Most attempts at change fail - some pundits estimate up to 70% of change attempts fail (Harvard Business Review). Change is particularly hard as it involves people. This is the greatest challenge in effecting change – equipment and hardware changes are relatively easy by comparison. With people there is always inertia to changing from the existing status quo. Especially as they have probably undergone vigorous change initiatives in the past – many of which may not have been particularly successful.
As you know - it is not a question today of whether you can ignore change – in engineering - technology change is ongoing and accelerating. Whether it is your new computer system or a new industrial plant. Everything is different to what it was a few years ago. Much of change is of your firm and your career.
A few suggestions follow on how to most effectively drive change in your firm.
Locate the people who are going to avoid change
This is probably one of the critical elements of any change program. Many people are comfortable with change and willing to embrace it and perhaps even thrive on it.
Those who are unwilling to consider it, need to be identified and their perspectives understood. You may find in talking to these folk that you have to change your strategy for the changes proposed. They may have identified significant problems with your approach. Be open and be willing to modify your approach.
Other issues may be that these folk feel that you are showing them disrespect and are unhappy as a result. They have been with the organisation for a long time or have been senior managers. Simply listening to them and taking their views into account will often neutralise the opposition here. Finally, there are those who feel they are being unduly rushed into a new situation. Again the best strategy is to listen carefully and to try and cushion the new requirements on them by stretching time lines or work requirements to make it easier on them.
There are a few basic rules with managing change:
Communicate Brilliantly about the Overall benefits. To both the organization and the individual. Change shouldn’t be done for the sake of change. Ensure the reasons for the change are well understood and the contribution required from each person in successfully achieving this is communicated. Ensure the overall roadmap is carefully articulated.
It takes time with results slow to arrive. You have to be persistent in managing change and be prepared for the long haul. It doesn’t happen overnight as people don’t change overnight. If you don’t persist, often one person at a time; you will never achieve good results.
It requires person-to-person contact. Change counselling and discussion doesn’t happen over an email or broadcasted over a megaphone. It happens in individual discussions. One person at a time.
Listening is key to progress. You have to listen carefully to people. Particularly those resistant to change. And ensure people know you are attentively listening.
Be Open to Change yourself. You won’t convince people to change if you are singularly resistant to new ideas and better approaches than the specific change you are driving.
Keep Talking and Communicating. You will find that you need to have multiple contacts with individuals spaced days apart to absorb and act on what they say.
Thanks to Sally Blount and Shana Carroll of the Kellog School as well as the Harvard Business Review for an interesting discussion on change.
John F. Kennedy remarked: Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.
Yours in engineering learning