And, I’ve got to tell you, for every swimming pool full of technical binders talking about really cool stuff like P-values, residuals, CPK and MSA, I’ve probably received a shoe box of information on how to operate effectively in different corporate cultures.

Think of culture as the shared beliefs, behaviors and assumptions of an organization. It is like a very powerful freight train barreling right through the middle of your organization. It is a powerful, invisible force in the company. If you want your profit improvements in the same direction as the culture, it will accelerate your implementation, and everything will be great. If you want the profits improvement in the opposite direction, you will experience what I call “cultural blowback,” where a well-intentioned process change blows back in your face at 200 mph, and you find yourself scraping change off the walls and ceiling for weeks.

The way to address that, as we cover in the book in more detail, is you have to understand the attributes of your current culture. Then, sit down and determine what the culture that would accept this new process of yours would look like. If there is a great deal of overlap between the two, you’re in good shape. If there’s not, well there’s an old saying, “Change the culture. Change the change. Or prepare for failure.” So, we give you some pointers on how to do that. Primarily, you can think about changing the content or the timing or the location of power. Things like that are good tactical steps to align with your culture if you will. So that’s cultural blowback.

Also, in the book, I give examples about cultural landmines, which are not freight trains, they’re little idiosyncrasies that different organizational cultures will have. If you don’t understand those, you can step on them, and they will set your profits initiative way back.


There was a lot of information there in a really big hurry. We got several very good ideas, and I really like one of your analogies, that you didn’t have time for, around changes … people are like a sponge when it comes to changes; there is only so much they can stand at one time. Once they are wet, they really can’t take much more. That was a wonderful analogy that I also think folks could benefit from thinking about.

Can you sum everything up for us, Jeff, with a couple of good takeaways that you’d like folks to get out of this short discussion?


Sure. I think number one, recognize that every one of us, in every organization, is going to rely on our change management skills to survive or thrive going forward.

And number two, recognize that this is a “read more about it” type topic. There’s a saying out there, “you don’t know what you don’t know.” And there is a lot to learn about this particular topic. There are many books. Our book gives you a great start, but to help your listeners, anyone who gets the book is going to receive a special link back to my website where they will be able to download a complimentary 30 page workbook that gives them all of the tools and templates they need to get off to an immediate and sound beginning to their change management efforts in a street-smart fashion.

Jeff Cole

Jeff ColeMr. Cole has 25-plus years of experience providing front-line and executive-level leadership and over 10 years delivering consulting and training services to organizations across multiple industries. He is an expert in designing and implementing process improvement initiatives. His specialties include lean, six sigma, process redesign, Baldrige assessments, customer and employee surveys, customer service, organizational change, and professional development. Jeff has helped executive to work-group level teams in organizations including telecoms, optical fiber manufacturers, marketing research firms, heavy equipment manufacturers, aerospace, government agencies, management consulting firms, electronics manufacturers, retail and hospitality companies, healthcare  supply management companies, hospitals, food producers, and high-tech firms.


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