Posted by Bill Dann

by Bill Dann, CEO Professional Growth Systems

Challenges in today’s business environment often involve dealing with change. What isn’t widely known is that only about 33 percent of change initiatives are successful. This series of articles lays out the vital points of successful change implementation — points that I can vouch for after nearly 30 years of advising organizations of all sizes. This ninth article in the series is about clarifying problems before innovating.

Variation and sub-optimization are standard

In the first article of this series on implementing change I stated, “We have never found a working group, no matter how small the organization, in which, if there are more than three people involved in using a process, there are not variations in how the work is done.” Uniformly, team members are surprised to see the variation. How can this be so?

First, processes are rarely documented by flow charts. If described in written procedure, there simply is not enough clarity to enable everyone to complete the process in the same way. So, there is variation that usually means inefficiency. Second, nearly all processes are sub-optimum as little thought went into their design and improvements have not been systematically made since. Yet, everyone likes to be efficient, to not be behind; thus each employee using a given process will develop their own workarounds to make it work better for them. But, workarounds frequently aren’t shared between employees for fear of being told they have to stop and conform to how “it is supposed to be.” What a waste!

Why not just start over?

If all processes are sub-optimal and there is no standard process anyway, why document the current process? Several reasons.

First, until you do so, there will still be resistance to change that will sabotage any attempt to implement a new process. The employee’s view is that “I will stick with my workaround rather than embrace an unknown.” This can be overcome by using a team to flow chart the existing process, documenting the variation between employees using the process, documenting gaps, duplications, areas of rework, etc. Once they fully see the ruin that is the current system and have a method to fix it (because you have already taught them flow charting), they get excited to work on it as a team, and that overshadows resistance to change.

Second, fully documenting existing problems facilitates identifying critical pieces needed in the re-design. That is, you have documented each precise area of underperformance, and once you have your innovative solution created, you can go back and check to be sure that each problem in the current process has been corrected.

Third, the documentation process affords each team member the responsibility to see that they all have a hand in the underperformance of the existing process. It is our experience that between ten to fifty “rubs” or points where the process unnecessarily slows down exist in any process. The more complex the process, the more rubs. This wide range and number of problems translates to everyone on the design team feeling a sense of ownership in the underperformance.

Clarify problems before innovating

Each of the steps in change management is critical

Clarifying the process brings us through step 9 in the newsletter series describing the 14 discrete steps or principles for good change management. Our experience is that each of these steps is critical. The odds are 1 in 3 that you will be successful without incorporating all of them. Using all 14, we are batting 1000% in being able to successfully implement change that results in 20-50% improvement in process performance. So, we are pretty clear that each one is vital. We have had to add steps over the years to insure a stable change, but have never been able to remove steps. It simply isn’t that easy to implement lasting change.

However, having 14 steps doesn’t mean you need to take a long-time to get improvements. You can see real, measurable improvements in 60 days or less from start if you maintain momentum and stick to your implementation plan once the new process is designed.

Minimize your risk with an e-mail

We are two thirds of our way through this series now, time for you to ask yourself, are any of my processes sub-optimal? If you’re not sure, ask your customers. Or, ask your employees what percent of their potential contribution they are able to make in their work or if instead they think the existing process has inefficiencies in it. Calculate what the cost of these inefficiencies might be in lost customers, unnecessary expense, etc.

When you are committed to start, contact us. We can help you assess your readiness with a short phone call. To set up such a call, simply send us an e-mail.

The rest of the story

To read the rest of the articles in this series on change click on any of the links below:

Change 1: Putting Customer Data to Work

Change 2: The Importance of Selling the Big “Why”

Change 3: Define the Scope, Understand the Potential and Assess the Readiness

Change 4: Let Those Who Do the Work, Design the Work

Change 5: Make Sure Everybody Wins

Change 6: Secure and Maintain Stakeholder Support

Change 7: Keys to Innovation

Change 8: The Importance of Data on Existing Performance

Change 10: Finding Breakthrough Strategies

Change 11: Grabbing the Low Hanging Fruit

Change 12: Sound Implementation Planning

Change 13: The Human Side of Change

Change 14: Management Support of Change