Today's organizations face the need to accomplish change with increasing frequency. These changes vary in depth and breadth. Changes of all types require thoughtful planning and dedicated execution. Experience suggests that there are three distinct forms of change, any of which may involve large or small changes. However, these different forms of change do demand different types of planning and different models of participation. Additionally, differing forms of change require that we address a variety of change barriers.
Two issues are at the heart of effective change planning. First, we must design into our change efforts real opportunities for effective participation by critical stakeholders and potential solution contributors. To involve these groups requires attention to goal alignment, focus, and creative problem-solving. Second, we must efficiently deal with the barriers to the change effort, by anticipating them and through well-designed approaches for their disposition.
Our conference session on this subject will actively involve participants in a demonstration of these concepts. The intent of this paper, however, is to define and describe the differences between three forms of change and to present the distinctions among them in terms of planning, participation, and likely barriers. Two macro-level planning tools are also presented.
CONVENTIONAL WISDOM AND CHANGE
Today, as never before, maintaining a competitive advantage depends upon an organization's ability to remake itself—on its ability to change. Although widely documented in recent years, a number of change-related challenges and change-management issues continue to confound even the most competitive firms. The reasons for such confounding are both internal and external. External to the enterprise, global competition, frequent shifts in the marketplace, and technological advancement combine to create new sets of challenges and new levels of performance expectations. These external forces create the need for more organizational change. Most will agree, however, that within any organization, there is an upper limit—a threshold level for the rate of internal change. At some point, the rate at which changes are needed bumps up against this upper limit.
First among today's change-creating challenges is the fast-changing competitive environment. Many industries are over capacity, resulting in a struggle for market share through innovation, price cutting, and other means. Even in growing industries, the needs and preferences of the customers shift frequently and unpredictably, requiring constant vigilance in product and service design and delivery. Frequent technological advances change the dynamics of the competitive landscape, enabling alert innovators to rapidly gain momentary advantages.
With these competitive forces, product life cycles continue to grow smaller. As a result, design and prototyping processes must be accelerated. Similarly, training must often be accelerated, but the resources available to provide such training may be severely limited. Likewise, investments in tooling and fixturing are evaluated against more stringent criteria. And, of course, reduced life cycles and greater product variety imply many changes in materials procurement, production scheduling, setup procedures, and the control of the production process.
At the strategic level, many firms are discovering a need to shift their competitive emphasis away from the issues of cost and quality. New strategic directions emphasizing the use of service as a distinguishing factor and the finer subdivision of the marketplace via "mass customization" both require innovation in the methods by which products are designed, produced, and delivered. But achieving the desired levels of manufacturing and logistical agility is an elusive goal due to the perceived complexity and magnitude of the changes required.
Inevitably, the changes occurring in the competitive environment, in the technologies and product designs, and in strategic focus create a literal flood of changes for the lower levels within the organization. The overall lesson is clear: to remain competitive, organizations must become much more adept at change. This demands both efficiency and effectiveness, not only in the way an organization operates, but also in the change process itself. Because changes are more frequent (or continual), the kind and number of resources consumed by the change process must be carefully considered and assessed. This often requires that organizations devise or adopt new change processes, capable of providing the level of organizational agility that the times require.
Unfortunately, organizational change efforts are nonroutine, and our attempts to bring order and efficiency to change efforts are filled with contradictions. For example, while organizations need change processes that feature high levels of employee participation, they also need to be more efficient in the use of the available time and expertise of the company's most valuable assets—its people. Continuous Quality Improvement (CQI) programs provide a vivid example. In change-oriented companies today, many individuals are on so many teams and task forces that they barely have time to attend the meetings and perform the duties of their job. Little time is left for actually creating improvements. In a frenzied attempt to create more change, we often spend
more time, but get less for it.
Likewise, management experts have long emphasized the need for extensive communication regarding change efforts. Such communication serves many purposes, including articulating the "case for change," informing participants and stakeholders of the change's future impact, eliciting participation (or sympathy) from bystanders, and generally building awareness and buy-in. But, in many settings, the sheer volume of communication taking place significantly reduces the available time and intellectual energy available for the change effort. We've become so well informed and we are so occupied in receiving, digesting, discarding, forwarding, and distributing information that the available time for any real innovation is reduced to an alarmingly small portion of the whole. To illustrate, what portion of your day involves reading/ organizing/deleting and responding to e-mails? How much of that activity adds value?
Similarly, while we must be strategically focused, we know that the greatest gains come from actions taken on the shop floor. But many organizations are almost totally lacking the integrating mechanisms through which the activities and measurements on the shop floor are meaningfully connected to the measures that guide long-term decision-making. Often, just when we begin to approach real improvements in the factory, top management appears to shift gears. Many partial change efforts remain in that status due to the seeming fickleness of strategic direction.
Let's take a moment to summarize a few critical points:
1. The marketplace and competitive realities demand that today's organizations become more adept at change, what we'll simply call
2. In attempting to become "changeable," many organizations respond with time-intensive activities and time-consuming communications that actually inhibit innovation and problem-solving. Countless meetings and endless communications clog the organization's problem-solving pipeline.
3. Change efforts need to be connected to strategic objectives. Connecting mechanisms are needed to ensure alignment and to avoid suboptimizing behaviors.
4. The "cycle time" of change efforts must be significantly faster than
the "cycle time" of strategic direction shifts.
To Be Continued