The Critical Role of Leadership in Implementing New Reliability Processes
By Paul Borders, CRMP, Life Cycle Engineering
It’s always a sobering moment…I find myself in a client’s office and I dare not look, for I am afraid of what I may see. Inevitably my client will have to take a phone call and I’ll look at the bookshelf – the graveyard of prior efforts to improve performance.
Often they are on the same shelf, neatly lined up as if lining up the manuals will mean something. As our conversation progresses, the client will reach for one and I know what’s coming next. They will eagerly point to beautiful flow charts of their business processes which they paid dearly to have developed. They will be in full color and professionally done, and represent a prior consultant’s sweat and toil at a computer, but they matter for nothing. Because after the client received the work, and the invoice was paid, the manual begins to collect dust, joining its other abandoned colleagues on the shelf.
So here’s the million dollar question: why do organizations perpetually find the precious resources to hire consultants and then do very little with the results? It’s because the heavy lifting of leadership begins when the processes are finalized.
Organizations are a bit like trains – they require a tremendous amount of leadership effort to change the path that they are on. When implemented, new, more reliable processes in an organization will definitely change where the train is headed.
The first error that organizations commonly make is in how they develop the business processes. It is not uncommon for consultants to retrieve boilerplate business processes from their hard drive, print the client’s name on them, and proclaim them to be the new “Acme Way”. No one in the organization has any ownership or stake in processes that are developed this way.
Although it takes more time, leadership must make critical stakeholders in the processes available to collectively chart out their new way of doing business. Often these processes may not be dramatically different from the consultant’s boilerplate. But the ownership that is created through the exposure of current reality, the learning that goes on when best practices are learned by the stakeholders, the frustration that accompanies the development of new processes, and the mother bear protection instinct that is displayed when processes go live, are absolutely vital to the survival of the new business processes.
It is at this time, when employees are trained and expected to start adopting new business processes, that leadership must put on its work gloves and blue jeans and get busy. They may have done a nice job mentoring the teams to get the processes developed, but that is much easier work than institutionalizing the processes.
Quite simply, organizations try to kill the new processes. When processes are new to employees and new to managers they are incredibly vulnerable. Problems with computer systems have to be corrected, resources for execution are often not yet in place, and there are a thousand reasons why the old way seems safer.
Leadership needs to use proven change management concepts to shepherd the change through the organization. At first there will be some folks who adopt the change just because the boss says to. There will be vocal and non-vocal critics who stand on the sidelines, expertly pointing out the problems with the new way. The vast majority of people, however, will wait to see whether or not management has the resolve to implement the change over the long haul. In most organizations, history tells them that they won’t.
This is where leaders simply have to continue to lean into the discomfort of the new and bring more and more people into the new way of doing business. There are proven processes in the change management discipline that allow leaders to methodically transform the change from being ink on paper to being manifested in people’s daily activities.
Operations and maintenance employees are very skeptical about whether the change will stick. They, too, have seen the dusty manuals in my client’s office. The question is whether you and your team have the energy, the resolve, the endurance, and, quite frankly, the skills to permanently re-engineer change in your organization. A whole lot is at stake. Can you deliver?
Paul Borders, CMRP, a Principal Consultant for Life Cycle Engineering (LCE) and a Prosci-certified change management professional, has more than 17 years experience as a strategic manufacturing manager. You can reach Paul at pborders@LCE.com.
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