ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

October 1999


Not So Common Sense

A Fresh Squeeze On Labor Relations

Toughening Up Today's Change Efforts

People Before Strategy: Four Types of Employees that Help or Hinder a Changing Corporate Culture

The Missing Link
Failed Mergers Linked to Poor Management of Workforce Issues

A Few Kind Words: The Importance of Positive Reinforcement

Tool Time
Assessing Management Tools


Turnabout Is Fair Play
by Peter Block


Brief Cases

Diary of a Shutdown

Views for a Change



Toughening Up Today's Change Efforts

Undergoing change is vital to surviving today's fast-paced business world. Here's how to make sure it doesn't kill you

Fraidy cats and cowards in management beware: Mark Samuel, president/founder of IMPAQ, creator of "Accountability Based Technology" and author of "The Accountability Revolution" and his theory about implementing change may soon be knocking on your company's door with the most powerful of weapons - tough love.

Samuel, whose clients have ranged from Mervyn's of California to the University of California at Berkley to St. Charles Medical Center in Oregon, has found a soft spot in corporate America and that soft spot is the manner in which we deal with change in our business culture.

"We try to make people so comfortable with change, thinking that if we can convince people that the change is good, there will be less resistance and it will be easier to transition people," Samuel says.

And in his estimation, nothing could be further from the truth. Change, Samuel counters, ain't easy. It's uncomfortable; it requires a little pain, some courage, and a lot of action. Try an approach to implementing change that doesn't include these three things, and not only will you be wasting time, you'll be heading down a slippery slope to business suicide.

Corporate Hara-Kiri
See if this sounds familiar: Your company has undergone a merger, acquisition or faces restructuring. The way you've done things, the way your whole department or maybe even your entire company has done things, is going to change. And although no one's foolish enough to openly admit it, nobody really wants this change. Who needs it? Change represents an unknown and that's scary, plus it's stressful. You're going to have to keep all the balls in the air while learning a whole new routine.

So, there's a general sentiment of resistance in the office. Taking note of these feelings, upper management determines that unless everyone believes in the need for change implementation will likely fail from lack of support. A planning committee is quickly organized to create a perfect change-implementation plan. The goal is to create a change plan that covers all the bases, irons out all the wrinkles and will be painless to undertake. And, because the change will be implemented perfectly everyone will buy into it.
Once the change implementation plan has been painstakingly perfected, upper management spends a lot of time talking up the change effort so that everyone understands why the change is taking place and the staff is given a final opportunity to buy into it. Finally, implementation starts, the change occurs and mission accomplished. You're onto the next challenge.

Not so fast, says Samuel. There are a lot of inherent problems with the change-implementation process outlined above and those problems are going to keep your company from achieving the goals of the change effort. Here's why:

The Fatality of the Perfect Plan
There is a little human phenomenon that weakens the strategy of creating a perfect implementation plan that the more we put something off, the more hesitant and fearful we become about doing it. Samuel relates this to when, as a child, he first stepped to the ledge of a pool to learn how to dive.

"I put my toes to the line, my arms above my head, took a deep breath and just stood there," he says. "The only thing that was going to really make me feel comfortable with diving was doing it over and over again. But by not letting myself fall in the water, by sitting there thinking about it and analyzing it, I was just putting it off, and I started dreading diving even more."

Samuel likens this experience to that of a planning committee. The more you analyze the change effort, the more you think of things that can go wrong, and the more skeptical and slow you are to dive into action. The solution is not to completely disregard the planning committee concept, but instead to redefine what the committee does. Plan for recovery, says Samuel, and that means planning for mistakes. Let's face it, when you try to develop the perfect plan, that plan is based on theory. It is better to plan for how you will overcome mistakes and screw-ups when they happen.

For example, think of a baseball team heading for the World Series. These guys are pretty good at the game and they're getting ready for a stressful situation. What does a baseball team do to prepare for the World Series? They plan for recovery - hitting infield line drives, practicing who catches pop flies that land between second and shortstop, gaining speed and efficiency on a potential double play. In other words, they don't talk about it. Action is how they achieve excellent play.

Here are a few added bonuses to planning for recovery instead of trying to create the "perfect" implementation plan, you will:
- implement change faster;
- reduce the by-the-side-of-the-pool fear factor; and
- ultimately achieve the results you're looking for (only at the end, through recovery, instead of the theoretically at the beginning of the change process.)

Vital Action
No one ever said action is easy and Samuel isn't about to now. But the only way to get through fear is to move through it with action and this must be communicated clearly and quickly to the staff your planned change will affect. To do this, Samuel recommends explaining the context of the change. Don't try to sell staff on the change itself; explain why the change is necessary by identifying the external forces that are making it necessary (competition, customer demands, changes in technology).

You should also communicate the expectations of the change. People want to know what's expected of them, and by communicating this, you'll reduce fear and stress. Sometimes you won't know what exactly each individual needs to do until implementation takes place; that's okay. Simply involving people in the reasons behind change and letting them know that some action on their part is expected, will prepare staff to do what's needed of them when the time comes. Also, let staff know about your plan's emphasis on recovery. People want to know that they won't be blamed for implementing a plan that, when it was conceived, was considered foolproof and perfect. If staff know that you expect modifications due to trial and error, they'll be less hesitant to take part in the change process.

Then do it. Make the change quickly, utilize your recovery plan to modify processes and make the new procedure, product or structure run smoothly. Once you've done this, however, you still have to take steps to avoid one fatal flaw - moving on without evaluating the overall change effort.

"It's critical to measure the results of the change, and not just move on to the next thing," says Samuel. "Change gets implemented, it's focused on during the crisis part of implementation, then it's forgotten. People put all this time and effort into a change that receives no acknowledgement.

Meanwhile, the change has major, measurable results in six months.
"It's a tragic loss of opportunity, says Samuel, because people get discouraged when there is no acknowledgement to the effort that has been made. Instead, measure the results of change and develop the measurement system before the change is even implemented in the first place.

How do you measure change? Samuel recommends getting a group of people involved to brainstorm about the various improvements they'd like to see as a result of the change. Compare these "success factors" to the change effort and make sure they are being met. Those involved in the change effort should be included in the evaluation approximately six months after the effort began. They can track the progress of the project itself and consider the results and the performance of the success factors. This will provide an accurate assessment of the change effort and, typically, a much more positive outlook on future change.

Sharing information is key to successful change. But Samuel argues that communication should not mean trying to convince staff that, "Change is great! Hop on board!" Taking that course will only lead to resistance, fear and stress. Instead of candy coating the change, honestly explain why it has to happen and assure everyone that no one will be blamed for mistakes. Plan for mistakes, modify the process until the change is accomplished, and leave time to evaluate and measure results. Then give your staff and yourself a pat on the back. You made it out of the change effort alive.

October '99 News for a Change | Email Editor
  • Print this page
  • Save this page

Average Rating


Out of 0 Ratings
Rate this item

View comments
Add comments
Comments FAQ

ASQ News