Five elements of sustainable cultural change

Change dynamics, leadership, risk identification and management, communication, and project management all must be addressed.

By Shon E. Isenhour, CMRP

In watching hundreds of people go through part — if not all — of the path to manufacturing excellence, I’ve determined the five elements that must be addressed to build profitable, sustainable change into your improvement project. These areas include the following:

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  • Change dynamics: knowing what to expect when those affected by the change move through the process
  • Leadership: knowing what to change and when to change your leadership style and your processes
  • Risk identification and management: understand what could go wrong and what you’re going to do about it proactively
  • Communication: understand what media to use, how to use them and at what frequency
  • Project management: know who is going to do which step and when during change implementation.

If you neglect any of these elements, the project might never get started, could underachieve results, or could become completely unsustainable leading to little if any business results.

Dynamics of change

The change process happens in stages, to both groups and individuals. The five stages are:

  • Stage I = Discovery: Don’t know what they don’t know
  • Stage II = Discomfort: Don’t like all this change
  • Stage III = Development: Don’t know if we will ever get there
  • Stage IV = Demonstration: Don’t want to go back to the old way
  • Stage V = Defend: Don’t want organization changes to derail the new way of doing business
Sustainability of your change
Each stage has characteristics and leadership needs that change as you progress. Many leaders miss this point and struggle when an individual’s needs change.
Let us look at Stage I — Discovery, where the participants hear about the changes for the first time and try to get a clear picture of what’s about to occur. There’s excitement brewing because this is something new, but there’s limited understanding of what it is. Think about the last time you were affected by the implementation of a new piece of software or a new tool. At first, what feelings did you have? Now, as we move through the stages, think about how you traveled through them with your change. Interestingly enough, in the beginning you’ll typically see a bump in system or process performance based on the Hawthorne effect. The Hawthorne effect states that as we focus attention on the system, it will perform at a higher level because of that attention. As a leader in this stage, you need to provide clear direction and encourage the enthusiasm that exists by providing as much information as possible. Ensure that you tell those who will be affected by the change about what’s in it for them and why the success of the change should be important.
As they move into Stage II, discomfort occurs. Some even call this stage the “valley of despair.” The affected people will begin to complain about the process and the changes. They’ll find reasons to miss meetings that pertain to the changes and will profess their love for the old way of doing business. This is by far the toughest stage but the most important from a leadership standpoint. The leader must support the change in decree and deed. I’ll talk about more of the requirements of this stage in the leadership section, but the key point to remember is that leaders must show focused support and unwavering direction.
As Stage III — Development progresses and the affected individuals begin to develop confidence, the results and the return on investment will begin to materialize. This is the stage in which the leader no longer needs to be as directive in style and can assume a role more like a coach. Key traits of this stage include individuals who no longer ask for solutions but instead ask to bounce ideas off of the change leaders. The leader will need to focus on highlighting the successes that have occurred and using them to keep building the confidence of the group.
In Stage IV — Demonstration, the group or individual reaches the level at which they can demonstrate the new way of doing business to others. They’re well on their way to becoming gurus because they no longer need anyone to tell them what to do or how to do it. They still need the change leaders to support them, but now it’s by giving them opportunities to shine. One key warning for leaders is not to overload these folks just because they can do it or they’ll burn out. This is a common problem at this stage.
In Stage V — Defend, the team is defending the change against both entropy and organizational changes. All organizations have some variability in the results they receive from improvement initiatives. This occurs naturally as leadership changes or production requirements fluctuate. In Figure 1, the Stage V good sustainable change is represented as a dampened sine wave (the green line). As the sine wave undulates, the process adherence varies and the return on investment also changes.
In a facility that hasn’t addressed each of the five elements of change, the process can look more like the red or blue lines. In each of these cases, the return on investment expected and shown as the shaded green area is taken away due to the organization’s ability to adhere to the new business processes that have been put into place. Leaders at this stage are less important if the change process has been well executed and ingrained into the new culture. However, that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be involved at all. Leaders should be monitoring progress and sustainability through the use of metrics or balanced score cards while making sure new individuals in the organization get proper introduction to the new business processes. Continuous improvement efforts should be part of Stage V to offset any losses and keep a focus on sustainable change.
Each stage has its own unique issues and solutions. However, if you stay focused on your people and apply the correct leadership styles, you can help them move through the process in the most expedient manner while making the project results materialize more quickly.

Leadership

Leadership is the single biggest reason many change initiatives fail to achieve the expected results. Leaders must understand the dynamics of change and ensure they’re meeting needs thoroughly. Communication is a key part of this process (and a later section), but we must first identify some of the specific traits a leader should display. There are many books dedicated to this subject alone that can help to solidify this portion of your change process, so we will just touch on two.

Each of these five crucial change elements will link to increase the project’s overall return on investment.

– Shon E. Isenhour, CMRP

First and foremost is to display understanding — understanding of the project but also understanding of its effects on people. The leadership team needs to have a unified vision for the program that they can articulate in their own words. They also should be able to answer the question, “what’s in it for me?” for everyone in the organization. A key part of this understanding is using two-way communications when they’re providing information and looking for both comprehension and concerns in the follow-up dialogue. Leaders must work to understand these concerns and address them as soon as possible for the larger group.

Second, the leadership team needs to demonstrate active involvement. The project will struggle to be successful if it’s perceived as unimportant to management. The best way to foster the sense of importance is by having leadership involved and asking the right questions. The communication plan helps with this but just remember “what’s important to my boss is important to me.” You should be connected enough to identify barriers to success and work to remove them before they slow down the change process. This requires the leadership team to divide up and spend time with each of the focused improvement teams, who are working through the individual areas of the change initiative. These leadership representatives show support, gather concerns and address needs without becoming too involved to the point of over-directing the team.

If the leadership team doesn’t have the time to practice active involvement and understanding, then the organization may want to think about whether they have the time for this initiative.

Risk management

The next element of effective change management is risk management. It would be great if every large change initiative went off without a hitch, but here in the real world, we know that’s not going to happen. Unfortunately, key project members leave the organization, deadlines are missed, and software doesn’t always deliver expected results. Because many of the improvement philosophies that we implement are based on proactive thinking, this is a great place to start to model this behavior. At the beginning of the change initiative, take the time to get the leadership team together with key stakeholders to plan how to generate positive results. Spend a day in negativity, or have the team think of all the things that could go wrong to derail this project, and make a list of at least 20 items that could stop the initiative or slow its progress. Then compile criteria and rank the likelihood of occurrence and the effect on the results. Figure 2 is one example of the type of tool that you might use.

Project goals Barriers to success Severity or impact Likelihood of occurrence Eliminating or mitigating step Single point of accountability
Implementation February 1st 2012 Plant manager leaves site 8 4 Communicate to corporate to ensure support of project in event of leadership change PM
Figure 2 Risk Management Tool with example

If you’ve ever been involved in a failure modes effects analysis (FMEA), you might note the similarities. However, instead of equipment failure modes, we’re looking into project failure modes. Once this ranking is finished, you can begin to develop proactive mitigation strategies for your high-risk items. Some of these items will fall into the communication plan, which we’ll talk about later, but others can be addressed with new or existing policies or organizational changes. In the end, we want to identify the high-priority risk and develop a proactive plan to mitigate or eliminate those matters before they manifest themselves.

Communication

Communication is one of the most important variables in change initiatives. As we mentioned above, first we need leadership and consistency of message. If the leadership team truly understands and can articulate, in its own words, the vision and mission, it will drive the consistency required for sustainable change.

Secondly, we know there are going to be potholes along the way. The leadership team needs to identify these bumps using a risk review. Once you know what the high-risk problems are, you can determine how you, as a team, will deal with them before they arise. Many of the mitigating steps will be part of a communication plan.

A thorough communication plan contains the messages or ideas that need to be presented, the media that will be used to present it, and who and when it should occur (Figure 3). For your plan to be effective, you’ll need to use different media and repetition to ensure the message is truly heard. I’ve heard it said that it takes seven to 21 times for an adult over age 35 to truly grasp all the message’s details. As an example, you might plan to share the change vision four ways within your communication plan and repeat as required. They could include:

  • Verbal one-way communication by the director or plant manager in monthly meetings
  • Verbal two-way communications by having each leader spend one-on-one time on the floor talking about the change and soliciting feedback from each individual in the department
  • Written communication via a column in the monthly plant newsletter with frequently asked questions that were revealed in the one-on-one sessions
  • Written communication in the form of a personal letter from the director and delivered to the home of each employee describing how this change affects the employee and the employee’s family.

In this example we would also have dates for completion and one person who is accountable for each task to ensure resolution. I have included an example in Figure 3. If we take these types of proactive steps, the project’s chances for success increase as each issue is successfully communicated and addressed appropriately.

Message
risk or topics
Documents or tools to use Timing within the project Media Communication type Single point of accountability
Project vision and mission communication V and M documents on Z Drive Pre-start of focus teams June 1st 2011 Letter from plant manager One way Plant manager
Figure 3 Communication Planning Tool with Example

Project Management (PM)

The project management portion ties the other elements together. The master plan includes the core project activities and leadership, change management, risk mitigation, and communication tasks. It’s the one-stop shop for most of the answers to project tracking, including resource requirements and scheduling details. This document can be kept in PM software such as Primavera or MS Project and should be updated regularly as the project moves forward. As the organization goes through the change process, this document should help meet the needs of each employee in every stage. For example, in Stage I, the master plan document defines scope and shows what the project is about and how it affects them. In Stage II, employees will need the small bite-size steps to keep from getting overwhelmed by the project’s magnitude. In Stage III, the plan will be a reflection of the progress and work that has been completed and a way to celebrate past accomplishments.

One thought you might consider is developing both a project plan and a higher-level site master plan. Some sites have incorporated them into one document. Many, if not most, sites are implementing multiple initiatives like safety improvement, lean manufacturing, six sigma, reliability-centered maintenance, or total productive maintenance. The site master plan considers the other initiatives that require the same people that your project might need. If you take the time to go through the site master planning process, you can re-sequence the existing projects and their elements in a way that offers the best synergies while limiting production downtime and resource battles. In the end, this allows individuals to avoid initiative overload and provide for a more unified improvement strategy.

Each of these five crucial change elements will link to increase the project’s overall return on investment. They also increase the likelihood of meeting project timelines and budgets. Remember that, as a leader, you must meet the needs of individuals as they change with the phases of the project. As a leader, you should be involved, be understanding, identify the risk to the project, and address those risks through the communication plan and your project plan. If you can check the box in each of those areas, you’re well on your way to the result you projected and expected.