Nothing is as constant as constant change, a triviality. Adverse External circumstances (see the CYNEFIN model) meet internally desired changes – and ever more often and faster. Internal managers and specialists drive change management themselves. I am happy to provide my experience and knowledge as a consultant. My task in change projects was and is often the methodical (training) and the “psychological” support (coaching and consulting).
Naming the Changes to come – Out of the comfort zone! Townhall Meeting …
Strategy Workshop with management, moderating the Townhall Meetings and the Team Kick Offs …
Vision and Action
Goal is a gripping buzzword; Workshops and Team Building, Training, Reviews, …
Method Trainings for Leaders and empoyees, Workshops and Team Building, Reviews, …
Measuring (and celebrating) successes, securing the follow up steps, tackling new challenging topics
Measuring and editing the results in relation to the goals, facilitating lessons learned sessions
I definitely have a contribution to make to the intention and to the broad line of change. Ultimately, however, I take them as input for the practical procedure with the people involved: making it happen!
Basically, the concept of John Kotter (see the following paragraph) is indeed obvious. And the headlines of its stages can be easily translated into well-known terms and methods. But it is important to fill them with life – if they are taken seriously, there is no problem! Yet, anyone who guesses they can limit themselves to window dressing will reap big problems. Not only is he or she not taken seriously, the whole approach is discredited, and in the end will be “burnt”!
Kotter postulates 8 steps in change management processes
Kotter’s change management model is now very well established. It represents a concept for planned changes. However, he emphasizes that impulses for changes can certainly come “from below” or from middle management. The concept also states that transformations happen through conflicting opinions, and even conflicts. And that different people can play very different roles in the process.
1 to 2: Unfreezing
“Establish a sense of Urgency” – it’s actually obvious: competition, price and thus cost pressure, slipping customer satisfaction… And yet: maybe too many campaigns have been driven recently, or the successes of the past block the view onto reality now. But the sense of urgency does may not grasp everyone right away:
“Form a powerful guiding coalition” – it helps a lot when strong supporters of a change initiative in top management make specifications and hold a protective hand over them. Conversely, it is the death of the project if at least a minority among them does not do so.
3 to 4: Vision as guideline
“Create a Vision” – it must be positive, but not just an expression of final success (“The No. 1…”). Rather, it must provoke and guide actions by itself. It is important and useful to summarize the ambitious and complex projects (“fully automated, digital processing from order intake to delivery”) in a catchphrase or key word (“digitalization”, “agile”). It always has to be filled with new content, so it will become a sure-fire success, ultimately!
“Communicate the Vision” – townhall meeting, strategy workshops, method training for the first users. The biggest mistake in bosses adresses is the quote: “For the time being, nothing will change for you” – heard all too often. Everyone is now jolted out of their comfort zone – why let them slump back there? And the early adopters and the first real project team must now be installed quickly – thus, communication occurs automatically, as word of mouth.
5 - 6 Moving in Change Management
“Empower others to act on the vision” – identify early users, train them, provide intensive support, and on the other hand fine-tune the concept based on initial experience. This is not so easy, but it is an obvious and fully logical approach. Further expansion becomes more difficult: neighboring teams may be less open-minded, failures, no matter how small, cause rumors to spread, automatically the number of doubters grows. Actual or supposed losers now appear – all too often it is forgotten what to do about them.
“Create short-term wins” in the change management process, in other concepts “harvest low-hanging fruits” – to be linked as directly as possible to the previous stage. Here it is important to proceed quickly with implementing, with the help of all specialists and support teams: ergonomists, IT department, logistics, …). This even if the ideas are a bit at odds with management’s ideas, and also if (manageable) costs are incurred. It is more important than quick management decisions to lead the teams to elaborate ideas and proposals, two-liners with demands to the management are not enough! Full idea repositories are nice to have – but to-do lists on topics that employees can influence or do themselves are nicer!
#7 to #8 Refreezing - but, please, not competely!
“Consolidate improvements” – here then comes the real litmus test: the extension of the concept to all teams (including underperformers, demotivated, declared opponents of the initiative. Here the temptation may arise to stop, or continue half-heartedly. Seemingly it’s better to tackle the next concept because It’s freshly motivating again and promises new low hanging fruits. However, this means not really reaping the harvest – and possibly frustrating managers and employees, simply because they recognize the lack of seriousness of this campaign policy.
“Institutionalize new approaches” – there is a risk of falling back into the comfort zone: “Finally working normally again!” Here it helps to set ambitious goals or to bring in unusual ideas. In this way, ever higher value experiential knowledge is created. At the same time, it is important to finally measure all changes against a real increase in performance. Ultimately, the next generation of standard-bearers needs to be identified, promoted and installed: high accuracy is required here!
The steps Unfreezing – Moving – Refreezing can be traced back to Kurt Lewin. Kotter’s concept certainly had precursors…
Core team and decision makers s bolrd
In my practice, the following distribution of tasks has proven itself. A core team of max. five cross-functionally recruited active members, with me as a member and an company internal team leader. Sponsor committee made up of key decision-makers, barrier removal team made up of decision-makers and high-ranking specialists. Speaking of the composition of these teams: actually, all you need are convinced (co-)doers, and yet a skeptic can be useful. In this way, possible concerns are brought to the table at an early stage!
Change Management: Vision as stimulus
In my experience, one buzzword is absolutely sufficient: Scrum, Kaizen, group work… Of course, more is meant: “Agile management and SCRUM in all development processes”, “Lean in production and logistics”…, but who quote such long phrases whenever she or he wants to refer to the change project. And such buzzwords regularly stood for the whole project and soon became a sure-fire success; “The team” also stood for “the core team of the change project”.
In Meetings illustrate the vision
All hands meeting: According to my experience, nearly always a shake-up happened then and there – a result of uncertainty, questions to which there are only very vague answers, restlessness. Talking in the aisles, gossip on the streetcar on the way home. (A meeting like this doesn’t have to be on a Friday…) Here, management had to deliver, and they delivered: the change was their thing! They also pre-installed the core team as contact persons and actors!
Methods workshop as a kick-off: In the beginning there was only theory and concepts. All of this had to be understood first and then concretely translated into a procedure, measures and figures for monitoring progress in one’s own shop. The decision-makers made specifications and set goals, but then withdrew – and waited for regular reports.
Take care of "loosers"
A real story from my experience: in production, the master level was supposed to be eliminated, but when it practically happened, there was initially no idea for an offer for the real people in this function. My suggestion was: transfer to the appropriate technology group. Lo and behold, more than half were even happy to get rid of the little-loved responsibility for managing employees.
Harvest low hanging fruits.
Especially when group work was introduced in production, I learned that the small but quick successes of the pilot group(s) are greatly important. These did not come immediately on topics such as throughput times or savings in material – but an agreement on shift handovers, binding for everyone, was real progress! Here, the failure culture is of great importance: the pilot teams had tried their hand at overly big topics, also to test the limits of the new trust.
Watering down is a huge threat!
From one pilot team we approached to the team in the opposite shift – under the new name of neighboring shift! From there, the flow of production continued – in both directions. The assembly was followed by prefabrication and logistics, and soon by planning departments, and finally construction. Everyone received the same training, stripped of unnecessary ballast. And announced demands on the project, especially on others – they themselves would like to stay in the comfort zone, but want to reap the rewards right away. That meant, however, that the core team had to keep going, it just didn’t have to meet so often furthermore!
But now all systems had to be adapted: IT, office space, production flows, remuneration system – large investments are quickly due! The topics of the groups were slowly becoming more demanding and concerned more and more this level. Everything was tackled, but the remuneration system came last – disappointing.
Celebrating the successes achieved, however, made everyone a little more patient.
Interim result and outlook on CIP as a change management approach
A very important stimulus for change was CIP = Continuous Improvement Process. This concept was initially started in production. However, I later found out that it was very possible to transfer it to neighboring areas of the plant and even to sales and service. However, a simple transfer of these philosophies and tools to construction and development led to very unsatisfactory results!
Meanwhile, R&D (very broadly defined) has made its own leap in development: buzzwords are “agile” and SCRUM. Sometimes this concept is sold as a transfer of CIP principles – but that is not historically correct and does not explain much. However, the first concepts from the SCRUM method arsenal are already begun to spill over, back into production. Time boxed for example…
However, I have acutely experienced that some CIP ideas in production have long since been lost, especially where they were more of a lip service and masquerade for existing, old structures and cultures anyway. There is a danger that changes will not occur at the same time: “progressive” development, “conservative” production! But that doesn’t fit and increases the all too well-known friction with inserted prototype production and even more introduction of new products into the production.
Current critical reception
Concepts for the continuous improvement of production from the 1990s are currently perceived critically. “Critical” does not mean rejection, rather disillusionment, one “just can’t hear it anymore”.
In the following I show concrete experiences as a consultant, trainer and process facilitator in various projects in the direction of continuous improvement in the electrical, automotive supplier and mechanical engineering industries.
CIP/Kaizen and group work were always closely intertwined – one led to the other. The context was the orientation towards production processes and related areas – probably the greatest change and success in the organization of work; it is no longer possible to talk about work processes without using the word.
Orientation towards employees
This automatically requires great responsibility from emploayees. For process control and the provision of services. They also tend to develop great competence for their further development, instead of industrial engineers, work economists, managers or organization specialists. These don’t become unemployed right away – they make their initially superior knowledge available to the teams. Continuous improvement as a concept has provided a bundle of instruments and methods that have proven their worth. The basis is real target agreements at group level – as a task for management.
At the same time, the teams work on shaping their internal relationships and initially resolve any conflicts, all by themselves. In group meetings, moderated by the team’s spokesperson. They will also get support in the form of team training and coaching. The responsibility of the groups is increasingly expanded to include “employee functions” such as procurement, control, time recording / writing, goods receipt, shipping. The goals can become all the more complex: machine downtimes, ability to deliver divided by stock size, time for the introduction of new products, etc.
Hierarchies remain or become as flat as possible: Elected group spokespersons represent the teams “upwards”. Team represenatives for multiple groups have disciplinary authority and report to the production manager as part of plant management. Their managerial tasks are primarily strategic concept development and creating the framework conditions. Furthermore, setting up the team, target agreement, support/coaching, target control/feedback, decision-making in the event of escalation, moderation of conflicts.
The regular “rounds” of the management is a simple management tool that has been tried and tested in practice. The groups take turns presenting their current figures, initiatives, successes and problems. The management gives immediate feedback, makes decisions where necessary and promises support and practical help.
Making it happen - CIP as Change Management!
In the beginning, the actions of the teams did not include innovation of products. Mastering innovation as a process in their area of responsibility, launching new products into the series… This is an essential contribution of the teams.
Central, however, is the permanent further development of our own processes – at a higher level. Self-administered funds are increasingly available to the groups for this purpose, e.g. for the construction of small devices. The groups choose their own topics. Or they are presentd to them by management – as part of the talks on setting targets or “in between” when they are up-to-date. The implementation of the initiatives is being pursued and supported in a more structured way than before.
A support committee is formed from management and department heads, which specifically helps to remove barriers, prepares topics and makes extended methods (e.g. from the Six Sigma spectrum) available. Finally, it evaluates the improvements and transparently translates them into bonuses. The committee also launches initiatives to share best practices and standardize improvements that have been made.