On Management

Dec. 21, 2004
Practice 10 steps to reaching positive change.

Change is difficult and threatening, which explains why people prefer to maintain the status quo. Change processes fail more often than they succeed. Yet change is critical to success. Indeed, the only sustainable competitive advantage today is the ability to change, adapt, and evolve -- and to do it better than the competition. Ironically, once a successful change process has been completed, the reward is that you get to do another one. Although transformation is not easy, there are steps that can create positive change. The process requires action and involvement at all levels of an organization. Senior management must lead, and the hourly, front-line supervision and middle-management ranks must believe in the need for change and participate in making it happen. To facilitate change follow these 10 steps: 1. Develop a vision, mission, strategy, and operating plan that offers the greatest potential for success. Involve all organizational levels in the planning process and communicate the results in varying detail. Allow them to question and gain equity in the final plan. 2. Set high expectations with specific goals and objectives, but not unrealistic or unachievable ones. Communicate these along with the rationale for them. Don't apologize for the difficulty. Embrace the people who resist and consider their reasons carefully. 3. Build trust by being totally honest, fair above reproach (even when painful), and trustworthy. Be prepared to go more than halfway any time there is doubt. Regularly assess how things are going with people who are not part of the inner circle. Use anonymous surveys to find out if trust truly is building. Without it, nothing else works. 4. Define each person's roles and responsibilities relative to the whole business. Keep it simple. What are they expected to do (day-to-day roles) and what are they expected to get done? Spell out the responsibilities in writing, and revise them as needed. Give people as much influence as possible over their areas of responsibility. 5. Establish agreed-upon measures so people can track how they (and the business) are doing. Post these openly and refer to them frequently. Revise them when necessary. Relate the measures to external benefits -- and also back to the strategic and operating plans. 6. Provide frequent, balanced feedback and information about external conditions and how things are going. Provide opportunities for people to contribute ideas when things are not going as hoped or planned. Use collaborative problem-solving. Be sure the necessary resources and technology are available. 7. Continuously update employees on changes in the external environment -- customers, markets, competition, and so forth. Involve them in gathering this information and sharing it. Inform them about important news before the media does or before they hear it through the grapevine. 8. Recognize and praise success, but also identify and critique failure. Enlist employees' help in building on successes and identifying and remedying the root causes of failures. Encourage action. Discourage inaction. Criticize results or methods, not employees. If some workers are not willing or able to perform at the necessary level, then either help them improve or remove them from the organization. (A few just won't make it. Get them out before they infect the rest.) 9. Reward success and the desired behavior, both psychologically and financially. Find a means of providing ownership, and share the wealth created by good financial results. Tie rewards to actions that the employees can control. 10. Finally, celebrate success -- and grieve over setbacks -- together. Resolve to do better the next time. Maintain an environment of enthusiasm, cooperation, collaboration, and sharing. Create easy, informal interaction. Knock down the walls of bureaucracy and penalize political nonsense. Emphasize getting the job done -- together. These 10 steps may not be the complete answer, but they are a good starting point. John Mariotti, a former manufacturing CEO, is president of The Enterprise Group, a consulting business. He lives in Knoxville. His e-mail address is [email protected].

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