Mastering Change – 21st Century Reality

Mastering Change – 21st Century Reality

By John Butler

Three practical steps to mastering the challenge of change.

Three bricklayers who worked side by side on a building site provide the classic story of the philosophy of entrepreneurial management. A passer-by asked the first bricklayer what he was doing. He replied: ‘I’m laying some bricks.’ The passer-by asked the same question of the second bricklayer, who replied: ‘I’m building a wall’. In reply to the same question, the third bricklayer said: ‘I’m building a cathedral’. Put all your initiatives into a total long-term solutions framework, not a short-term, quick fix framework. A cathedral is a far greater vision than a mere brick wall.

Most change initiatives fail to reach their objectives because of the initial failure to frame the big picture, to visualise the desired outcome and decide the many steps towards achieving that outcome. Just doing something is not enough. It’s got to fit into the bigger picture. Every change initiative should be like a brick in building the cathedral, a step in creating the bigger strategic purpose. Here are three steps towards this process:

Step 1 Get Early Results

As an entrepreneurial manager you must first deliver early tangible results. This demonstrates to the nay-sayers that you are serious and that you are already working towards clearly defined goals. Small changes can demonstrate ‘the new order of things’. Simple environmental improvements can work wonders and usually at low cost and effort. Just ask ‘What could we do immediately to improve things around here?’ Then get going. Do something. Do anything. Do it Now.

This is as important at a personal level as it is within your team. Everyone in the organisation must be made aware that a major change initiative is a long-term step by step process. Otherwise cynicism and scepticism will take over and these attitudes by themselves will kill most good initiatives. A changing mental framework helps this process. But you must persuade people, influence them, and sell it to them. Set specific goals.

The owner of one of my client companies did a total physical clean up of his business over one long Bank-holiday weekend to demonstrate his new, fresh approach. He painted his entire premises. He re-organised several of the offices.

When reorganising his own office he realised that it was a better location for his customer services manager. To everyone’s surprise he moved to a less glamorous office.

Visual and physical changes can demonstrate your resolve immediately. The key to starting a change process is attitude change. However, attitude change takes more time than physical/visual change and will have far more setbacks and many frustrations.

Step 2 Focus on Improvement

Old performance systems can block progress. Most people have a natural resistance to changing old ways but it may be necessary to take the bull by the horns and slay some non-contributing ‘sacred cows’. Regulations, policies or procedures may have been built into your system over time but now may be obsolete, too costly or unnecessary.

The gurus of Quality Improvement (Philip Crosby, W Edwards Deming, Joseph M Juran) state that the body of evidence proves that between 25% and 35% of a company’s total sales revenues is wasted in doing things wrong, errors, re-works, mistakes, discounts, warranty claims, returns and many other indirect losses. This cost of doing things wrong is not recovered in most organisations and the potential for massively improving profits can be achieved by getting things right first time.

Joseph Juran, the great quality thinker of the 20th century, interviewed in Fortune Magazine (January 1999) said: ‘The quality effort will occupy us for decades. It’s a slow process. One of the limitations is cultural resistance. Invariably each industry says, “Our business is different”. Within the industry each company says “we’re different”. And within each company managers are different but with respect to quality the problems are identical’.

You are responsible for ensuring that your product or service conforms to requirements and that your staff commitment, expertise and your standards of performance are at a level of excellence. Deming said: ?% of all waste, errors, deficiencies and problems originate in the process’. Therefore, put measures, responsibility, psychology, and standards into your processes.

An executive in one of my client organisations which employs 700 people reduced his management structure from seven layers to four layers and set up small business units to give more localised authority to employees. All employees including managers were propelled into a small business environment almost overnight. What a shock! There was no more hiding from responsibilities. In a small business everyone is responsible.

Each employee faced two sets of challenges. One set was physical, structural and procedural. This set was relatively easy to overcome. The other set of challenges was emotional, mental and personal blockages. These challenges created a massive vacuum about who would ‘take responsibility’.

Moving to a new culture is not as easy as moving to a new building. The management teams in another of my client organisations found it cost effective to subcontract all their deliveries rather than carry staff and transport costs. Another of my clients decided that it made economic sense to open on Saturdays and during lunch hours.

Yet another client said: ‘Let’s have a weekly communication meeting to sort out difficulties in a team context’. In order to gain credibility for yourself and the change process you may need to take out a few ‘untouchables’.

When this happens everyone knows you are serious. We are all creatures of habit and we tend to slip back into old comfort zones quickly. Anticipate this danger.

When you implement the ‘new order of things’, keep the focus on encouragement and the future. When you take some initial steps most people will go along with the initiatives in the hope that in time it will ‘go away’. Don’t let it die. People need to be persuaded, communicated with and encouraged.

Step 3 Get Involvement

Stakeholder relationships are vital to your success. All your great ideas and initiatives will flounder if the people affected by your business decisions don’t give you their support. As the world business climate changes, the rules of competitive business are being rewritten. The effect of this is to make people and relationships more than ever a key to sustainable success. Only through deepened relationships with and trust for your key stakeholders will this be achieved. This will take time and must be scheduled in as key result areas. There are no short cuts to building relationships. There is a direct correlation between the amount of involvement you allow and the resultant level of commitment and overall outcome.

Tomorrow’s company has an inclusive approach to its stakeholders. The better you know your stakeholders, the better you’ll know how to influence them. You must create and shape your actions to bring each stakeholder on board. All stakeholder groups will have two questions: ‘How will this affect me?’ and ‘What do I think of the people in charge and the change process proposed?’

Once you have embraced the change process, it is important to build bridges with a minimum of two to four influencers in each stakeholder category. Your overall approach is to include as many people as possible in your endeavours to change, improve and create a business advantage for your organisation.

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