Managing Change or Engaging People? 

In 1999, Hershey’s new planning and management software system start-up problems cost the company $150 million. That same year, FoxMeyer Corporation bungled a major equipment upgrade, which led to a $1 billion lawsuit that ended in the company’s bankruptcy.1

Change is not just about the software or the new equipment. You must also figure into your change initiative how you are going to bring your employees on board. What’s your investment in how your people fit into the new process? Whatever your new initiative, you can only get it off to a great start if you also realize:

  • People must change how they think.
  • People must change how they act.
  • People must buy into the importance of the new initiative.

How can you make this happen? Here are five steps to help your organization cope with change.

1. Set the stage Heighten the sense of urgency. Identify what the current process is costing your organization. One executive put piles and piles of office supplies on a boardroom table to demonstrate the inefficiencies in the purchasing process so that management could see what they were allowing to happen.

2. Get the buy-in Help your employees see and feel the change. Another company president assembled teams from each department, and gave them pieces of colored string, each department’s color representing their part of the configuration of the system. Teams connected the strings to the departments who supplied them and whom they supplied. The resulting multi-colored web demonstrated visibly how the whole business was interconnected, how finance supported production, HR, etc. This President was able to present a clear picture of an efficient enterprise while showing at the same time that collaboration and integration were so critical to their success.

3. Let them do it Once people can see where they are going, you need to build momentum by empowering and enabling the entire organization. This is one of the most crucial times to communicate, communicate, communicate. Appeal to people’s emotions; provide sincere and candid statements about how the project is going.

4. Walk the talk Successful leaders also remove barriers to change by fixing inadequate information systems, letting the manager go who can’t empower his/her staff, and boosting employees’ self-confidence. To quell anxiety and boost confidence, a new CEO called all 200 employees into a meeting where he told them about a similar project he had undertaken at another company. He showed numerous charts illustrating clearly how the similar process changed in his former company and made it more efficient. He even projected videos of employees at that former company talking about their visions and hopes before the change, and then their exuberance actually living the vision in the new organization. Most importantly, he answered employees’ questions honestly and directly, and reassured them that change of this size had happened before and resulted in no loss of jobs.2

5. Keep on keeping on Monitor, reinforce, remove barriers, show the vision, talk the talk and walk the walk. Rely more on “show” and less on “tell”. To be sure that his vision became reality, one plant manager made sure that he learned the new software himself, and began asking questions that could only be answered by using the new software. He found 1/3 of the management were using the software, 1/3 were using it sometimes, and 1/3 hadn’t started. To address this, he asked those using the system to focus on the others using it more. He worked directly with the non-users, offering more ways to learn it, and showing that this was the way things were going to work in this company now.

The managers who create success are those who understand that their employees are as important to successful change as the purchase and placement of the new equipment.

By Laurie Gungel, Director, Business Institute of Highland Community College

1 “The Alignment Factor: Addressing Change as a ‘People Challenge’ “ by Catherine J. Rezal, Paradigm Learning, 2701 North Rocky Point Drive, Tampa, FL 33607 as featured in Chief Learning Officer

2 “Why Change is an Affair of the Heart” by Dan S. Cohen in December 1, 2005 CIO Magazine

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