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Why Change Initiatives Fizzle (and How to Fix Them)

July 25, 2023
Trust and credibility are imperative to transforming your organization.

Picture this scenario: You’ve adopted a new reliability initiative, investing in the best technology to help your organization move away from outdated ways of operating. While there was lots of enthusiasm on the front end, as people start to feel the changes impacting their jobs and are now having to intellectually invest in learning new methods and new expectations, resistance to change is starting to show up and the enthusiasm for change is beginning to wane.  What has happened here?

Maybe it was the unsuccessful total productive maintenance approach from five years ago that the leadership team was convinced would solve all your maintenance and reliability issues. Or that time when leadership tried to reinvigorate the product data management program, which also flopped.

Sound familiar? We’ve all been in organizations that attempt to undertake change initiatives, then fail to meet objectives. If you’ve got naysayers and vocal pessimists in your midst and their ranks are growing, it’s probably a sign that your leadership team’s accountability record is in question, and some of your workers no longer trust you.

 What do your employees say about the competence of your leadership team when you’re not around? A poor return on investment isn’t the only bad outcome of failed initiatives. Employees can become cynical and begin to operate with the mindset that the organization is deeply broken, nothing ever changes and that management is incompetent.

If the system never changes, neither will your most important assets – your people. Trust and credibility are imperative to transforming your organization. Engaging, connecting and coordinating your employees with the right skills, processes, tools and technology is the foundation of success. It can pave the way for a smarter culture where your people, technology, assets and process all work together. But it starts with leadership.

 Establishing Credibility

Organizations are complex and fragmented environments. First, you’ve got different “communities” like day crews, night crews, machine shops, back office and shipping departments, to name a few. Then, at the individual level, you have employees with various personalities, skill sets and experience. Getting workers on board with new initiatives is not easy. Ordering a new banner, handing out some new coffee mugs or sprinkling a bit of reliability consulting around is not going to get you to your goals. These empty tactics only reinforce the mistrust, lack of credibility and cynicism that can already exist within an organization. Real change is about a deep, systematic shift – moving away from a reactive and chaotic environment your team has grown accustomed to.

 You establish credibility by doing it. Knowing where to begin may seem overwhelming. Start with the leadership team. Recognize and accept the need for change, better reliability and more accountability on the part of leadership. If you’re stuck, an outside expert can help determine where you are in your reliability journey and work with you to usher in a platform of communication awareness within the organization.

Reliability starts with the leadership team possessing the right competencies to coach teams through what can often be a challenging period of transition and ensure the right systems are in place. It requires managers to be on their game, where they begin to understand the relationship between their own management styles, tendencies and shortfalls.

During this stage, it’s critical to look at healthy levels of tension as a way to establish credibility. You’ve raised performance expectations for your team; it’s time to start practicing these processes. This involves holding people accountable with deadlines, assignments and expectations.

When tension is too low, it can negatively affect performance. High tension can create a stressful work environment. Healthy levels of tension are critical to an organization’s success.

But asking leadership to turn processes into new behaviors and change how they do things is not always well-received. This can be a difficult step for those who have the attitude that nothing is wrong, or are hesitant to generate any conflict. Some will wrap their own dysfunction in humor, making jokes about how bad things are, claiming it’s just “how they’ve always done it.” Others are in the people-pleasing category, worrying that they are going to lose employees.

Is your leadership team prepared to do some heavy lifting? When this stage is done right, the rewards are worth it – management working towards a higher level of performance, a plant that is highly reliable and workers who are motivated.

Upgrade Your Talent

The next phase in your journey is about generating context for your people. They are about to receive a lot of technical information on how they are meant to do their job going forward. You are asking them to take on new knowledge, skills and abilities while becoming more proactive and future-focused.

Education is necessary, but getting people to attend training sessions can sometimes be a challenge. Virtual classes are good for sharing between learners and having real-time subject-matter-expert discourse without distractions at the workplace. eLearning or self-paced online courses can be completed at the learner’s own pace, and can offer opportunity for immediate application and experimentation on-the-job. eLearning can also be used to educate cross-sections of the enterprise and achieve a knowledge base and common language around reliability and asset management.

Use Metrics to Drive Higher Performance

The last phase in your journey involves driving performance with metrics. Metrics challenge us to check ourselves; how we’re currently performing and how we’re doing things. Looking at key performance indicators is not just a matter of getting better—it’s about identifying and implementing changes as an enterprise to optimize your assets. 

KPIs need to be right-sized to your organization. You may be starting at a very basic place where just getting PMs completed is your primary task. Or you could be working through a backlog of management metrics. Whatever they are, your targets have to be appropriate to where you are at in your journey. This will help create a healthy tension for improvement.

Understanding Your “Why”

Why are we changing and what are the consequences if we don’t change? These aren’t always easy questions to answer.

Real results, improved operations and increased productivity don’t just happen overnight; they involve tough conversations and real effort from your employees. A smart-culture transformation requires a systematic change in the way you run your business, and it starts with your leadership team. They can be the first domino to fall when things get tough. But it can also be a catalyst towards changing the culture – and when this path is taken, it can cascade competency, credibility and accountability through the organization.

Paul Borders brings more than 17 years experience as a strategic manufacturing manager to his role helping clients as a senior principal consultant. Paul helps companies sustain performance improvements by driving culture change to ensure new systems become a fundamental way of life. 

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