Be The Change

By R. Keith Mobley, Principal SME, Life Cycle Engineering

Some things never seem to change. As part of a recent benchmarking assessment of a large manufacturing operation, we asked the management team what, if anything, should be changed to make the organization more effective and efficient. Without exception, each of them enumerated a long list of things that absolutely required change. Upon completion of the interviews, we compiled the inputs into a master list of suggested changes. As one would expect, there were some suggestions that were common to all and others that were unique; but one fact was clear. None of the suggested changes involved the originator. None of those interviewed thought that they, or their part of the organization, required change. The outcome of the assessment pointed to this same management group as the primary source of poor plant performance. While they were overtly supporting continuous improvement, in truth they continued to drive the wrong behaviors. Driven by assuring they met their personal performance reviews, they created boundaries and obstructions that prevented effectiveness and efficiency. Goals were set low, no risks were taken and problems were hidden.

This has been a constant in every instance tested in my almost five decades as a change agent and it still does not make sense to me. It does not matter if it’s a business, church, professional organization or family. Everyone believes that others need to change—that no one around them is doing it right—but they do not. Why is it that we all (yes, I am guilty also) think we are the only ones in our world that are perfect and if only everyone else would do it our way, our world would be perfect as well.

One conversation from another assessment stands out as a classic example of how too many people view change. In this conversation the general manager of a large, high-speed manufacturing company expressed his irritation with the plant’s workforce. He had spent three years trying to implement a continuous improvement program with no visible indication that anything had changed. As the conversation continued, we asked questions to gain a better understanding of his approach. He explained that his first focus was on the maintenance function because his instincts told him that all of his performance problems were maintenance deficiencies. There was no confirmable data to support this conclusion, but let’s stay on point.  

We asked how he went about the change process and he explained that he and a few of his inner circle of managers put together a vision statement, defined expectations and measurements, then deployed them to the workforce. All of the requirements, expectations and measurements were for the hourly workforce, with no changes for the management team. When asked, he was adamant that he and his management team knew what needed to be done and how to do it. They did not need to change – they just needed to get the workforce to do what they told them. No one from the hourly workforce, from production, human resources or any other functional group had been involved—at any time—in the process. He and his inner circle created the program in a total vacuum.

Obviously, this approach guarantees failure. But the greatest failure was that the general manager was not willing to admit that perhaps he was part of the problem. If you think about it, our management methods date back to the beginning of the industrial revolution—100 years ago—and have not changed since. What worked then, when the objective was to take farm workers and convert them to assembly line workers, does not work in today’s global economy. Unfortunately, our management philosophy and the thought processes of too many managers have not changed and consciously or not we continue to think our way is the only way and refuse to acknowledge the business world has changed.

The farm worker of Henry Ford’s generation accepted the rigid, do what we say, management style, but today’s workers need to be involved in the process. In addition, they expect change by example. If you expect them to change, they demand managers and executives who lead the change to change as well. The days of “do what I say, not what I do” are over and as managers we need to accept that change means we all must change.

Change must always begin with us. We first must acknowledge that we are not perfect and we may have developed a few bad habits or have management styles that drive the wrong behaviors. As my father always said, “Odds are if you have been doing something the same way for 20 years, there is a better way.” Once you get beyond this realization, the hard part begins. From this point forward, you must lead the change—you conscientiously and constantly must be the change you expect others to follow. It’s easy to say “walk the talk”, but believe me, it is not. Always remember, be the change you wish to see.

“Be the Change You Wish to See."

Thank you for taking the time to read this month’s letter. Hopefully, it has raised a few thoughts that will help you take the next step in your journey to excellence. I welcome your feedback and am happy to respond to specific questions. You can reach me at [email protected].

Best regards,
R. Keith Mobley
Principal, Life Cycle Engineering, Inc.

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Keith Mobley has earned an international reputation as one of the premier consultants in the fields of plant performance optimization, reliability engineering, predictive maintenance, and effective management. He has more than 35 years of direct experience in corporate management, process design and troubleshooting. For the past 16 years, he has helped hundreds of clients worldwide achieve and sustain world-class performance. Keith can be reached at [email protected].

© Life Cycle Engineering, Inc.


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