Change Essentials

Four elements necessary for successful transformation

by Jack Ford

Since the BloodCenter of Wisconsin began its lean journey four years ago, I have had the chance to do some thinking about what is necessary for any change initiative to be successful.

What follows is a short list of what I consider to be the four essentials for change. Without these, I am convinced any change initiative will be met with less-than-satisfactory results.


Change begins with the recognition that something needs to be improved. The value of a clearly defined objective in a change effort cannot be overstated. In Six Sigma’s define, measure, analyze, improve and control method, for example, the problem is stated and a goal is articulated during the define stage.

Having a specified goal is critical to helping direct those who are charged with determining and implementing change. There is no room for questions or ambiguities when the actual work begins; to be successful in any change initiative, the objective must be clear and understood by all.


Tied to the objective is the need for change. There must be a good reason for an individual or team to spend the time it takes to come up with solutions to a problem and implement those solutions. The last thing anyone wants to do is spend time and energy on something they believe is unimportant.

The imperative might be as broad as the need to remain competitive in the marketplace or as specific as the need to keep tools within easy reach to promote safety and ergonomics. The point is, the imperative must be known to and understood by those who are being asked to make the change.


For any change effort to be successful, an individual or team must accept the objective and imperative. By acceptance, I mean an understanding and commitment by those who determine the solutions to the problem, as well as those required to implement and sustain the changes. This acceptance can be obtained through simple data analysis, or it might come through any number of other ways.

With acceptance comes the motivation required to make the change. Without this motivation, any change initiative will result in frustration and disappointment.


Each stage of the change initiative must be facilitated. Whether it’s an individual or a team making the change, guidance is required.

It is clear the chances of the change initiative being successful are much greater when there is someone guiding the team toward the solutions and holding the team accountable. Where this responsibility falls—on a team member, the sponsor, the champion or even the facilitator—is dependent on a number of factors, not the least of which are the size and culture of the organization.

For a change initiative to be successful, there needs to be someone making sure milestones established in the implementation planning are met.

I have resisted the urge to talk about teamwork, only because these four essentials are also required for change on the personal level. I have not mentioned empowerment, but that is also an essential piece teams need before they can even begin to consider change. Change is possible when empowered individuals work together, as long as they have these other four essentials in common.

Author’s Note

Special thanks to Patti Bobo, Sandra Osbourne and Erik Scott for helping formulate the ideas presented in this column.

Jack Ford is a quality and lean specialist for the Diagnostic Laboratories at BloodCenter of Wisconsin in Milwaukee. He earned a bachelor’s degree in history from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. Ford is a certified quality improvement associate and a member of ASQ.

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