Effective Change Management: Communicate the How for Every Part of the Organization

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Change is inevitable. People and groups as a whole, generally either accept change as an opportunity or view it as something to avoid. These attitudes towards change envelop the culture of any organization. Therefore, change and culture are intimately intertwined. Trust in your coworkers is essential to the management of the attitude to change. Therefore, when introducing Operational Excellence (OpEx) initiatives to solve business problems, it is vital to communicate how this change is going to affect all levels of the organization. Maintaining trust with your fellow employees during this transition controls the pendulum of your ability to drive successfully sustainable change improvements.

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Effective Change Management: Communicate the How for Every Part of the Organization

High-performing companies generally utilize Change in their organizations, products, and services as a competitive advantage. Other companies may find this tiring, and it doesn’t fit their culture. It is important to understand your organizations position on this spectrum prior to initiating an OpEx program. A Readiness Assessment can be performed to ascertain this prior to launching an OpEx program or used to reinvigorate an OpEx program that has become stagnant.

Proactive, positive communication on how each individual is going to be affected by OpEx influenced transitions is foundational for successful implementation. To prevent the undermining of OpEx initiatives, the organization should consider key business communication problem areas including:

  • Company Vision/Mission and Values – are these clear and known?
  • Current Initiative Portfolio – is this understood and how will it be managed and executed?
  • Expectations of the OpEx Team – who are they and what do they do?
  • Expectations of Other Staff – what is the role of leadership, management, and individual contributors to support OpEx initiatives and the OpEx team?
  • Expectations for OpEx Project Execution – what is being done and when?
  • Expectations for OpEx Project Sustainability – how will this be maintained and managed?
  • Integration of OpEx Project Performance Sustainability – how will this affect employee performance rewards and recognition?

The Five Elements of Change provide a good reference to understanding the business communication challenges that prevent OpEx initiatives from being adopted within an organization.

Vision: Keep in mind that integrating OpEx will be disruptive to the organization. Furthermore, people do not enjoy change unless the unknowns become known, and are proactively managed. The more surprises that are unveiled, the more confusion will grow to undermine the program. Aligning the OpEx objectives to the Company’s Vision/Mission and Values is essential to kick-off the program, it is important this alignment is done from the top-down. For continuity, these alignments should be verified monthly for the first year and quarterly thereafter. This will allow for the proper messaging throughout the organization ensuring acceptance and engagement by middle management. Remember, the OpEx program needs to be aligned to support management’s goals and objectives, and should not have a separate set of goals independent of management’s success criteria.

Skills: Before OpEx is brought in, leadership and management will have had current initiative execution methods for their top initiatives. Management is used to owning and controlling all project scoping and execution in their personal style. After all, this is one of the reasons they have been promoted to that level. They have the skills to manage their teams. With the launch of the OpEx initiative problem-solving processes, they feel challenged as they have not had an opportunity to become practiced in these new skills. Therefore, it is only natural that they would feel a level of anxiety. To address their anxiety, these leaders need to maintain control of the OpEx projects as Project Champions and Process Owners. The leaders need to become familiar and embrace the new OpEx problem-solving approach. Since this approach is new to them, they need to be onboard with why the process will be more effective than their unique, proven style of making a change in the organization. Take the time to coach and mentor these leaders and managers for success. Do not expect newly trained Green Belts (GBs) or Black Belts (BBs) to be able to train the leaders. Assign skilled OpEx execution practitioners to develop synergies with the existing styles, so it becomes their program.

Action Plan (OpEx project execution and sustainability): Without clear action plans and deliverables on both the OpEx initiative and the underlying projects, the overall program will be viewed as “running on a treadmill – running fast and going nowhere.” Develop clear commitment guidelines for leaders and managers to ensure that the teams are dedicated to take-the-time to go through the steps to develop impactful, sustainable improvements. The 80/20 rule always applies, 80% of the improvement is due to 20% of the all of the causes. It is a balance between addressing the simple, obvious improvements and having the patience to address complicated improvements. We often choose the easy, non-impactful causes in order to complete the project improvements quickly. Trust the improvement process methodology and your trained GBs and BBs to ensure that the root cause is addressed so that completing project results in not having to rehash the project every 12-18 months.

Incentives (Employee rewards and recognition): Success is in the eyes of the beholder. The Process Implementer, Process Owner, and Process Team are the rightful owners of project success.  However, it is often seen that the Project Manager (BB/GB) gains the accolades. While the project manager (BB/GB) may put in quite a bit of work to develop the improvements, organization change success relies on acceptance and internalization of the changed improvements. Therefore, resentment and resistance can develop between the different stakeholders who have put their dedication and time into making the improvements. However, the Project Manager (BB/GB) must gain rewards, along with the team, for their ability to create and enable change within the organization. Both of these perspectives should be proactively managed by creating a shared need across all the key stakeholders. Frequent alignment check-ins (one-on-one and group) should be part of each individual project, as well as, the overall project/initiative portfolio (monthly cadence). Most importantly, the Process Owner (usually the front-line manager) will ultimately determine the fate of the success of the project. So, ensure that there is clear alignment to their success criteria in how they are measured. Measures drive behavior. And always remember to celebrate together to drive a sustained success!

Resources: One of the greatest challenges is the management of resources to execute the additional work entailed in performing OpEx initiatives. Do we add more resources to ensure we staff the program with our best employees or do we stop working on some activities that do not bring us value?  This needs to be sorted out prior to formally launching the program. Without this being clearly communicated there would be frustration throughout the organization. There are pros and cons to both approaches, although the most successful deployments are those that do not ramp up new external employees (seasoned practitioners) significantly. Focus on initiative prioritization to monetarily justify the program using your best people. This should be established early on as part of the planning of the OpEx program launch. While the program will require investment, the return should be realized within two years ( the goal of 12-18 months) from the initiation of the GB/BB training. After this time, momentum should build so that the program becomes integrated within the respective P&Ls to drive margins and shareholder value. If this has not occurred within two years, the executive team has not supported the OpEx program properly. Within two years, your initial set of GBs/BBs (most talented employees) should be graduating to management or leadership positions so that further advancement of the OpEx starts to weave within the fabric of your organization.

In summary, communication-communication-communication! All too often, the need to know approach bewilders employees and creates an environment of angst. Develop an OpEx deployment milestone plan that is clearly communicated throughout the organization, from the time of launch onwards. We need everyone on the same page to drive success in the OpEx program but most importantly for the success of the company.

Additional Information

Assessing Your Organization’s Level of Discomfort for Sustainable Change

Assessing Your Organization’s Degree of Vision Comprehension for Sustainable Change

Change Management Experts: Our Children!

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