In this last post in our series on managing change, we address a curious irony: although leadership calls for improved performance, they often derail the very change efforts they desire through a lack of effective management support. Let’s examine why and how to avoid this.
Why management support is vital
In our last post we talked about the importance of leadership recognizing and managing the challenges employees are having in making the changes in their own work lives to get comfortable in the new method of doing things. Depending upon on the extent of the change and the problems employees have had with previous changes in their lives, these challenges can be crippling to employees.
When management fails
Probably the most glaring example I’ve experienced of this was working with state workers years ago, watching them suddenly grow silent and discouraged on day two of a workshop and having them exclaim, “you don’t understand, we’re WEBE’s”. “WEBE’s?”, I asked. “Yes, ‘WE’ be here when you ‘BE’ gone”. Translated, this meant that they were almost sold on making the changes I was talking about but caught themselves just in time, explaining that their whole careers were a long list of commissioners and their consultants who wanted to make changes which the staff would go along with only to have the next commissioner and consultant go in yet another direction. “At the end of the day, We remain here and provide continuity of effort”. In other words, they could not count on consistent management support for change and thus experienced losses from too many incomplete change efforts or changes that did not bring lasting improvement.
When management succeeds
Years later, working with another state agency on a major Process Advantage® effort, we saw the effects of this first hand. We had employed all the principles we have discussed in the thirteen previous posts in this series and were poised for launch, when suddenly the highly motivated implementation team caught itself. The solution they had designed required a major IT effort to build and implement a workflow management system that would reside on the Web and enable easy customer access but also management of projects by any of the offices around the state. The group exclaimed, “this will never happen, our IT group can’t get our PC’s working properly and surely can’t execute this.”
Management responded with finding what ultimately amounted to $750k to fund software development and implementation by an IT consulting group. That demonstration of real support for the project turned the tide, and the implementation rode that wave of optimism to a solution that saved the state millions per year.
How does management derail improvements?
The following are some of the missteps by management we have experienced and counsel against:
- Unwillingness to allow the process design team to manage implementation of the new process. Leadership often believes, “this team has never managed a project before, how can we trust them to succeed with this vital project?”.
- Failure to complete its own assignments in the implementation. This failure to set an example of accountability for results to the team erodes accountability and performance overall.
- Indecisiveness or unwillingness to commit needed resources or make needed changes in policy necessary for successful implementation.
- Failure to encourage or recognize the accomplishments and extraordinary performance level of the implementation team.
Management best practices
Again, from our experience, here is the antidote for the above, the best practices for management support of implementation teams:
- If you have used an outside consultant to develop new process designs with the
employee teams, employ that consultant to provide project management assistance to
the team that keeps them in action, instills effective team practices and helps problem solve. The consultant can also serve as a liaison to management to assure effective management support.
- Understand that you lead by example. You can’t hold others accountable for results unless you meet that standard yourself.
- Charter a steering committee or leadership team that meets at least every two weeks and hears reports from the implementation team(s). The teams should present what they need in the way of resources, policy change, etc. from management at those meetings. Make clear to the teams your standard for information required for decision making that will enable decisions to be made at that meeting rather than tabled for gathering of additional information. This is vital to maintaining momentum.
- At steering committee meetings, in internal newsletters, during staff meetings etc., publicly recognize the performance and contributions of these teams to the future of the organization.
How can the project team help?
There are three steps the implementation team can take to assure a fix for this disconnect that is derailing successful change management efforts:
- Be certain that top management has complete buy-in to the design for the change. In presenting the change to leadership, the project team(s) should be certain to take sufficient time to walk them through:
- findings on the sources of poor performance from current process,
- the performance of the current process in terms of cost, quality and other relevant measures,
- the breakthrough strategies included in the new process,
- the new process design itself and
- predicted performance (and therefore value to the organization) of the new process.
Think of this as a sales presentation and be certain you have made the sale. Why? Because there will be opposition to the change, there will be a period of confusion when you are transitioning from the old to new process, and management will need to provide investment, resources and patience to fully implement the new process.
- Do not proceed unless there is a commitment management to have the new process implementation team present progress and data regularly (recommend every two weeks) to the management team or a committee of that team. In addition, consider having management designate a coordinator from top management who makes certain that the decisions, resources and support are delivered when needed and to stay in communication with the implementation team project leader.
- Deliver what we call “early releases” or small changes that demonstrate improvements in the near term. This will give the implementation team momentum and morale and give management confidence that they are getting a return on their investment of time and resources.
A closing word
It is our experience that process improvement has the highest return on investment of potential initiatives to improve organizational performance. Undetected in your organization is a group of individuals who can define and implement innovations that can astound you. They simply need the opportunity and the tools to do so.
One successful project can transform your organization as it makes clear the real potential of your workforce and can lead to an organizational culture change that will separate you from competitors or peers. The major challenge here is for management to get out of its own way and give these teams the ball. Try it on a small project to demonstrate this to yourself.
Follow the principles we have talked about in this series. Utilize an outside consultant to train both leadership and employee teams if you are unclear on the potential return on investment or how to execute process improvement. Once learned, process improvement tools can be applied to processes throughout the company to strengthen the organization in a multitude of ways while delighting customers, positively empowering employees and growing your bottom line.
As always, if you have questions or need assistance 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: