Stephen Cherlet Explains the Biggest Barrier to Being an Adaptive Organization

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We asked: What do you most often find is an organization’s biggest barrier to becoming adaptive, and how do you overcome this barrier?

There are many barriers to becoming an adaptive organization, but proper change management can counteract them. The key is complete and transparent COMMUNICATION. If employees and team members do not know or clearly understand the following points, then the barriers and/or issues cannot be resolved easily. People need to understand clearly:

  • What am I being asked to do?
  • Why do I need to do this?
  • What impact will this have on me and those immediately around me?
  • What happens if I/we don’t do this?

Senior leadership, or the executive team, must kick off the communication program since this is typically done at a high level of management. This often this take place in a large conference room with an audio-visual presentation. Sometimes the executives will present the information in the format of an “all-hands” meeting with an extensive audience. This is all well and good, but it is not enough, even when these large-scale events are held on a regular basis.

There may also be written communications in formats such as “Memos from the President,” newsletters, direct mailings, and updates on the corporate intranet. Once again, this has value, but there needs to be more.

What is often omitted is the need to carry the message down, level-by-level, through the organization in smaller groups, possibly even one-on-one meetings. As a shop floor employee, for instance, it is valuable to know that a new program has been instituted, some executive responsibilities are being shuffled, and the president’s new mission is for the organization to focus on customers.  What is important here is how these changes impact me as an individual, and what is my contribution to the overall transformation process. It is critical for these individuals to understand the impact of these changes on them and fellow employees around and below their position in the organization.

Companies that use Policy Deployment (or Hoshin Kanri) may already be implementing a technique called “catchball.” The key is in carrying the discussions down, level-by-level, through the organization rather than stopping with management. At the lower levels, the ideas for activities that the teams can consider are constrained by their level in the workplace, but employees still need to be included to feel involved and valued in the organization. This goes beyond sitting in large meetings and watching presentations. Catchball meetings offer them the opportunity to shape their response and participation. This also affords their supervisors an ideal opportunity to discuss “what’s in it for me” or the individual impact.

In our example of an organization trying to adapt to customer expectations, say, regarding reducing lead times, there may be some related projects. An example could be to implement a Project Management Office approach to engineer-to-order businesses to improve execution and meet customer delivery expectations. This will have a certain impact on several departments in the organization, most likely sales, engineering, planning, and production. The employees in those departments need to be involved, and catchball allows us to capture and leverage their thoughts and ideas.

From there, the actions, goals, and objectives will cascade down through the various levels of each department.  At some point, manufacturing operations will be involved, and this should reach the shop floor. I suspect this doesn’t happen often enough. At this level, supervisors and team leaders need to be discussing the plans being considered. The scope to change those plans might be limited, but it is important to hear the ideas of those carrying out the day-to-day work on the floor. What do we need them to do differently?  Do they have ideas on how the changes can be implemented? What impact is there, if any, on their working conditions? Even if there are no changes, these things need to be identified.

In our example, there might be a renewed focus on production readiness and adherence to dates and deadlines.  This sounds simple enough, but there may be changes to the sequence of job releases and something different about where the target completion dates are maintained and printed. Taking the time to communicate this to the people involved might seem like a small thing, but this impacts their day-to-day routine. Perhaps they may have a few questions, but maybe someone will have a constructive idea, such as a better way to ensure the shop packet is prepared or an easier way to sequence work on the floor. Without the meeting, this input would never be heard. In the absence of the meeting, there would be an opportunity for misunderstanding and possibly some dissension.

Only when everyone understands and is aligned with the changes occurring in the organization can it become truly adaptive. The extra time, effort and patience to carry a communication through all levels and backup are worth it in the long run.


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