Monday, December 8, 2008

How quickly can an organization introduce change?

I had a most interesting discussion with a colleague the other day. We were discussing biggest successes and the question of approach to change management came up. How quickly can a company make significant change? What is the best approach? After several minutes of active dialogue, she asked about implementation – when do we actually start changing the way we do things? It struck me that the biggest revelation for me in moving from the world of operations, to the world of consulting is the pace of implementing change. That pace of implementation, and the expectation of the results that the change can deliver, is what separates the average from the great companies.

"There is nothing more difficult to carry out, nor more doubtful of success or dangerous to handle, than to initiate a new order of things." - Niccolo Machiavelli, Italian diplomat, political philosopher

"By constant improvement, or should I say the improvement based upon action, one can rise to the higher level of practice and knowledge." Fujio Cho, President, Toyota Motor Corporation

When a new leader enters an organization, what is the approach? What should happen in the first few days, weeks, months? How long does the leader have to make their imprint on the organization?

I commonly hear that the best approach is to move slowly in the first few months, to ensure that the leader fully understands the current situation, and for the team to feel the new leader is listening. My own experience would argue that this is not the case. Early in my career I was introduced to a new manager who then became a mentor. His approach was to implement change from the start through clarification of the current state. Where any of the current state was unclear, he ensured the team reached consensus on how that issue should be managed from this point forward. All of the reviewed processes were well communicated through the organization. By taking this approach, systems that were working were re-enforced and validated by the new leader, and systems that were not working were re-invented as they were reviewed. By the end of the first week on site, this manager had imprinted his mark on the organization. From that point on, the pace of change was tremendous, and the enthusiasm and life that came into that organization was nothing short of remarkable.
The downfall of many organizations and leaders is that they take too long to implement. In fact, nothing is achieved until you do implement. Planning does not create change, implementation does.

This is not to say that we should not plan. It is imperative that we have a vision, a goal, a game plan for moving forward and that we achieve momentum at all levels of the organization with consensus at each level. But it is action that is the key dynamic in initiating change. What small thing can we change today, that will build to a huge change for the future.

We place the highest value on actual implementation and taking action. There are many things one doesn’t understand and therefore, we ask them why don’t you just go ahead and take action; try to do something? You realize how little you know and you face your own failures and you simply can correct those failures and redo it again - Fujio Cho, President, Toyota Motor Corporation

So by actual implementation and a game plan, we can see what is working, and what is not. And if we make a mistake along the way, we learn from it and move on. All the while, making sure that we engage the team, and communicate as best we can (more than we think we should).

How big of a change can we expect? When I was in operations, the moto was to under-promise and over-deliver. Promise improvements of 7% and deliver 10%. This approach, it turns out, leaves money on the table. My mentor from the past would have none of that. He would always present stretch goals to the organization, step change results that many felt could not be achieved. We would then put together a game plan to deliver those results. And 95% of these were delivered.

You get what you expect. If we expect a 5% budget reduction, that is what we will deliver. A recent client of mine did not expect to double production in 6 months. But by placing a stretch goal in front of a talented group of people, developing a plan to make it happen and EXECUTING the plan, it happens.

Don’t waste time making sure the plan covers every thing that could possibly go wrong. Just create a solid outline, gain consensus, communicate and take ACTION!

Norm Bain

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