Change management tips to help manufacturers remain agile and thrive in 2022

Posted on 14 Feb 2022 by The Manufacturer
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To remain agile and thrive as 2022 unfolds, manufacturers will need to maintain the momentum for change they’ve garnered during the pandemic. But where should firms be focussing their efforts?

The COVID-19 outbreak is often credited with accelerating manufacturing firms’ digital transformations and boosting their agility. It’s one of the few silver linings to come out of the pandemic. Virtually overnight, we saw manufacturers undertaking significant efforts to implement new digital technologies, flexible ways of working and health screening and safety protocols.

Now, almost two years into the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, and with no definitive end in sight, manufacturers cannot afford to lose the momentum they have gained to date. Maintaining an agile approach to change and continuing with forward-thinking initiatives will differentiate companies that merely survive from those that thrive.

With this in mind, The Access Group’s Andy Brown, Manufacturing Lead, and Jill Carlier Bason, founder of Project. People. Profit. and lecturer at WMG, University of Warwick, have provided these excellent insights.

Small steps make big changes

First and foremost, it’s important to realise that changes do not have to be implemented with a big bang approach. In fact, it’s often more intuitive and beneficial to approach change incrementally.

According to Jill, “Sometimes, it’s the little tweaks that really make the difference”.

So instead of looking at their operations and trying to figure out how to implement a significant change, manufacturers should focus on the small wins that will have a big impact. Consultations with shop floor teams will yield the most valuable insights. Identify their biggest bugbears and areas where improvements could be made, then involve them in the change management process to increase buy-in. This will not only ensure the implemented solution is fully fit for purpose, but will also boost the chances of post-implementation adoption.

By getting into this habit of constantly considering potential changes and talking about them on a regular basis, manufacturers will encourage and embed a change culture which can afford numerous benefits.

A change culture can bring the business closer together

One of the biggest benefits of encouraging a change culture is that it helps bring together people from different areas for the benefit of the business. For example, oftentimes in manufacturing firms, shop floor workers and finance department individuals do not come into contact on a regular basis. But during a project, workers from many different areas are usually involved.

Jill Carlier Bason is the founder of Project. People. Profit. and lecturer at WMG, University of Warwick

Jill says the bonds that are created during such projects are hugely important as they enable cross-fertilisation of ideas. So instead of a finance individual assuming what will be the best solution, they can instead take advantage of the insights provided by somebody who is actually on the shop floor performing the tasks. That’s why firms should encourage maintaining relationships that are formed during projects going forward.

Having experienced significant workplace disruption as a result of the pandemic, with many normally office-based staff working remotely, the importance of reinvigorating such relationships is amplified. That’s because the informal interactions that occur in the workplace, be they as simple as discussing weekend plans or an ongoing project, are key to social capital — benefits people realise because of who they know, which boosts the flow of knowledge and information.

Change shouldn’t stop

After months, sometimes years on a project, there’s often a tendency for the change momentum to waver –  something commonly referred to as “change fatigue”. Furthermore, the individuals not directly involved in the project can feel as though their input isn’t being valued.

But once that settling in period has subsided, change should begin once more. Jill says it should be “an iterative process” that is always looking for improvements. Organisations should use this period to embed the change by creating new cross-functional teams, ensuring everyone who is experiencing the change in their role is being listened to, and understands the impact the change is making is important – all of which are crucial for buy-in.

So just because a firm has completed a project to implement a new ERP system, for example, the work shouldn’t stop there. They should be constantly asking questions of the system, analysing the data generated, and involving the people who use it to discover what the next phase should be.

Andy Brown is Manufacturing Lead at The Access Group

Andy Brown says once potential changes have been identified, the manufacturer should then involve their software partner so further discussions can take place. In fact, involving the third-party vendor as early as possible in the process is even better. After all, these firms know their products better than anyone and can also provide powerful insights into how other customers are using their products. Customer input can also drive future product development. 

But the benefits of manufacturing software, for example MRP and production planning systems, aren’t just limited to the implementation stage. While it’s often the case that an implementation affords many initial big wins for manufacturers, the value realised by such projects is ongoing. For example, the data collected can provide firms with valuable insights into where to focus their improvement activities. This allows manufacturers to make continuous marginal gains in addition to the significant benefits as a result of the implementation.

Involve everyone the change touches from the outset

As well as including all relevant business stakeholders in change discussions, manufacturers also need to involve their external partners, such as suppliers, where applicable. After all, Jill says, these companies are the experts in their field. 

For example, if a manufacturer is considering changing their packaging, their packaging supplier (and perhaps alternative packaging suppliers) should be involved from the start. The insights such companies can provide are invaluable and will ultimately result in a superior change being implemented.

Involving a supplier towards the end could result in days of wasted work if they turn around and say they cannot supply what’s needed, or the packaging isn’t going to be user friendly. 

Without taking into account all of the people who the change will impact, manufacturers likely won’t afford the best outcomes. While a change may help make something easier for one person or department, it could end up shifting the problem onto someone/somewhere else. This is particularly important in the context of the pandemic as workforces have found themselves under more pressure than ever. Any change that could have even a slight negative impact on any area of the business needs to be carefully considered to avoid any detrimental repercussions. That’s where involving the right people and securing buy-in comes into its own.

From streamlining workflows and removing non-value add activities, to driving improvement decisions based on accurate data, technology is transforming productivity for manufacturers. 

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