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Manage change - before it manages you.

competitive survival increasingly depends on an organization's ability to effectively manage change

Product life cycles have accelerated tenfold in the past decade. In our industry, major technology changes are being introduced annually. Structural changes in organizations affect not only factory design but every facet of the company - from R&D to manufacturing, engineering to customer service and finance to marketing. No one is exempt.

The changes faced in the 1980's were unprecedented. This decade is fulfilling the promise of rapid acceleration. Rapid and radical change is now the name of the game. What's a company to do? Develop a proactive agenda to manage change. Anything less and you might find the competition way out in front.

A company has three choices (Figure 1). First, do nothing at all! Organizations that believe they can continue marching to the beat of a drum established in the 1980's will find the pace so accelerated that they are out of step with the competition. Staying put is the greatest risk of all.

Allowing change to manage the organization is a step up the ladder. Companies who operate in this mode are great at managing crises. Don't get me wrong, crisis management skills are as necessary as any other in the war of survival. But if you operate constantly in this mode, you're headed for a burnout.

Motivating an organization to embrace change is essential for organizations involved in the most competitive decade of the century. To be successful, attention must be paid to the critical aspects of managing change: the competing forces at work and how to manage the social as well as the technical aspects of change.

Opposing Forces

When change is a constant, it often feels as if you are in battle - and the energy is often being consumed by internal skirmishes. Lewin, the "father of modern change theory," wrote a great deal about what he called driving and restraining forces at war with one another whenever an organization is in transition. Drivers are those forces that strongly support the change. Restraining forces are obstacles.

For change to occur, driving forces must be strengthened or the obstacles must be minimized. It sounds logical. However, there is an alternative - change the direction of some of the restraining forces. Turn obstacles into forces that actually drive the change. This is by far the most effective and efficient approach to transition.

In our experience, common obstacles that can be identified in most organizations include:

* lack of trust

* low morale

* a focus on activities

* rigid, narrow divisions of work

* individual and company objectives that are not aligned

* management by rules, procedures and policies

* a focus solely on the technical aspects of change

* Not Invented Here (NIH) syndrome.

By changing the direction of some of these forces, you build an organization capable of embracing change. Restraints actually become drivers of change:

* mutual trust

* committed employees

* a focus on results

* multi-skilled, flexible workforce

* common objectives

* management by principles

* focus on the technical and social aspects of change

* innovative applications of proven technology

Continuous improvement becomes a way of life for this type of organization. Employees who were once considered the targets of change actually become sponsors of change!

There's a paradox involved here. To remain responsive to a changing environment, an organization has to become comfortable with planned departures from the plan.

Recently, I attended a progress meeting at a plant. Management holds these meetings quarterly to review production results and advise employees of upcoming changes. I sat back and listened as the vice president of operations outlined two new product lines the company would be introducing the next quarter, the installation of a new piece of equipment and a plan for a new performance appraisal system. Knowing these announcements were not a part of the annual plan, I glanced around to see how everyone was taking it. There were nods of understanding and rapt attention. No groans, no complaints, no excuses.

When an organization is flexible, it takes to "follow the leader" like ducks take to water!

Balance Technical And Social Needs

One of the most overlooked items on the transition agenda is the ability of managers to champion two separate aspects of change - technical and social. Perhaps that is why organizations are playing catch-up in development of soft-side factors.

It can't be either-or management. Changes are not either technical or social. Every change is both! Organizations who do not learn to manage both aspects of change encounter resistance, fall behind schedule and do not meet results expectations. You cannot ever overlook the basic fact that people implement change.

A case in point. During a computer implementation, a senior manager vetoed the idea of providing an overview of the entire system for everyone involved. "There's no use trying to teach calculus to a group who can't understand basic math. Just give them the piece they will be responsible for," said the manager. Want to place odds on where that company is today in the implementation process? Two years later, the system still isn't working as it should. In fact, dissatisfaction is so great, discussions have begun with another software company. You see, everyone learned the pieces for which he or she was responsible, but no one learned how it all fits together. A change in the software probably won't solve this company's problems.

Successful Transition

A flexible organization is like a river. Adapting to bends and boulders, the river moves towards its ultimate destination. If you have ever taken a raft through white water, you know the only way to ensure survival is to have a plan to navigate the rapids and skills that just will not quit during rough times.

Transition managers also need a plan for change as well as implementation skills. Ten key elements to keep in mind during any transition are:

1. Do not embark without clear goals and objectives. Make sure these get communicated to everyone who will be affected by the change. Set standards of performance.

2. If you have developed standards, you should also have measurement tools in place. You need a thermometer to measure the degree of change.

3. Make sure the organization's principles are both supported and reinforced. People need to know there is something constant throughout the process. It is like wearing a life jacket.

4. Create opportunities for everyone to be involved. The greatest common denominator in successful organizations is a sense of ownership.

5. Get personally involved. Paddle with your employees during the change process.

6. Resource availability is critical. The front line needs to know they have someone to call on when they hit rough water.

7. Trust your employees. One of the secrets of gaining trust is giving it.

8. Train, train and train some more. If you do not, you might as well send them over the falls without paddles.

9. Expect some pain. It may even be more than bruises or scratches, you might lose a few people overboard. But remember, it's transitory - it will pass.

10. Develop a sense of humor (if you don't already have one). Nothing else will go further in relieving the tension.

Build And Rebuild Morale

The final item on the transition agenda is making sure you are taking every opportunity to understand how the change is affecting your employees. Remember, morale problems inevitably become performance problems. You cannot just sit back and hope everyone gets through it okay. Threats of heavier workloads, stress, confusion, frustration and a fear of being left behind are all natural responses to change. If morale problems do surface, understand that in most cases it is only a cry of self-preservation.

Get resistance out in the open. In fact, invite it out. You must be accessible during these times. Dig deep to find the real objections. Sometimes what really concerns employees get buried in conflict and anger. Anger expressed is usually anger gone. What gets you in trouble is slow, festering resentment. You can feel it - you just can't get your arms around it. Once you have targeted the objections, you are in a position to analyze and work towards overcoming them.

Once people are beginning to integrate the change into their work lives, encourage goal setting and problem solving. Set up personal development plans - this is a great way to establish some structure in the midst of transition. Give employees plenty of room to test their new skills. Reward them for their accomplishments. One day people will look back and wonder why it was not always done this way. This is the final measure of a successful transition. You know you have made it when the change is no longer seen as a change - it is the new status quo. Once employees have invested themselves in the change, you will find they are usually ready to begin the cycle all over again. And so it continues...
COPYRIGHT 1992 Rodman Publications, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Profitable Manufacturing; change in business for competitive survival
Author:McLeod, Kay
Publication:Nonwovens Industry
Date:Nov 1, 1992
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