Change is the lifeblood of progress. But putting changes into practice can be daunting. All organizations constantly are trying new processes and products. These changes are often attempted incrementally, halfheartedly or recklessly.
If your company is guilty of this kind of "flavor of the month" approach to change, your employees have learned that despite the commotion, nothing really gets changed. Theyve also learned if they simply wait it out the fuss eventually will die down and go away.
It is fundamental to make changes effectively by strategically determining the root cause of problems within the organization. Then work on the problems systematically.
Just as Rome wasnt built in a day, successful change wont be implemented overnight. It may take days, months, maybe even years.
Ten steps to successful transitions
Once youve identified specifically what the problem is and how you will solve it, there are at least ten steps that can help you make a successful transition.
Set a goal: Companies often launch a change strategy with no specific vision of what they really hope to accomplish. Your goal should be long-term and specific.
Having a specific goal will help everyone see the big picture, and prioritize accordingly, while youre working out the kinks along the way.
Put somebody in charge: You will be unable to manage change with everyone in your organization doing exactly as they were before, plus being responsible for the change itself. In successful transitions, one person is designated as the driver. This persons sole responsibility is to push, pull and drive the project forward.
Set a budget: Changes are not free. You must have a sense of what the change is going to cost. What if a change will cost your company 20 percent of total budget, but offer a 30 percent return? Many changes die in progress because they are not funded or because no one knows their value in hard costs. Budgeting also will reveal hidden costs.
Identify the start-up team: You probably wont transition everyone in your organization all at once. The start-up team, including supervisors, trainers, lead workers and human-resources personnel, will make it happen.
Write an implementation plan: It doesnt have to be fancy but it should be thorough. This plan will explain who does what, where, when, why and how. Then make sure you review the plan with everyone involved before putting it into action.
Hold an implementation meeting: During this meeting, clarify each individuals job description so that everyone understands exactly whats expected. This also is a good time for any specialized training that may need to occur before the transition begins.
Have written job descriptions: Put in writing what each member of the start-up team will be doing to facilitate the change. Look at the descriptions. Are all the key functions covered? Fill in any gaps.
Support systems ready: Will the changes you are making affect storage, computer systems, inventory handling or other support systems? Make sure these systems have been identified and are prepared before the transition.
Focus on results: Because successful transitions take time, its important to focus on what is happening not what isnt. Success will be incremental, but steady. Dont base all of your judgments about success or failure on stories from people who may or may not like the change. Measure to track your improvements; these measurements will be more effective if you have some pre-transition numbers to compare.
Strategic Urgency: The speed of implementation often indicates the level of importance. For instance, if you set up a five-year plan to transition how you clean toilets, it probably will send a message to your staff that this is not exactly a high priority. Your budget and your projections will help you determine an appropriate timeline.
Outside help: By nature, change can be upsetting and destabilizing. For those reasons, and many others, some organizations choose to have an outside facilitator or consultant help them orchestrate the transition.
A facilitator can offer a "been there, done that" approach internal leaders may lack. Consultants can typically put together comprehensive transition plans in much shorter time frames. They also offer training expertise and management experience that is specific to the transition. Some organizations feel using a consultant minimizes work force resistance and strengthens management resolve.
Not every business can or should hire a consultant. You can determine your needs by answering some simple questions. First, what is your time frame? You may have enough time to figure out any flaws as you go.
Second, do you have the skill and experience to complete the change? Important changes are usually outside the skill set of the existing organization. In other words the organization is part of the problem and should not be expected to immediately be the solution.
Do you have the necessary training capability? Make sure you have the personnel, programs and facilities to effectively train your staff on each aspect of the change. This usually is the area many companies must outsource.
Finally, will your people accept the change? If youve been guilty of "flavor of the month" changes in the past, you may have to bring in outside help to bolster your credibility and maintain direction in the face of resistance.
Theres a rule in the military that you never countermand an order. The transition process can be slow and difficult, but dont back down once you start. Buckle up and hang on. If youve done your homework you know the rewards are worth the change.
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.
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