Barriers to change
BSCs can be their own worst enemy when implementing new procedures
There’s an old adage: “The only thing you can be sure of is change itself.” The forces that create change can be subtle or dramatic, but they’re certainly ever present.
It’s a little like trying to go up the down escalator. Stand still, and you can be assured of moving backwards, farther away from your goal. To survive and thrive, you must be prepared to adjust, adapt and adopt. And, worst case, you need to be prepared to throw everything out and start over.
While that may be easy to say, it’s tough to do. For example, the rail industry had a chance to incorporate air freight as part of their delivery strategy. But executives couldn’t see the value of that change, so the industry missed a growth opportunity.
Is it making change itself that is so difficult, or is it the way we approach change? As I see it, there are at least three natural barriers to change. Those barriers are habit, environment and priorities.
Old habits die hard
Whether or not we like to admit it, we often are creatures of habit. Try this experiment: Cross your arms. Which arm is on top? Now quickly re-cross your arms so the opposite arm is on top. Are you comfortable? Probably not. Does that make this position wrong? No, only different. If you were to cross your arms differently enough times, the “new” way would begin to be comfortable.
Successful changes require the creation of new habits. At Janitor University, we talk about “micro-problems.” It’s always amazing to me how the tiniest things can halt the biggest projects — and the larger the organization, the more micro-problems seem to exist.
With any kind of organizational change, you’ll see dozens of micro-problems. For example, let’s say your company decides to change the door employees use to enter the building. From now on, employees will use the side door instead of the back entrance. Enter a barrage of micro-problems: Who will tell the employees? When will we begin the change? Who will make the new door key? Who will have a copy of the new key? Who’s budget will pay for the change? How will we light this area?
The list could go on. Anticipate micro-problems and create an environment that facilitates their solution.
Failing to create that environment often is the second barrier to change. Many organizations announce change and then fail to pursue it. In fact, some organizations are so bad at implementing of change, their employees have learned if they wait long enough, the proposed change simply will disappear.
There is an element of risk to making changes, of course; chance-takers frequently are losers. You can minimize the risk by doing your homework. The best leaders don’t make decisions lightly.
I remember a cleaning manager who transitioned his organization to team cleaning. He explained to his staff why he was making the changes and specifically which procedures would be changed. He noted the change process would be a journey, not a one-day fix. They were in it for the long haul.
Inevitably, problems arose. Staff members came to their boss, certain there was no solution for the day’s dilemma. After trying, with much resistance, to help his staff solve a particular problem, he would simply say, “Well, we’re not going back. Why don’t you just try to figure this problem out? Then you can teach the rest of the organization because this is the direction we’re going.” Eventually, staff members stopped bringing their micro-problems to the boss. They took ownership of the situation and were able to solve many of their own problems. Because of his vision, my friend was able to bring positive change to his organization.
There are certain phases almost every organization experiences when implementing change. Those phases are skepticism, resistance, demonstration, trial and acceptance.
But working through these phases will require making the change process, itself, a priority. Most cleaning managers simply cannot give 100 percent of their time and attention to implementing a desired change. However, there are some strategies you can put in place before making a change that can help you successfully work through each phase.
Work to develop support for the change before it actually happens. Involve key players in the planning stages. Make certain everyone understands why the change is being considered. Then repeat the message – often! Laying this kind of groundwork will make the transition much easier. You and your staff have the opportunity to anticipate some of those micro-problems and develop solutions before the problems surface. Advance planning gives everyone an opportunity to take some ownership in the change process.
Finally, take some time to evaluate the last time you made a change in your organization. What factors motivated you to change? How did you implement the changes? What was the reaction from your colleagues? What was the result of the change? You can learn a lot from history – especially your own.
By recognizing change barriers you can turn them into bridges that lead to more opportunity for you and your company. It won’t be easy. But it will definitely be interesting.
John Walker is a regular Contracting Profits columnist. He is a veteran building service contractor; owner of ManageMen consulting services, Salt Lake City; and founder of Janitor University, a hands-on cleaning management training program.