Sunday, April 22, 2012

Focus and Leverage Part 104

If you’re job is in Continuous Improvement in some form or fashion, then you know that what you really are is a change agent.  Your role is to take your company’s existing current reality and make positive change to create a new future reality.  You also know that change is not easy for many of the people you work with.  They’re comfortable with the status quo and resist moving away from it.  I know, as a consultant, that this resistance to change is very powerful and sometimes I feel like David against Goliath.  So what do you need to know to make change happen?  The fact is, you need to understand some of the change basics if you are to be successful.  You need to know when, why, where, what, and how change needs to happen, so let’s take a look at some of these basics.  And let’s not forget about “who” should make change happen.

When should we change?  Well, if you’re like many executives, you wait until the organization is underperforming before you start a change initiative, but is this the right time?  In my opinion it isn’t.  You must understand that when an organization is underperforming there are huge amounts of fear that reside within it.  Fear of being looked at as part of the problem……fear of loss of jobs…..fear of an uncertain future, and the list goes on and on.  And when fear dominates the landscape, resistance to change only intensifies.  So if you’re in an underperforming company, doesn’t it make sense that you should not introduce change now while you’re doing well?  The first lesson we must learn then is that change should be introduced when our company is doing well, not when it’s underperforming.  Unfortunately most executives don’t understand this and they initiate change at the wrong time.

The question then becomes, why change at all?  Good question.  Companies need to continually reinvent themselves simply because the world changes every day.  Look at the speed of change in the electronics industry.  The half-life for electronic gadgets is increasingly short, so if you wait until your sales are falling to initiate change, you’ve waited too long.  Why change?  It’s simply a matter of survival…plain and simple.

I’ve written about the three basic questions that we should be asking ourselves as related to change:

1.    What to change?

2.    What to change to?

3.    How to make change happen?

These three simple questions are incredibly powerful and if you take the time to think them through and truly analyze your company’s environment and marketplace position, you won’t be wasting your efforts.  So what’s a good way to answer these questions?  The TOC Thinking Tools (TP) will answer all three of these questions.  The Current Reality Tree, the Future Reality Tree, the Prerequisite Tree, etc. are all there to be developed and when you’ve completed them, you will have answered all three of these questions.  If you’re not familiar enough with these tools to be able to effectively use them, I have an alternative for you.  I know that the TOC purists and zealots will totally disagree with me, but I believe in what I’m about to tell you.

I have written many times about the Intermediate Objectives Map (IO Map) in other blog postings.  The IO Map is quite simply the easiest TP tools available today.  It’s based on necessity based logic and as many times as I’ve introduced it to organizations, it has never once been rejected.  It’s a logical hierarchy with the goal at the top, followed by critical success factors beneath it and finally necessary condition that must be in place to achieve the critical success factors.  The theory behind this tool is that if I have the necessary conditions in place, I will achieve the critical success factors.  And if the critical success factors are in place, I will achieve the goal. I’m not going into a discussion about it, but for those interested in it, here is a link to Dettmer’s now classic paper on the subject.  Now back to our discussion on change.

Let’s now turn our attention to where in the organizational hierarchy change happens?  For those of you who answered this question with an easy (but wrong) answer that change happens at the top, consider this.  The encouragement for change may well have originated at the top of the organization, but the specifics of the change certainly didn’t.  Significant change always requires reinvention and this requires an intimate knowledge of the day-to-day operation of the business.  This does not exist at the top of the organization.

If you answered the question by saying that change happens at the bottom of the organization, that’s equally wrong.  People at the bottom of the organization simply don’t have the necessary perspective to reinvent and they certainly don’t have the power or authority to do so.  So, if reinvention doesn’t come happen at the top or bottom of the organization, then the only logical place left is the middle of the organization.  Yep, middle management is where change happens and if you know this going into an initiative, you won’t waste precious time at the top and bottom of the organization.  You certainly have to involve both the top and bottom, but real change takes place in the middle of the organization.

“But Bob”, you may be thinking, “doesn’t this contradict what you’ve written about before?”  My answer is that it does not.  Reinvention is not the same as continuous improvement of existing processes, it’s about changing the future of your company.  Reinvention or organizational change is on a different level.  In my last posting I talked about the importance of having a team composed of SME’s and I stand by that.  What I’m talking about is change….real and lasting change that transforms your company.  Change that occurs while your existing company is performing well and not after it is underperforming.  So the bottom line is this, if you want the least resistance to change and you want the change to actually occur and sustain, make sure it’s initiated when things are going well and make sure it’s focused where it should be….in the middle of the organization.

Bob Sproull


Dennis Godwin said...

Just by having seen it happen before doesn't necessarily mean that it's ALWAYS true. Simply because I could challenge a blanket statement that says "the knowledge of what happens in day to day operations does not exist at the top." I could also challenge that change always starts in the middle. However, I will back a theory that states that change for the better WILL FAIL WITHOUT the support of middle management. In 99% of the cases of failure to change for the (assumed- 'cause we'll never know) better, the absence of support from middle management was the over-riding factor. In fact, if you put a goal of "Ensure [insert name of change initiative here] Fails" at the top of an intermediate objectives map, "Non-acceptance by middle management" would most certainly be a Necessary Condition.
I'm not sure if the opposite is always true.
I will agree that the probability of success is greater if you do have their support in as much as top level support and the grass roots support.

Bob Sproull said...

Good comments Dennis. My mistake here...I should have made a comment to the effect that my observations don't apply to 100% of the organizations I've dealt with. But from my many years of experience, I should have said that "on average" applies to both the notion of leadership not having the knowledge of what happens in day-to-day operations and that the middle being where change occurs. I respectfully disagree that "Non-acceptance by middle management" is a Necessary Condition....I believe it is a Critical Success Factor. Thanks again for your comments and astute observations.