What you need to know before implementing change management

Tom Moriarty says managers need skills and aligned values prior to a new system implementation.

By Tom Moriarty

I have a suggestion for any organization that wants to implement a restructuring and change management program. Evaluate the people who will be filling roles as managers and supervisors under the new system. One of the biggest problems for successful organizational change is that the people who are selected as the line supervisors and the people who are their managers are presumed to have all the skills they need, have values aligned with the new direction, and are able to allocate their time to make the new structure successful. It’s often not the case.

Imagine an organization that wants to implement a system where work orders are planned and scheduled and data is to be captured by the craftsmen as they complete and close the work orders. The vision is this new system will deliver labor efficiency, improve inventory management, and enable continuous improvement efforts. It’s the holy grail of maintenance management and reliability engineering.

So the organization works with an experienced consultant who helps to design a good work management process. Senior management blesses it. People are anxious, but senior leaders have blessed the plan and they know it is going forward. The new processes and skills are trained and the process goes live. Over time some improvements occur, but the system never quite achieves the lofty goals anticipated. Most often the problem is not the processes, the software, or people who execute the tasks. The problem is with leadership and management.

Tom Moriarty, PE, CMRP, is a former Coast Guardsman having served for 24 years; an enlisted Machinery Technician for nine years, then earning a commission through Officer Candidate School, retired as a Lt. CommanderTom Moriarty, P.E., CMRP is president of Alidade MER. He is a former Coast Guardsman, having served for 24 years; an enlisted Machinery Technician for nine years; earned a commission through Officer Candidate School; and retired as a Lt. Commander. During his final year of service, 2003, Tom was selected as the U.S. Coast Guard’s Federal Engineer of the Year; an award sponsored by the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE). He is a member of the Society of Maintenance and Reliability professionals, the past Chair of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), Canaveral Florida Section, and a member of the ASME Plant Engineering and Maintenance (PEM) Division. He has a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Western New England College, and an MBA from Florida Institute of Technology; Professional Engineer (PE) licensed in Florida and Virginia, Certified Maintenance and Reliability Professional, various credentials in management and reliability fields. He can be reached at tjmpe@alidade-mer.com.

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The first issue is with skills. Under the old ways, supervisors have been senior craftsmen. Under the new system, leadership and management skills become more important. A line supervisor with outstanding trade skills is not necessarily qualified to be a supervisor under the new system requirements. He or she must be receptive to and capable of learning and applying new skills. Process discipline becomes paramount; computer skills, time management, using measures to monitor performance, recognition for good performance, and confronting non-conforming behaviors are required skills.

The second critical aspect is whether the supervisors' and managers' values are aligned with the direction and long-term objectives of the change project. The senior leaders must educate middle and line leaders on the big picture of how the new system will work and what their roles are in making it work. Supervisors must see the value and understand the big picture. The supervisors have to see themselves as accountable to making the new processes work.

The third critical aspect of transitioning to a new system is how the leaders will spend their time. People tend to allocate their time toward things they enjoy doing and things they do well. People may be uncomfortable with the management aspects of the new system. Examples include reviewing work orders and acting on those that did not get completed on time or giving corrective feedback to a team member that is underperforming — perhaps that team member was also his weekend fishing pal.

When leaders don’t have the skills, values, or time-allocation commitment, their behaviors will show it. The time to find that out is not a year or two after the new processes have been implemented and the results are disappointing. The time to recognize these issues is well before the new process is implemented.

It is often uncomfortable for a supervisor to go from being a senior member of a shop to being a true supervisor who will be accountable for leadership and management of the team. If someone has been a recognized technical expert and we are now considering that person to be more of a manager, he or she must be provided the opportunity to learn the skills and to understand and buy into the values of the new system. And that person must be able to allocate time to being a leader and manager, not a senior craftsman.

Seniority is not the best criteria for selecting a supervisor. If a senior craftsmen does not have the skills and isn’t committed, don’t ask that person to fill the role. Senior leaders who don’t do the work to select the right supervisors or to develop them should not expect investments in major change efforts to have a high return. The best approach is to define good criteria for selecting supervisors and consistently develop them to get the most from current processes and to be able to achieve best results from future process improvements.

Don’t underestimate the importance of skills, values, and time allocations or the transition that supervisors are asked to make.

Read Tom Moriarty's monthly column, Human Capital.