Embracing Change!

By electing President Obama in 2008, the people of the United States opted for change.  In the May 2014 elections in India, the people of India opted for change by nominating N. Modi for Prime Minister after a long run by the Congress Party.  The recent surges in polls and a realignment of leadership throughout the world are a clear indicator that people are not only wanting ‘change’ they are aggressively embracing change.  Change is, however, being resisted by those who perceive the change as a threat to their power position, be that as a leader, a manager or as a skilled person.

As a practitioner of process excellence, using lean, six sigma, Theory of Constraints, TRIZ or any combination of a number of methodologies, one of the biggest challenges cited in implementing change is not technical but overcoming resistance to it.

People usually seek out change (as noted above); they do not like being personally changed or having change imposed upon them (e.g., consider the current healthcare reform that the US is experiencing).

Peter Drucker said it more eloquently, “People are not stressed because there’s too much change in organizations, but because of the way change is made.”

After all, we make changes in our personal lives all of the time, whether it is buying a new car, a new smart phone or changing our social status (e.g., getting married or divorced).  That is of our own volition.  Imposed changes, especially organizational changes, are a different matter.

How one views change may be a matter of perspective and one’s personal inclination.  Some see change as exciting and/or as an opportunity; others are afraid of it.  When people perceive the change or problem as a threat, they behave in a defensive way; their motive is to resist change.  By maintaining the status quo, we close our ability to see alternatives, and the potential benefits that other opportunities may have for us.  ‘Making Change Happen’ thus means helping people understand

  • why they feel threatened
  • what they think should be done
  • what would happen if they considered alternatives

Easier said than done, right?  One successful way we have found to ‘making sustained change happen’ is to use a tool that most change agents (e.g., lean practitioners, six sigma black belts, quality professionals) are familiar with: the Gap Analysis.  Conducting a Gap Analysis of leadership style across different levels allows us to create a perception map of how employees/management feel about the amount of effort expended for various leadership roles & responsibilities, and behaviors & activities.  It helps in understanding that, at its core, resistance to change is caused by the Not-Invented-Here (NIH) syndrome.

To overcome this feeling and establish a foundation for making change happen, bring together a cross-functional teams of senior managers and personnel to conduct the ‘As-Is’ analysis.  This process starts a conversation, ensures representation at all levels of management and uncovers specific activities that are key to motivating change so as to improve performance.  This analysis helps create a common understanding of where the leadership stands and what is stemming the resistance.  Examples of such activities/attributes may include:

  • Empowerment of front line/production floor managers (or lack thereof)
  • Requiring frequent progress reports on initiatives
  • Quelling self-initiated solutions (risk aversion)
  • Too much focus on day-to-day activities by senior management
  • Rewarding non-risk takers and fire-fighters
  • Unfair allocation of responsibility and accountability
  • Playing people against each other

Figure 1 shows an example of perception maps (seen two different ways, that have proven useful.

Once the ‘As-Is’ environment is defined, it can be used to create a ‘To-Be’ scenario that identifies attributes / activities which have a positive impact and therefore need to be developed or improved upon, and those that have a negative impact need to be eliminated or the effort reduced.  A four-quadrant chart provides an effective visual to ensure that the message is understood clearly and not misinterpreted.  This is another tool the quality professionals and change agents are very familiar with.  Fig 2 shows how the quadrants may be laid out.

To facilitate success, leaders need to be engaged in defining the changes that have to occur to enable them and their staff to thrive.  Those practices need to show connection to the market realities against which they perform, so they’re highly motivated to create the best possible environment for change and adopt appropriate personal behaviors to make the new practices and solutions work.

While any change initiative faces skepticism, it can be overcome by

  • First analyzing the ‘As-Is’ state, and through that discovery process acknowledging the need for change.
  • Then defining the ‘To-Be’ behaviors required to achieve improved performance.
  • And finally – good execution and sustainability can be accomplished via engagement, explanation, and expectation alignment.

Over the years we have repeatedly heard of the need for commitment from senior management.  Unfortunately this is usually ceremonial.  For an organization to embrace change it needs its senior management to be engaged and spearheading the change initiative. They need to be active in all phases of the initiative (e.g., conducting interviews, creating the To-Be scenarios).  This sends a clear message to the employees of the importance of the change initiative; it is no longer another flavor of the month that will soon give way to the next flavor du jour!

Active participation with employees not only sends a strong signal to them but also allows leadership to gain insight into their own actions.  Everyone starts understanding the reasons for why things are done a certain way and the associated constraining barriers.   They get to challenge ‘sacred cows’ which, in fact, may no longer have a purpose.  But mainly, each participating employee gets to have his/her voice heard. These interactions provide clarity as the organization moves from the ‘As-Is’ to the ‘To-Be’ stage.  Ongoing communication keeps everyone honest and motivated to continue with the change initiative.  It fosters trust, promotes flexibility, provides incentive to move beyond turf issues and the NIH syndrome, seeks innovative ideas and adopts best practices, thus providing a rich culture for embracing change.  This The best part of this process can be started at the smallest organizational level (e.g., department); managers don’t need to wait for formal corporate initiatives.

We need to remember, people do not resist change, they resist being changed!

Do you have any ideas/stories of ‘making change happen’ you’d like to share

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