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Article 2 Challenges in Implementing Change

Challenges in Implementing Change

by Michael Heifetz APICS November 1993
You can greatly improve your chances for success by ensuring that there is plenty of motivation and enough capability to pull it off.

While every situation is unique, many of the challenges that manufacturing management face in implementing change is both generic and predictable. Anyone who tries to make a significant change in any organization is likely to face most of those issues in one form or another. But, once you know what you must face, and have some idea of how to manage the problem; your job becomes a little easier. The purpose of this article (the second of a series) is to identify such common problems and provide some proven solutions for managing them. In the initial article (APICS-The Performance Advantage, October 1993) we introduced the seven stage Change Cycle Model. This model was presented as a primary road map to help choose a direction, anticipate problems and keep track of where you are. One way to categorize these implementation issues is to divide them into functional challenges and people challenges. Functional challenges relate to capability (including skills), and the structures and systems which support that capability. People challenges include attitudinal, behavioral or emotional responses to the change effort.

Functional Challenges
Compelling vision or target: Remember "Alice in Wonderland? While standing at the crossroads, Alice told the Cheshire cat that she didn't know where she wanted to go. He replied, "Then any road will get you there." If an organization does not define its desired "future state," its efforts may well get them just about anywhere. Defining your vision of what the organization wants to become, clarifying the target of your change effort, developing mission statements and operating principals, and identifying midpoint goals, are all means to define where you are going. These can be highly motivating and exciting vehicles for change, but they will all fall short unless people can translate the sweeping concepts and worthy goals into practical terms. Answering the questions "What does all of this mean for my job?" "Just what has to change?" and "What stays the same?," is a vital part of the change process that is often cut short. This translation process is a critical activity that takes quite a lot of time and effort-much more than most of us plan for.

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Building leadership skills: Because of the powerful resistance any change effort faces, there is an overriding need for strong, able leadership. In order for the change to work, the leader(s) must: Be a catalyst Supply the initial activating force Define the vision of what the change should look like Provide the wisdom and skills to guide the ongoing effort Persevere in the face of a continuing stream of problems

Leadership requires quite a diverse and well-defined skill set. Unfortunately, this rare set of capabilities is often missing in organizations, regardless of the size. If you know that a critical skill or other capability is missing, your change effort will be vulnerable until you obtain that skill one way or another. What can you do if you find a gap between the leadership requirements of your change effort and the current skills of the leader? First, it is quite possible to build upon the leader's own skill set. Second, supplementing his skills with those of other people may be necessary to fill any remaining gaps. The point is to make sure that all the necessary functions of leadership are performed one way or another. If a team approach is needed, use it. If there is a vital skill that is not present in the organization now, and cannot be developed in a timely manner, then obtain the skill through hiring or outside assistance. In most situations, it makes sense to address the issue of strong leadership prior to launching the proposed change cycle.

Proactive planning: Many implementation plans do not anticipate or address the major stumbling blocks to change, nor do they anticipate the impact of the change. For example, inertia, political opposition, inadequate skill sets, inadequate monitoring and feedback systems for assisting the learning process are barriers that must be planned for. There is often a glossing over of the likely impact of the change on products, policies, priorities, customers and internal systems. One way to minimize these shortcomings is to staff the planning team cross-functionally. This will give the planning effort a diversity of viewpoints and expertise. If modifications are being made to a manufacturing system, for example, include people from operations, engineering, marketing and information systems on the team. It is also useful to tap outside Sources, such as customers and independent subject matter experts, while plans are being developed. Failure to integrate this external perspective can lead to serious misdirection of your change effort.

Building skills and other capabilities: During the course of any Change process, the capability of the organization will be tested. If you don't lead or cannot apply the required capability, your change effort will fail. It is too easy to say that lack of capability is a major cause of implementation failure. It is more accurate to say that most organizations have or can develop the skills and know-how to do great things. The problem lies more often in their ability to develop and then properly utilize the human resources already present in the organization.

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The necessity for change can be a great positive catalyst for training and development of your existing talent pool. Major change typically means that new perspectives and skills will be needed to do new jobs. Of course, some changes may dictate supplementing or replacing personnel. But it is often less chaotic, less costly and more rewarding to provide the people you already have in place with the skills they will need to do the work of the future. To fully utilize people's capabilities, they must want to make the change, or at least be willing to support it with their own efforts. It is not enough just to have a solid implementation plan, support systems and the required skill base. In most organizations, it is also a matter of commitment to the change through participation in a lengthy and complex interactive process.

Communicate: Imagine that you are putting together a very complex puzzle. It is composed of many irregularly shaped pieces. The pieces themselves are made of various materials such as metal, plastic, ceramics and wood. To fit the puzzle together you must apply glue. Not just one type of glue, but several kinds. Since you have never tried to glue some of these materials together, you might even have to experiment with different glues and methods of application.

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Communication is the glue of organizational change. It must be applied liberally, at all stages of the process and in a variety ways. If there is not enough glue, or the wrong kind is used in the wrong place, the pieces won't all fit together. In practice, it is important to give people a variety of repeated opportunities to become involved and to talk about the change process. People need to phrase, rephrase, paraphrase, again and again what they are involved with and what it means to them. There are no shortcuts to this communication process. People are not machines with interchangeable parts. Taking time to communicate is an essential component in achieving permanent organizational change and will likely take far more time than originally anticipated.

Providing plenty of feedback: Let's assume that the actual implementation of your change is under way. Tangible signs of progress and results will nourish commitment and sustain momentum. Even if the signs of progress are subtle and inconclusive at first, people need all the legitimate proof they can get. Without these signs of progress, the management team will have difficulty holding the project together over time. Many projects fail because key people, including interested parties outside the core management group, can't see proof of progress. Participants, for example, can become so focused on specific tasks that they lose sight of overall movement. Even if your project is moving forward, lack of feedback from a broader perspective to team members, participants and others who have a stake in the project can kill an effort at any point. Stakeholders can include interested officials, upper management not participating in implementing the change, shareholders and special interest groups. Keeping skeptics informed of your project's movement is also an effective means of lessening the chance that they'll become active blockers. Misjudging the finish line: A change is not fully stable and irreversible until it has become the norm. At this point, the entire work system has achieved a new state of internal balance, where all the pieces function together as an integrated whole. At this point people are not only comfortable with the change, but would resist going back to old patterns. The problem is that most implementation processes never reach this point. Project teams are often disbanded or diluted once a new system is up and running with the initial teething problems solved. Training may stop before people have truly integrated new priorities, procedures and skills into their jobs. Practical problems of making the change work under real job conditions may not get the attention required, because resources are shuffled to the next high priority project prematurely. The time and effort needed to integrate the change may be grossly underestimated, and the organization may simply give up when it is actually only 15 yards from the goal line.

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People Challenges
Managing discomfort: Unfortunately, people and organizations usually resist change unless faced by a difficult situation such as a competitor's new product, slumping sales or new regulations. With all of these shifts, maintaining the status quo is no longer a viable strategy, which causes pain in the organization. There must be sufficient discomfort to stimulate a major change effort. Without enough pain, there will not be enough motivation to make the change. No matter how compelling the vision, no matter how thorough and involving the implementation plan, if there is not a high enough level of discomfort, the change effort is doomed. This discomfort must be felt not only in the leadership group, but also throughout that part of the organization that needs to change. What this means is that the "level of discomfort" must be evaluated and managed in the same way other key factors are. If a change is needed and people don't recognize it or are avoiding the issue, it may be necessary to raise the level of discomfort. One way to do this is through a hardhitting message that clearly spells out the business realities. The plan must be inescapable.

Building and sustaining commitment: Change efforts frequently fail because not enough people become committed to the change. The leadership may be committed, but that is far from enough. What is needed is commitment from a large proportion of those people who have to actually change the way they do things. To gain enough support for the change, people must be engaged in a process of considering the change from the very beginning of the change cycle. That is, people must be involved in discussions and perhaps demonstrations and proofs of various sorts, in a variety of settings and formats. Questions of why change or why make this particular change, need to be considered in depth. Each person must come to his or her own decision of the rightness of making the change. Each person must reach the point of saying "yes" internally. Until this point is reached with many participants in the change process, you will face an uphill battle.

People don't need to have guarantees. Nor do they need to understand the implementation process in detail to buy into it. What they do need to be certain of is the necessity for change, and the fact that this particular approach seems to be a promising one. How much discussion this will take varies greatly from situation to situation. But gaining people's commitment through this kind of involvement is imperative. Overcoming inertia: There is quite a bit of inertia to overcome before any change effort can get started. Entrenched attitudes and values, habits, formalized procedures, existing skills and personal preferences are all forms of inertia-one type of resistance to change. Aside from this, there are some people who stubbornly resist any change, regardless of how much it is needed, and even in the face of considerable personal consequences. Inertia poses such a threat that many changes never get off the ground. There is only one way to overcome inertia, and that is to supply enough driving force to overcome it. This driving force comes in the form of a compelling vision and persistent leadership, thorough plans that involve people, and sufficient discomfort to motivate all but the most resistant individuals.

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Building trust: Trust is a swing factor that can make the difference between success and failure when trying to obtain change through a participative process. If people do not trust their managers, they will have trouble believing the reasons that a change is needed. They will also doubt the wisdom of implementation plans, as well as the potential for real benefits from the effort they make. Trust is needed because everyone involved in the change effort is entering the frontier together. The path is not altogether known by anyone, and so there must be trust in the leadership to guide the process. If there is insufficient trust, people will find creative ways to resist and undermine progress. If there is a lack of trust in your organization, it makes sense to overcome this problem before launching a major change. Your situation may call for an entire change cycle aimed at increasing trust before any other change is initiated. This effort will require clear and specific promises by management and delivery on those promises. There must be concrete proof. Where trust does not now exist, or worse yet, where it has been violated, it must be earned. Trust cannot be built overnight, but developing trust within the organization increases its potential greatly.

Setting realistic expectations: In order to improve ourselves, it is tempting to keep raising expectations. It is easy to underestimate the level of effort and difficulty, time and funding needed for a successful project. It is easy to oversell the magnitude of benefits and how quickly they will be realized. Overselling, whether intentional or a result of honest enthusiasm for the change can be the downfall of the most worthy project. Once the project is under way, inevitable barriers are encountered, real costs become apparent, doubts emerge regarding how real the benefits will be, or how long it will take to achieve them, Support can quickly evaporate. Enthusiasm can turn to cynicism. The change process can stall or fade away, becoming nothing more than another failure, and future changes may be difficult to persuade people to commit to. The solution is to be enthusiastic, yet realistic, from the beginning. Leaders, sponsors, shareholders, political opponents, line managers and participants all need a realistic view of the situation. They need to have as balanced a perspective on the project as possible. None of this "realism" takes away from the need to generate real excitement by painting the picture of the future boldly. But it does alert you to the dangers of promising too much. Each of the functional challenges and people challenges we have discussed tends to occur during certain stages of the change cycle.

A Final Thought:
Reading about all of these typical problems can be discouraging. It may seem as though no organization, certainly not your own, can avoid all these problems. If that is true, then why are there so many exciting successes we can point to? You can greatly improve your chances for success by ensuring that there is plenty of motivation and enough capability to pull it off. If people pour their best effort into making the change work, if they believe in themselves and the directional rightness of the change, then they have a very good chance of overcoming problems along the way and achieving their objectives. In a situation where organizational will and capability are focused on achieving a change, these challenges can be met and overcome.

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Investment in Individuals to Help the Organization Through Changing Times

Face Reality

Top management has it right: You have to do more with less and do it better than before. You simply cannot pull that off by yourself. Organizing and executing is your number one priority. As the world around you speeds up, there are fewer margins for error, more likelihood of mistakes and a bigger price to pay if you do foul up. Techniques and management styles that worked when things were peaceful no longer work in times of rapid change. Good intentions and a great deal of effort will not get you very far if you are doing the wrong things right or the right things wrong. You must orchestrate a carefully coordinated group effort, achieve quality results, and do this under very difficult conditions. If you are too busy to carry out the tasks of organizing and executing, then you are busy being wrong. Concentrate on engineering the individual efforts of your people into a unified, coherent, collective effort. You will hit resistance the organization will push back. It does not like change, and often it will get in the way. Just remember that that you can not keep every employee happy. Do not become distracted trying to protect a culture that may not even be viable for the future. Face reality your reputation is at stake. The best way to protect your reputation is to get results.

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Empower Yourself

Do not waste precious time waiting for a perfect set of marching orders. You must move with authority, make decisions, and take action. For many people, power is not stripped away; they give it up voluntarily simply by not exercising it. They are victims of uncertainty and assume a play it safe mode. Higher management usually gets the blame, but these are self-inflicted wounds. The organization can not afford the paralysis of inertia and inaction. However, top management does not have the time, or the inclination, to go around and re-anoint every manager and supervisor. You must simply empower yourself. Self-empowerment may seem risky or presumptuous, but it is far less threatening to your career than looking like a weakling. Empower yourself with accountability and authority only then will you be in a position to empower your people.

Take Charge

Teams in transition need a leader who stands tough and has the courage of convictions. You are asking for trouble if you are tentative during times like these. If you must err, do so in the autocratic direction. Leave no doubt about who is in control. Change is successful when it is driven hard, when the person in charge takes charge and makes things happen that need to happen. Focus on getting results Your effectiveness depends heavily on your credibility among your employees, and you undermine that credibility when you wallow, waffle, or wimp out. You can be authoritative without being overbearing. You can remain in control without overcontrolling. Through it all you can show care, concern, and respect for others. Management by committee will not work in groups that have been destabilized and reconfigured. It is too slow of a process and people are protecting conflicting interests. Humility has a place here. And it helps if you will sell whenever you tell. Persuasiveness can only add to your effectiveness.

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Set a Clear Agenda

Clear priorities are one of the first casualties of change. Common agreement on what most needs to be done gets lost in all the commotion and confusion. It stands to reason that your work group can not be effective without a clear sense of direction. You need to set forth an agenda quickly. A good battle plan that you act on today can be better than a perfect one tomorrow. Keep priorities pure and simple. Tie them to a specific timetable. Set short-term goals that your people can achieve quickly. You can diffuse a lot of potential resistance when your instructions are unequivocal, easily understood, and drilled into everybody. Key subordinates often can play a meaningful role in designing the groups priorities and objectives. In the end though, you remain accountable as the chief architect. No doubt you will make adjustments in your agenda as you go along. Adapt the agenda as the situation demands it. Keep the agenda clear and communicate it constantly.

Focus on Hard Results Rather Than Intangibles

Changes affect employee attitudes, such as morale, trust and loyalty. Do not ignore these attitudes, but do keep them in perspective. They are symptoms not the problem. Focus on the problems the tangibles. Matters of morale, trust, and loyalty are best thought of as by-products. Shoot for the operational improvements that are most urgently needed. Focusing on the intangibles is not enlightenment it is a big mistake. Stake out a few specific targets. Go for gains that you can actually measure. Get rid of the root problems, and see how the unpleasant symptoms disappear.

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Analyze Your People Assets

The changes leave you with fewer people, new people, or the same people facing different challenges. You need to rethink what you have in terms of talent. Too often reorganizations spawn further reorganizations because teams were thrown together in a haphazard manner. Approach the situation as if all employees were new hires. Since the situation is already destabilized, the timing is right to make needed personnel moves. Size up your crew with a dispassionate, discerning eye. Change has a nasty habit of causing some employees strengths to become weaknesses, at least temporarily.

Re-Recruit Your Keepers

When change hits, your top talent typically leaves first. Organizational shake-ups cause most people to stop and think. Do not assume that people are planning to stay merely because they have not told you of any plans to leave. In fact, you should assume that your best people are checking out other job possibilities. When it comes to changing jobs, the heart leaves before the body. Sell your people on the changes, on the organization, and on their roles and responsibilities in the new scheme. Re-recruitment is not a one time shot, but an ongoing job. You want to capture their spirit and make sure they are on board emotionally not just showing up for work. Think of the impact on other employees attitudes and their confidence when your best people bail out.

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Carve Out Roles and Responsibilities

Employees cant perform effectively, individually or as a team, unless they know what is expected of them. When telling people what to do, also tell them what they should quit doing. Work groups that are being reconfigured need a boss who will address the issues of territory, power, authority, and accountability.

Show a Sense of Urgency

Your challenge is to rev up the group, mobilize it and keep it from choking on its energy. You need to show some fire and a strong sense of urgency because the employees will warm by the heat of the flame. Keep the pressure on for productivity. Set tight deadlines. Push for quicker decisions. Operate with a bias for action. The pace of the leaders will be the pace of the organization. Nip at the feet of those who drag their feet. A strong sense of urgency will command the attention of others and fight their inclination to slip into a lower beat. The simple fact is that you dont have time to take your time. A go slow approach causes chronic destabilization unnecessarily.

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Tighten Discipline

If someone breaks training i.e. flouts your authority, ignores the rules, or refuses to get on board - you may need to make an example out of him or her. Remove one non-performer and youll probably fire-up a bunch of others who suddenly take you seriously. Sounds too hard-nosed to suit you? Nobody said managing transition and change would be a cake walk. Dont be surprised if people put you in a position where something must be sacrificed. What are you willing to give up - an offended employee, or your credibility and authority along with the success of your team development efforts? Youll control renegade elements, maintain respectable standards, protect productivity, and actually put your people under less stress. Until team development is complete, until your work unit can and will police itself, the organization depends on you to bring discipline. Start by setting high standards. Defend them valiantly. Dont be vague and fuzzy in laying down rules or wishy-washy in telling people what you want... or inconsistent in enforcing rules. People will listen to what you say, but their behavior will be shaped by what you do. Be prepared to back your words with actions.

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Spend Freely with Soft Currency

Organizational change creates a climate of heightened concern. Even those who are initially unscathed remain uneasy about the eventual ramifications, and wait for the next shoe to fall. You can safely assume that they feel threatened, at risk, and not empowered. You need to rebuild peoples confidence, restore their faith in themselves and the future. You need to answer the question What is in it for me? If you do not have cash use psychological paychecks, such as more decision making authority, taking people in your confidence or asking the employee for help. Most managers do not realize the importance that their acceptance and approval carry with subordinates. As a result, they waste this most precious resource through sheer neglect.

Lay New Communication Pipelines

Change efforts can starve for lack of good information during times of transition. Rumor jams the circuits. You will be tempted to blame higher management, which may be justified, but that does not get you off the hook. Start working on communication improvements that are under your control. Give your people constant updates even if it is no news. Say things more than once if you want them to stick. The primary way you are going to fix problems that you can control is to get it from the bottom. So lay the pipelines. Tell all of your people to look for problems. See problems in things that were once acceptable. Invite argument and allow conflict in the problem solving and decision making process. However, once the decision is made, execute military style. Circulate and make contact with as many people as you can. Keep a high profile, remembering that you have no more powerful way to communicate than by example. Be open, forthright, and honest in communicating with your team members. The more selfish you are with information, the less they will share with you.

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Align Your Team

If the aiming point is clear and the vision is compelling, it draws the people together and pulls them forward. Forward movement comes easiest when people are attracted to what they are moving toward. In defining the goal or direction, make it a crusade not a corporate strategic plan. Promote the vision constantly. Keep it alive in their minds. Do not put this task on the back burner even if higher management has not told you what to shoot for. You may never get clear signals from them. Give your team a sense of purpose that captures their imagination and encourages them to close ranks.

Pay Attention to Process

Think of process as your organizations gearbox, the internal machinery of how it goes about its business. During times of transition, individuals tend to look out for themselves rather than the team. They lack the confidence in the groups ability to handle the stress of self-analysis, so they do not force the issue. As a result no one calls attention to a dysfunctional process. As the person in charge, you must focus attention on the process. High performance teams always pay attention to process. Make it clear that every person is in charge of protecting group process. Successful change requires constant diagnosis and relentless scrutiny of the groups internal operations.

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