Fitness for your firm
So you just finished a highly motivating seminar and have decided to transform your workloading and cleaning processes based on what you’ve learned.
Before you announce your “vision” to the troops, you might want to take an anatomy lesson — yes, an anatomy lesson. That’s because the way an organization adjusts to change is very similar to that of any living being. And when you consider the improvement process in this light, you will have a more successful outcome.
Think of how you transform yourself from poor physical condition into better shape. The first day at the health club your body is good for one, slow-paced exercise. Even this stresses every part of the uniformly weak body. On day two, in spite of aches all over, the body miraculously does twice the workout. It has renewed itself and quickly returned stronger. You continue to painfully struggle for weeks to achieve the desired level of conditioning. But, slowly, your body requires less energy than at first to achieve your new exercise levels as the tasks become more routine.
Within this conditioning process, there are some key elements at work which can apply to a company transformation. They include: a sustainable, higher corporate heartbeat or pace of improvement; a central nervous system; cellular renewal; and new transformational energy.
Higher energy over the long-haul
If you had sprinted on the first day of your workout, you would have set an unsustainable pace and perhaps injured yourself because your body wasn’t ready. The same is true for your cleaning staff.
When you announce a new initiative, everyone thinks they already have been giving 100 percent and doing the best they can. But making changes will require added effort, requiring workers to do more for an initial period of time. This requires getting everyone to uniformly raise their effort level to a sustainable 10 or 20 percent over their current base. The goal then is to maintain that new level for however long it will take to complete the transition, without causing burnout.
A leader also must create a communication system similar to the body’s central nervous system. The company must let everyone know instantly and constantly what is happening, what is expected next and how the organization is reacting to planned changes.
Leaders also must universally report individual problems, creative applications and extra effort. Lacking this feedback, the hard workers lose commitment by assuming that others on staff aren’t pulling their weight. Continuous news of small, daily progress from a broad group of workers also encourages the borderline participants to pick up their level of activity. If the slackers are identified then they will either improve or leave.
One of the amazing things about human physiology is that if you extend your system, it comes back stronger the next day. A leader must provide this same cellular renewal energy to workers every day. Leaders can recognize people working in the right direction; and give them praise in public and in print. The recipients will be pleased with the recognition and be willing to try again. The communication system also allows others to learn of daily victories, helping to sustain the overall level of work in the operations. Without this constant renewal energy, most worthwhile programs will maintain good enthusiasm for about two weeks before homeostasis — the tendency of an organism to revert back to a status quo — starts to occur.
Regaining a routine
Even if broad-based commitment and progress occurs, there will be points during the improvement journey when morale starts to lag. Staff will may question whether their extended effort is worth the work. Here, the leader must explain the difference between transformational effort to get to a new level and the far less stressful maintenance energy that it takes to maintain that level, once it is reached.
Once a team has recharged their batteries at a new plateau, and enjoyed the fruits of their labors, they are apt to get excited about taking on another transformational challenge with more confidence than they exhibited during the last improvement.
There are numerous improvement programs that all cleaning organizations wish they could install. Programs to improve the quality of services are intuitively appealing to all employees, but the odds for success will be low if leaders forget to accommodate the psychological and physiological processes that underlie any significant change.
The following are additional considerations BSCs should keep in mind when instituting organizational change:
1. All organisms, including companies, resist and usually defeat change. This natural homeostasis is more common as a company grows in size and complexity.
2. You have a powerful story for your people. Since they are consumers, who don’t always experience great service in their personal lives, they can easily identify with your dissatisfied customers.
3. The employees need to know “what’s in it for me” if you achieve your goals, in order to buy into the process. Those benefits for workers can be: pride in being the best; improved processes that make their work easier; job security and company growth from retaining customers.
4. You will have to repetitively describe and evangelize the benefits of your new plan. Remember that the struggle to get there can be overwhelming.
5. You will have to rethink the processes, systems, job descriptions, flow charts and skills that support the current regime. For speed, you will have to streamline supervisor inspection and authorization steps. For complaint reduction, you will have to evaluate shifts and create cross-trained personnel that can go at variable speeds. You will undoubtedly have to rethink information and communication systems.
6. All of the changes above will create confusion, anxiety and resistance from a majority of the people involved. Lots of why’s, how’s and assurances will need discussion many times during the implementation phase. Repetition will help solidify answers in employee’s minds.
7. There is a psychological process which the thoughtful leader can push, but not rush. We all take time to emotionally reprogram ourselves. It takes time to unhook from the previous order of things; drift through a transition without moorings and sometimes declining status; and then hook up to a new-order of things. Leaders can address voiced anxieties, but time for acclimation or “comfort-zoning” also is necessary.
8. Finally, there will be a physiological dimension to any change. This most often is ignored during implementation efforts.
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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