We are in the midst of a series of posts laying out the vital points of successful change implementation — points that I can vouch for after more than 30 years of advising organizations of all sizes. This fifth article in the series is about the need to make sure everybody benefits from your change.
Real Process Improvement is Extremely Valuable
Did you know that most attempts at process improvement fail?
However, we have found that, with a well-designed and executed process improvement project, you can count on a result of 20 to 50 percent improvement. This means:
- Improved morale (we all like experiencing less confusion, more consistency, less frustration, greater customer satisfaction and higher productivity).
- More satisfied or loyal customers.
- Low unit costs for whatever work product is moving through the process.
A Universal Truth
Keep this in mind: People will not actively work toward their own destruction or harm. They might go through the motions, if you order them to do so, but they will find ways to derail any efforts that they perceive to be threatening to them.
There is Danger in Reducing Staff
In the best of all worlds, your organization is growing, or it has a backlog of work to move through the process, so you welcome the increased throughput. However, if that’s not the case for you, you might face a problem common to many organizations: the temptation to realize gains from the new process by eliminating positions.
The problem is, if the affected employees sense danger, chances are good that your new process won’t prove to be innovative, and it probably won’t be implemented successfully.
Employees will find a way to prevent harm to themselves.
What’s Really Important?
The fact is, if the new process design is truly innovative – that is, if it is really going to produce results — it will require multiple changes for multiple stakeholders. And, the people (your employees), whose cooperation you need for success in the matter, have the power to make it happen or to see that it doesn’t happen. Research, by the way, consistently shows us that a well-executed, sub-optimal process change will outperform an optimum process design that is poorly implemented. Thus, it’s vital to be sure that those who have the power to make it happen see the change as a win for them.
It is often the case that a win for one is a loss for another. Some cases in point:
- The front desk people at the clinic have had to deal with dissatisfied patients waiting for their appointments. A streamlined triage and treatment process gives them the win of avoiding hearing these complaints, and they give up nothing to gain that. However, for nurses and physicians, more throughput might be viewed as more stress, more to keep track of, more paperwork, and so forth. Unless a win can be defined and implemented for them, resistance is likely.
- Replacing a face-to-face customer interface with an on-line interface may well please customers and will certainly reduce costs in the long run. But, there could be customer representatives, who — although they can be assigned other duties in the process — view the change as a loss because their greatest satisfaction comes from serving customers directly. What win can be defined for them to replace this loss?
- Empowering the people who come in contact with customers to do more of the process often reduces cycle time, increases customer satisfaction and gives a big win to the empowered front-end employees. But, what happens to those who are giving up power to the front-end people?.
Strive For Success
Here are some steps you can take to increase the probability of a truly innovative new process design, and a successful implementation:
- At project launch, announce that no employees will lose their jobs or their pay grades as a result of the project. Their responsibilities could shift (as yet unknown because the design is unknown) but they won’t suffer job loss or reductions in pay.
- Be sure that the implementation team actively manages transitions (the human side of the change process). We will cover this, in depth, in GrowthLines issue #13 in this series, but for now, understand that managing transitions means:
- Making an inventory of the people who will be affected
- Identifying the loss or losses these people might perceive they will experience
- Designing a win to mitigate any losses
- Being sure that all those whose cooperation is needed will win from the change
Consider These Possible Wins
- Allow profit-sharing participation for all, so they share the gains from the improved process.
- Create flex-time scheduling (in a non-profit arena).
- Assign certain people to important development projects until throughput from the new process increases.
- Allow some people to work on special projects from home one or more days a week, and have them work only part-time on a process if it requires less staffing.
When in doubt, ask those affected what they would consider to be wins for them. Try to incorporate the suggestions into your overall implementation design.
The rest of the story
To read the rest of the articles in this series on change click on any of the links below: