Managing culture change

Posted on 4 Sep 2008 by The Manufacturer

Carl Tomlinson, principal consultant at The Manufacturing Institute, offers guidance on this thorny topic.

To have a successful and sustainable improvement process you need to have a culture that’s supportive of it. It’s essential to win the hearts and minds of all employees by engaging them in the improvement process and rewarding positive behaviour. People don’t resist change, they resist being changed, and you have to take the people with you.

Setting the strategy

A successful culture change is a mix of the will & skill of all employees led by exceptional leaders. You have to look at developing a common business goal and have a clear strategy. The next step is to use policy deployment to sub-divide that strategy and cascade it through the organisation, then align the structure of the business to deliver those goals. For example, if you have a traditional hierarchical management approach you may want to de-layer the organisation and go for more clearly focused, small group, working teams.

The important thing is to have excellent communication and a future state plan that clearly articulates the vision in terms that everyday folk can understand. That plan also has to encompass looking at the people skills that you require to resource the business.

Overcoming apathy

Sometimes companies start along the lean journey and find that interest wanes. This can be caused by ‘Kamikaze Kaizen’ – improvement initiatives that are not aligned to a strategic business goal. Benefits may well have resulted but it can be very difficult to ascertain where improvements have happened. For example, if the improvement is not at a bottleneck then it may be hidden, as you will still see the same level of throughput from the process. This can lead to ‘initiative fatigue’ where people become intolerant of the new changes and treat them with scepticism.

To overcome this you must engage and create a high level of involvement. That involvement will bring an expectation from team members that the things that they have suggested will actually be implemented. So you’ve got to question the application and follow-up process rather than the tools and techniques. Make sure you have clear goals and a very robust follow-up and implementation procedure so you can demonstrate that things are actually happening.

Winning over the ‘anchor draggers’

From experience, there are probably 20 per cent of people in your business who will do almost anything to support change. Around 60 per cent will sit on the fence and wait to see how it goes. When they are confident they will actively get involved. Despite what you do, the other 20 per cent will be a bit of a struggle and a challenge to bring along.

It’s essential to work with the mass of people. The influential group is the 60 per cent who could go either way. So if you focus on converting them it means you isolate those ‘anchor draggers’ and they become the minority. By having a focused and robust improvement culture you will create a tension whereby these people either fit in or leave under their own steam.

Recognition and reward is very important and you should reward positive behaviour, but not necessarily with financial incentives, it’s about celebrating success in a public way within the business.

Carl Tomlinson is Principal Consultant for The Manufacturing Institute which is a leader in operational excellence – delivering end-to-end lean transformation programmes aligned to strategic business objectives. The organisation, which delivers the Manufacturing Advisory Service in North West England, has a 12-year track record in providing best practice implementation support and skills development – partnering blue-chip enterprises in the UK and Europe. Some of the businesses it has worked with include: Coca Cola, Warburtons, Kerry Foods, United Biscuits, New Balance, Astra Zeneca, BAE Systems, Spirax-Sarco and Siemens.

What do you think of Carl’s post? Anything to add? Leave a comment below or email [email protected].