When there is a Change, there is Resistance, but it is worth it
Change management and innovation go hand in hand. It is comparatively easy to innovate, however getting the entire organization to adopt that change is trickier, even though we all know that change is the only thing that is constant. In an area like supply chain, where conformity is favored over individuality, changing things gets even more challenging.
There are many reasons for it, including:
- Nobody likes a change in the status quo.
- People are territorial, and nobody wants to lose their territory.
- Organizational inertia makes it much easier to do things the same old way.
- Embracing the “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality.
- People in general are risk averse. Nobody wants to risk what they have and where they have gotten.
So the critical task is not just innovating, but also fostering that innovation in a way that gains adoption. Without buy-in, it’s simply too easy to abandon a truly great and innovative idea.
I’ve experienced it in our business. For example, one customer, with the data center general manager acting as champion, bought and installed our product. A sudden management shift brought in a new DC GM and the product remained unused…and the potential for innovation was lost despite huge potential upside.
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Another customer, on the other hand, installed the product and loved it. They asked us for more features, and they tweaked their infrastructure to get the most out of the solution.
Their feedback has helped us improve our product. And their enthusiasm was heartening too, as they told us how much better their work went. In the early days, adoption was a struggle, but the leadership asked us to do additional training and share tips and tricks. Eventually, everyone got on board. Older workers liked the improved ergonomics, and the ability to maximize the font size. Younger folks liked using familiar technology. Without the extra work, though, adoption might not have happened.
Any innovation needs tweaking and final touches to make sure the user experience is 100% easy and smooth. That work can be done only by working closely with the end users, listening to their feedback and incorporating their suggestions.
When Steve Jobs had the initial iPhone prototypes built, he started using it. Scratches on the screen annoyed him—and the ultimate design was improved. An article in Business Insider told the tale this way:
Steve had been using a prototype iPhone for a few weeks, carrying it around in his pocket. When his lieutenants were assembled, he pulled the prototype out of his pocket and pointed angrily to dozens of scratches on its plastic screen. People would carry their phones in their pockets, Steve said. They would also carry other things in their pockets–like keys. And those things would scratch the screen. And then, with Apple just about to ramp up iPhone production, Steve demanded that the iPhone’s screen be replaced with un-scratchable glass, “I want a glass screen,” Steve is quoted as saying. “And I want it perfect in six weeks.” Apple sourced the glass from Corning, an American company. To get product in time, Apple ended up working with a Chinese manufacturer to get a factory built, and to get a team of engineers to figure out how to make the new screens work. Within weeks, iPhones were rolling off the lines. “Three months later, Apple had sold 1 million iPhones,” the article said. “Four years later, Apple has sold ~200 millions of them.”
In this case, because it was a consumer product, the issues were easy to identify. However, if the company hadn’t done their work, the iPhone may not have become a household name all over the world. In the business-to-business (B2B) sector, where a product is very specialized, this type of iterative innovation is less common.
In the B2B space, then, it’s critical to have structure and process in place to get feedback from end users to support innovation and ensure proper change management to allow input to be incorporated. Without help, adoption can get stuck. This can take many forms, from a suggestion box or web site that collects feedback to longer user-input sessions.
Usually, IT and business groups are moving these processes ahead. The engineers are smart but tend to make things too technical and complicated because for smart people complicated things are easy to do. Operations, meanwhile, adopts a Keep it Simple Stupid (KISS) approach that dumbs down everything. You can capture the best of both of these worlds by experienced operations guys or even consultants that have deployed many operational capabilities. They can look at the end product before deployment and provide feedback, discerning whether it makes sense for their users, before doing the department wide roll out. By addressing user feedback, this team can make the change management phase of the project easier and ensure smooth adoption.
What can I do to help my team adapt to this change?
1. Lead with the millennials in your organization
This step is very important because the younger generation, especially the millennials tend to be a lot more technology savvy, not only they are technology savvy, but also technology dependent. Embracing innovation and creativity in a democratic manner gets millennial’s excited. Organizations can go a step further and reward innovation that solves problems in ways that results in better ways of doing work, in cost savings or in improving the workplace generally, making the workplace better in general. Let me offer one example that I experienced during a product introduction we did. A millennial supervisor on the evening shift of the warehouse made a slight change to standard procedure. Instead of walking next to his employees, who were pulling cases from reserve locations in their trucks, he instructed the operators to record themselves using our devices and app for 30 minutes. Later, he observed those videos and critiqued constructively to help operator employees do their job better. The operator employees were filmed performing in reality, without a supervisor breathing down their neck, and the supervisor was freed up to focus on other tasks. Identify such opportunities and reward creative use of technology to set an example that the rest of the organization can follow.
2. Shadow, help with empathy and resolve any issue that arises immediately
Any experienced IT project manager will tell you how important this is. If the newly implemented system works really well, employee adaption becomes a lot easier, because the employees trust the system. Once the system wins the employees’ trust and confidence, they embrace the system whole heartedly, often these employees would tell themselves, hey dumb me, the system is always correct, I might as well follow the system, that is why it is super important to immediately address and resolve the issues that are reported by the employees as quickly as possible.
3. Celebrate small successes
Again, this is another pretty basic project management best practice, which seems very simple, but produces amazing results when implemented correctly. When you are executing as a team, it is all about the momentum, when you celebrate small success it builds momentum and people get in their zone and perform their best. The small successes lead to big successes, then such successes become contagious and infectious, the enthusiasm spreads suddenly a new energy is infused into the organization.
4. Establish a Feedback loop
This is again another basic project management best practice, when implemented correctly produces amazing results. Establishing an engaging feedback process and acting on those feedback swiftly is very powerful. I still remember back in my Analyst days, I worked with a Project Manager Dave, we had just gone live with a Warehouse Management System, the dust hasn’t settled yet, it was chaotic, the exceptions were not handled very well, but Dave instituted this practice of getting donuts for all of us every day in the evening, wherein he would start the feedback session with the donuts after the morning shift is over around 4 PM, sometimes these meetings would go on for more than an hour, but running those meetings, getting those feedback, fixing those issues immediately for 2 weeks, 14 consecutive days made all the differences in the world, not only that project was a huge success, but also the system was very well received and produced very good results for the operations team.
5. Give the veterans some time, let them loose on their daily metrics for a week or so
Whether we like it or not, humans are the most difficult ones to change. And older humans struggle a little more. Veterans having gotten to doing the things the same way they had done struggle a little more when a new change is implemented. Giving them some slack, empathizing with them and pairing them up with some millennials so they can get help and establishing a environment where they ask for help without feeling shy or hesitant helps them get through the process of change easily and quickly.
6. When designing processes follow the KISS method, make sure operations folks have an equal say in process design
This is extremely important, because in many cases I have seen where IT folks tend to design processes also, as they are the ones that design and implement systems. There is a big difference between the people in the IT teams versus people in the operations teams that are doing the daily grind. There is a big difference between the expert that makes the car and the expert that drives the car. The expert that drives the car should be telling the expert that builds the car on how to build the car, how the seats need to be positioned, how the steering wheel needs to be positioned, how the dash needs to be laid out etc. In the same fashion, the people that execute the system on a daily basis need to be telling the people the design, build and implement the systems on how it needs to be built. If you let the IT people design the system, generally the IT people are smart so they tend to build them with complicated steps because for smart people it is easy to execute such complicate steps, whereas when you are doing the daily grind where the most important metric is the throughput of the facility, KISS principle works best, which means the systems need to be dumbed down, so anybody can not only follow and understand, but also smoothly execute at its maximum speed, so the maximum possible throughput of the facility can be attained.
7. Establish reverse-mentoring programs leveraging millennial technology skills
Forward thinking leaders have already started doing this, especially in large organizations. CIO’s are buddying up with freshly minted college graduates so that they can help each other. While the experienced senior manager provides career guidance to the fresher, the fresher shows the senior manager the trend among the younger crowd. Mark Zuckerberg, CEO and founder of Facebook, and Donald Graham, CEO of the Washington Post, are a great example of a power mentoring relationship as they both gain a great deal from their relationship with one another. Early on in his tenure at Facebook, Zuckerberg turned to Graham for advice on being a CEO and Graham received the benefit of Zuckerberg’s expertise on social media.